Are you the type of gamer who finds themselves increasingly turned off by the dumbing-down of modern role-playing games? Were you disappointed by easy accessibility of recent Final Fantasy and Fallout games? Do you wish today's crop of adventure games were more in line with what we saw in the 1980s? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should already be playing Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City, the exciting new adventure game for the Nintendo DS.
Atlus is known for their niche titles, so it doesn't surprise me that Etrian Odyssey III is one of the most challenging RPGs I've played in years. At its core this is a standard turn-based adventure in which players are tasked with exploring dungeons for hidden treasure and nasty enemies. But this game has a twist. This is not just another Final Fantasy rip-off; it's a game that requires its players to literally map out each dungeon in order to succeed. These elements, along with the strong gameplay, make The Drowned City a worthy successor to 2008's Heroes of Lagaard.
At the start we're told about the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, an enormous maze that is just outside of the port town of Armoroad. Over the years many adventurers came to tackle the labyrinth, but so far none have succeeded. That's where you come in. After creating a bunch of characters (based on ten different jobs, such as a prince, gladiator, buccaneer, ninja, monk, wildling, etc.), it's up to you to search around the dungeons and take extensive notes.
Unlike most RPGs, Etrian Odyssey III requires its players to draw the map and fill it in with useful information. No matter how good your memory is, charting everything down is the only way you're going to get through the absolutely massive levels. Thankfully the game offers plenty of helpful icons, including direction markers, a tent icon to show where it's safe to rest, where secret shortcuts are and much, much more. The game will actually reward adventurers who are anal-retentive about notations.
For gamers of a certain age, having to make dungeon maps will bring back memories. It wasn't that long ago that buying a role-playing game meant that you had to pull out some graph paper and map everything out. Etrian Odyssey III takes that idea to a whole new level. Thanks to the Nintendo DS's touch screen, players have a much easier (and less messy) way to chart the maps. They can add colors and icons, all in hopes of making their way to the end of this massive game.
Unfortunately all this comes at a price. Because this game bucks most of the modern advancements, players are left with one of the most challenging role-playing games I've played in years. The learning curve is steep, to the point where you'll probably die a few times before you get the hang of things. My impulse was to explore as far into the dungeon as I can, but I did that at my own peril. All it takes is a pair of simple enemies to kill half my team. And if I'm too far from the exit, I'll never be able to get back to safety.
The turn-based combat isn't bad, but it's hardly inspired. Each of the five characters in the party plot their moves at once, a mechanic that can spell trouble if the enemies decide to team up against one person. Each character has a list of traditional RPG moves, from a normal attack to using one of the skills. The idea is to have a well-diversified party, one that includes fighters, magicians and somebody who can heal any injury thrown their way. Instead of showing your characters on the same screen as the enemy, the game only displays what is immediately in front of you. In that sense, Etrian Odyssey III is a lot like the original Phantasy Star or Dragon Quest.
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