Etrian Odyssey is one of Atlus’ most beloved niche series in recent years. Its extensive guild creation tools and merciless dungeons serve Atlus’ fanbase of highly dedicated punishment gluttons well. Etrian has always been a Japanese homage to Western style RPGs, with a heavy emphasis on stats, team management and dungeon mapping. As I saw in a recent web demo with Atlus PR guru Aram Jabbari, those things are back with plenty of improvements in Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City
, and are joined by some substantial new gameplay elements that broaden the series considerably.
Fans of the previous two games can rest assured that Atlus isn’t turning Etrian III on its head, but rather expanding pretty much all of what already works. For instance, there will be ten new player classes to construct your guild with, many of them inspired by the ones in previous games. However there’s a lot more room to experiment in each class. Classes are more cleanly differentiated this time, but you can also have each guild member specialize in a sub class, to the point where they’re almost multi-class fighters. You can have a gladiator-healer, for example, giving a combat class room to improvise if your dedicated healers have been knocked out. You can even take a weak, support-based class like the farmer and make them a competent fighter.
In some cases you can even expand your guild past the standard five slots, by exploiting a party member’s unique abilities. The ninja class can now split into two independent fighters, halving the original character’s HP between the two until a healer class can restore both halves to full health. The other example Aram gave was the wildling class, which can summon an animal to fight alongside your guild.
Customization plays a bigger part this time, with an emphasis on guild construction being a personal process where you get attached to the characters you develop. For the first time you can assign different color palettes to each class, and now weapons can be re-forged, customized and upgraded to your exacting specifications.
Etrian III has a nautical theme, where half the kingdom has sunk beneath the waves and the main quest is all about restoring it. Following on this theme is Etrian III’s biggest addition, sailing. Your guild can take to the seas as the crew of a noble sailing vessel, which starts out puny but can eventually be upgraded into the scourge of the waters. Sailing isn’t free-roaming—you still use up turns as you explore—but it’s far more open ended than the dungeons. The number of turns you get at sea depends on the quantity and quality of supplies you bought before disembarking. You’ll encounter fearsome pirates along the way but in general sailing is a more laid-back experience, focusing on treasure hunts and fishing.
Etrian’s signature dungeons return and fans will be happy to know that they’re just as insanely difficult, but with a few improvements. If you have a safe path plotted out or you’ve found a life-saving shortcut you can set your party on cruise control, by highlighting a specific path that you’ll follow automatically whenever you step onto it. At any time you can pause this path and go exploring, but it’s a good way of keeping on track. The dungeons are still haunted by the intestinal-fortitude-testing F.O.E. minibosses that Etrian players know and fear so well, but this time around you can stop at pre-set campsites to heal and recharge, rather than having to go all the way back to the start of a dungeon.
Etrian III is set to be a big release for Atlus and they’re hyping it appropriately. Pre-ordering it nets you a beautiful art book called Etrian Odyssey: Forests of Eternity. The book is full-size, comparable to a high quality player’s guide, is 60 pages long and covers the entire Etrian series. This is probably the quintessential piece of swag for Etrian Odyssey fans and I think it’s pretty cool you get it free just by pre-ordering.
We’ll have more impressions and news as the game gets closer to its September 21st release date, so keep your eyes on what is looking to be the most elaborate entry in the series so far.