I’m sure everyone has heard of the term “hardcore.” It can describe many things. Basically, in gaming, it means something that either you have a passion for, or how involved a game can really be. This is the best word to use when talking about Etrian Odyssey III. The game is hardcore. Do not take this word lightly.
Etrian Odyssey III is a first-person dungeon crawling turn-based RPG. You play a guild leader leading a team of explorers into an underground labyrinth called Yggdrasil in search of treasure and adventure. You can create a guild of adventurers with classes that range from physical attacking Gladiators to magic wielding Zodiacs. There are ten classes to begin with and more that you will unlock the farther you progress. Each class has its own unique strengths and weaknesses that you must utilize to your party’s overall advantage. Each class has an extensive skill tree that you can add skill points to every time you level up. The game features a colorful Japanese anime art style for the characters.
The game focuses on map creating while you’re in a dungeon. You can use the stylus to draw walls, branching paths, and a lot of other notes that you can use for easier exploring. After you have progressed in the dungeon, you can create a track that you can follow by using the Auto feature. That way, when you return, you can hit Auto and your party moves to where you lead the track to without having to push anything. You can also leave yourself short notes to remind you of what to do or what not to do.
A good example is early on in the game, you will come across some berries. You can choose to eat them or leave them alone. I ate them on my first try and was damaged due to the berries being poisonous. So, I left myself a note saying “DON’T EAT.” That way, next time I’m in that area, I know not to eat them. I know, you’re probably thinking, “Surely you can remember not to eat those again.” Well, you see, Etrian Odyssey is a huge game. The first floor alone can take you up to 2 hours to completely traverse. There’s a lot of stuff to do and to remember, so this notation system is very helpful.
The battles take place in first person as well. You can get in a number of moves on the map before going into a random battle. There is a small gauge at the bottom of the screen that slowly turns green to red every time you move. When it’s fully red, your next step will put you into a battle. You can have up to five people in your party at a time. You assign your members a position in either the front row or the back row. Positioning is key when it comes to battles. If you have a weaker character, you will want to place them in the back row so that they are targeted less and take less damage.
During battles, you can attack with your weapon, use an item or a skill, and of course, flee from the battle. One very nice feature for combat is the Limit Skills. These are much like Limit Breakers from Final Fantasy VII. You have a limit gauge that fills up over the course of battles, when it’s full, you can use your limit skills. These are attacks and abilities that can greatly increase your chance of survival in battles. Some are combined with other party member’s abilities much like Chrono Trigger’s Techs and Combos. Later on, you will gain the ability to use subclass moves that you can assign to your party members. They are a lot like your regular skills, but are skills that normally a certain class could not use.
In addition to exploring the labyrinth, you can also explore the ocean off the cost of the main town. In this area, you can fish, map out the waters, and interact with other NPC’s that may help you on your journey. While at sea, you have to take provisions with you, mainly food. If you have enough food for six days worth of travel, then you can only move six times at sea. The ocean exploration is mainly for fishing and obtaining money. It’s really the most sufficient way to earn money in the game.
The game offers multiplayer with friends using multiple DS’s and multiple games. You can trade items with your friends as well as do co-op battles with other players. I cannot comment on these aspects due to me not having anyone to play with.
While in town, you can visit the inn to heal your wounds, save, and revive party members. There is also a store where you can buy weapons, armor, and items. You can accept quests at the local pub. Quests come in many shapes and sizes that range from gathering certain items to defeating certain monsters. This will reward you with rare items, money, and experience. It seems that the only way to gain money in the game is by fishing and selling items that you find after battle at the local shop. It’s actually somewhat difficult to earn money this way. Mainly because that game almost requires you to gear up with the best armor and weapons you can get a hold of, because if you don’t, you will die a ton in battles.
That brings me to my biggest gripe with the game: the difficulty. The game is relentless. Even the first floor of the dungeon will test your skills as an RPG gamer. It seems like there are monsters early on that can kill you in almost one hit. When all your party members are dead, it’s game over completely. You have to start back at your last save. The bad thing is, you can’t save in the dungeon. You can only save in town. You can spend upwards to 2 hours on one floor of the dungeon, then die, and lose everything.
The only thing the game allows you to carry over after a game over is what you have written down on your map. Yeah, it’s nice to have your map progress, but it doesn’t help you out too much when you’re back to level two and using your crappy weapons again. It can get frustrating really fast, which is why I said this is a hardcore game. It’s almost a perfect storm of relentlessness with the combination of very expensive gear, difficult enemies, and no good way to earn money. You’ll feel like you played 2 hours and accomplished nothing except a better understanding of the map. This game makes Demon’s Souls feel like child’s play.
I can’t criticize the game too much; it does offer a solid RPG experience albeit a difficult one. The game play can be fun when things go your way, but when they don’t; you will feel like you’re being punished for something very small and something you have no control over. You will end up preparing for your exploration almost as much as you will be exploring. This is one game that you can’t just pick up and play. It takes a large level of commitment to get into. The small story that is there is forgettable, but it does try to explain what’s going on.
This is an RPG that will take some thought into playing it. You can’t just create a team and jump into the dungeon thinking you will survive. You have to plan out every little detail to what weapons you should bring to how many healing items you may need to progress. I know some gamers love that kind of game play, but for the gamers looking for a more action based game, you may want to steer clear. That’s totally up to the player, but unfortunately, I think the difficulty and progression system this game boasts could scare off even veteran RPG players.
Review copy provided by publisher.