The Rogue Wanderer
In a past review of mine, I discussed a bit about the Roguelike genre. Feel free to take a look back at that for a quick overview. Today, I want to narrow it down a bit. Specifically, I wanted to talk about a certain well-known series in the Roguelike genre. That series would be Mystery Dungeon.
Back in the early 90s, Chunsoft (now known as Spike Chunsoft) wanted to take a shot at a game of this genre. Koichi Nakamura, one of the co-creators of the Dragon Quest series, was inspired by the game Rogue (also known as the namesake of the Roguelike genre) and wanted to try his hand at a new series. The experiment culminated in the 1993 Japanese release of Torneko’s Great Adventure: Mystery Dungeon on the Super Famicom. The game is a spinoff of Dragon Quest IV featuring the merchant character Torneko, and established many of the tropes of the Mystery Dungeon series. Randomized dungeons, rather high difficulty, dungeon-crawling for treasure, and the risk of dying and losing it all became the main facets of the series, and in fact Roguelikes in general.
Following this game, Chunsoft developed a second entry featuring all original characters, and what would become the most well-known subseries in the series…in Japan, at least. Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer was also released on the Super Famicom in 1995, and became the “main” subseries under the Mystery Dungeon name. Despite five entries in this subseries, North America has only received two…the first being the DS remake of the first game in 2008.
Other series have released games under the Mystery Dungeon name, most using engines similar to the original releases. Probably the most well-known one here in the West is the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, which has seen a number of releases since the subseries began in 2006. What we’re here for today is another series that is putting out a Mystery Dungeon game. Specifically, that series is Etrian Odyssey, the hardcore DS/3DS dungeon-crawling series that has become something of a cult hit in the West.
Co-developed by Spike Chunsoft and Atlus, Etrian Mystery Dungeon will be released in North America on April 7th, 2015, for the 3DS.
Adventure Takes the Wheel
The Etrian Odyssey series has always been rather light on story, and Etrian Mystery Dungeon is no different. You are an explorer. You have no other traits, aside from the fact that you just really like to get down and dirty inside random labyrinths. Your journey has taken you to the city of Aslarga, which is located right near numerous dungeons. Explorers from all around the world gather in Aslarga to explore these dungeons. Hearing the call of adventure, you decide to start your own guild and get down to exploring.
The thing is, the town is going through an unusual heat wave…despite the fact that it’s currently the middle of the winter.
Aside from a few minor developments later in the game, this is all she wrote. This isn’t the kind of game you play for the story. You’re here to do some exploring, and you damn well know that’s exactly what you’re gonna do!
To the Deepest Depths
I touched on some minor details of Mystery Dungeon gameplay back in the intro. In Etrian Mystery Dungeon, the majority of your time is going to be spent exploring dungeons. The dungeon layout, both floor-by-floor and overall, changes each time you enter. Inside of a dungeon, you control a party of anywhere from one to four explorers, which you can select before you enter. The explorers you can use are split up into one of a selection of classes, each with their own skills. Some classes are borrowed from the Etrian Odyssey series, such as the swordsman/tank Landsknecht. Others are original to this game, such as the Shiren the Wanderer-inspired Wanderer class.
When in dungeons, you have direct control over one character, while the others are controlled by AI. You do have the ability to switch who you’re controlling at anytime, which is useful, as your party’s AI isn’t always the smartest. You may be trying to run away from a pack of monsters, but your Medic has decided to whack at it for pitiful damage, while another character is using all of your items to keep reviving said Medic.
Battles take place in a style of turn-based combat. For every action you take, including taking a step in the tile-based movement system, everyone else on the field gets to take an action. The order of action is decided by agility, and you can see the current turn order on the bottom screen. Every character has a basic attack, along with a number of special skills they can learn, which can be assigned to button-combo shortcuts. These skills range from heavier attacks to binding parts of enemies (leaving them unable to do certain things depending on which part is bound), healing, magic, etc. Each character gets skill points as they level up, which are then used to earn skills from each character’s skill tree. As more skills are unlocked, battles become less about brute force and much more strategic. Throw in an endless array of collectible items that can be used for different attacks, buffs, and debuffs, and later-game battles become quite involved and interesting.
Unfortunately, that strategy seems to mostly fall apart during boss battles. During these fights, you get direct control over your entire party, giving each of them commands as their turn comes up. Beating bosses, though, is mostly a game of levels. If your party isn’t strong enough, you don’t stand a fleeting chance. Go back and grind, as you can expect to do a lot, and boss fights become just hammering away and keeping health up until the enemy dies.
Between dungeons, you will be spending time in Aslarga, which is handled completely through menus. While in town, you can rest and save, buy and upgrade weapons and armor, eat at the restaurant for different buffs, and take on missions and sidequests. The most important thing, though, is the ability to store items and money in the hotel. If you die in a dungeon, you lose everything you’re carrying. All your items and collected weapons, all of your money, and even a piece of equipment from each character…gone. Storing collected items and money is vital, unless you want to start with a clean slate every time you fail.
Lastly, you can’t talk about the Etrian Odyssey series without mentioning the F.O.E.s…or, in the case of Etrian Mystery Dungeon, the D.O.E.s. These are incredibly powerful monsters, far beyond anything bosses have to offer, that begin showing up in the fourth dungeon. Once they appear, they’ll slowing begin ascending through the dungeon, and if they manage to reach the exit, your dungeon dive fails and you’re forced back to the surface, where one of the buildings in town will be destroyed. Your main defense against them is forts, which you can build on the floors you have cleared. If a D.O.E. reaches a fort, it will destroy the fort and retreat, buying you more time. Should you encounter one yourself, though, be prepared to run or be wiped quickly.
Surrounded by Nature
The graphics of Etrian Mystery Dungeon, at least to my eyes, seem to be a bit low-resolution. The 3DS isn’t exactly the most powerful machine on the market, but the characters and monsters seem a bit rough around the edges. The dungeon environments, though, seem to be constructed a bit better. Unfortunately, the look of these dungeons is incredibly repetitive. Some of the dungeons have their own graphical themes, but within them, there’s little to no variation. As you’ll be spending quite possibly hours within each dungeon, things kind of start to get dull for the eyes. Also, the game does suffer from noticeable slowdown when large numbers of characters are on screen.
The sprite art for the characters, though, is done quite well. It follows the style that fans of the Etrian Odyssey series have come to expect: bright, colorful, expressive, yet somewhat refined.
Roars from the Deep
The music featured in this game fits the feel of it quite well. Etrian Mystery Dungeon features mostly orchestral pieces, and they do their job of setting the mood successfully. Earlier, easier dungeons have lighter themes that fit well with the free-spirited adventuring feel early in the game. As things take a darker turn and you start entering more dangerous dungeons, the music starts to get a bit heavier and more suspenseful, almost horror movie-like at times.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by modern games, but I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of voice acting in the game. I haven’t played many Etrian Odyssey games, so forgive me if I’m wrong, but I do not believe any games in the series aside from Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl have featured voice acting. Of course, that game is an outlier, as it is also the first game in the series to have a real story. Despite this game not having much on the story front, I feel that it would have benefited from at least a light touch of voice acting.
A Labyrinth of Treasures
Overall, Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a solid game, and I feel is worthy of its relationship to the Etrian Odyssey series. The game has a bit of a slow start, and can feel repetitive at times, but later dungeons provide an excellent amount of challenge and strategy to keep the game interesting. The game’s party AI and graphics drag it down a bit, but not enough to keep me from recommending this game to fans of the series or roguelikes in general.
However, if you are neither of those, I might recommend trying before buying. Etrian Mystery Dungeon is not a game that I would recommend to everyone due to its occasionally high difficulty and style of gameplay. Should you enjoy what you see, though, it is a great addition to the 3DS library.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Atlus for 3DS. Photos courtesy of Atlus.