Speaking of Phantasy Star, you explore the game's 25 dungeons from a first-person perspective. You push up to move forward and back to go backwards, left and right turn the player a full 90 degrees. Even though the perspective is familiar, the movement in Etrian Odyssey III is not as sophisticated as a regular first-person shooter. Oddly enough, this doesn't feel as constrictive as I worried going in. The player's limited movement helps keep the mapping orderly, which is a big deal the further in one goes.
For the most part I'm a big fan of what Atlus is trying to do here, but the old school style does offer a few major problems. For one thing, the story is incredibly simple. Oh sure, you'll pick up quests along the way that will help fill in some of the narrative, but don't expect anything too expansive from this game. There are no impressive cinemas to watch or memorable characters to meet. There are townspeople outside of the labyrinth, however they rarely have anything earth shattering to tell you. Outside of giving you the set-up, there really isn't a whole lot of incentive to move forward.
I mentioned the steep learning curve, but I didn't mention anything about the hours of grinding I had to do in order to make my party competitive. I was shocked by how quickly I died my first time in the dungeon. I've put a lot of time into RPGs over the last few years and rarely do I feel like an inept gamer. Luckily I was able to upgrade different components of my character, but doing that was a slow process. The steep difficulty and learning curve will no doubt push a lot of gamers away. And that's a shame, because given enough time you'll discover that Etrian Odyssey III offers some compelling ideas.
It's worth noting that the charting itself can get a little repetitive. It's one thing to explore the dungeon, but players will need to be meticulous if they want to find every nook and cranny. This means that after each step you should look around, searching for hidden passages and treasure. This is made even harder by FOEs, extremely difficult enemies that walk around the level looking for trouble. The game is full of sudden encounters, which can really slow down your map-making progress.
I also found that the dungeon environment was extremely depressing. It's not that the story or visuals are dreary, not at all. In fact, a lot of the dungeon is bright and colorful. The problem I ran into was how similar everything started to look after a while. And it's not just the visuals, it's the constant back tracking that must be done. Eventually you'll earn magical spells and special items that rectify this problem, but there's something about being stuck in a labyrinth for hours on end that brings my spirits down.
Some of my concerns about the game subsided the further I got. Not only can you explore the underground dungeons, but there's also a boat that can be upgraded. The more you work on the boat, the further out into the ocean you can go. Here you search for pirate and plunder treasure, a nice change of pace to the dungeon crawling you're doing the rest of the time. Best of all, on the open sea there are no surprise encounters, so you can just chart the world without worrying about being attacked.
Even after spending more than thirty hours with the game, I still feel like there's much I didn't see or do. The instruction manual talks about multiplayer options, but I had a hard time finding friends who would get excited about mapping out dungeons. The game is overflowing with enemies to discover and attacks to master, some of which took more time than I was willing to put in. Not that I'm complaining. There's definitely a lot of content to be had here and anybody who enjoys making maps will have no problem getting lost in this world.
In a world full of me-too role-playing games, I'm excited to find one that breaks the mold. Its old school sensibilities make it feel removed from the likes of Final Fantasy or Persona. I wish there was more of a story to tie everything together, but I had a good time mapping the dozens of dungeons and exploring the high seas. Etrian Odyssey III isn't for everybody, but this is a must-own if you've ever had a fascination with cartography.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
If you've ever had any interest in building, assembling and using maps, then Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is the perfect game for you. This Nintendo DS sequel has you taking extensive notes to solve two dozen difficult dungeons. Old school RPG junkies will have a good time, even if it's marred by repetitive mechanics and an extreme difficulty!
Page 2 of 2