Title: Etrian Odyssey V
Platform: 3DS (reviewed)
Release date: Out now
TL;DR: An intriguing recreation of those “choose your own adventure” books – but let down by stupid cartography, seriously.
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A lot of people quickly decided that the 3DS was little more than a neat little handheld to keep the kids busy. Yes, we have the obligatory Nintendo titles in there, with Mario, Metroid, and Zelda showing off the heritage that the handheld boasts, but still – we seem to think the 3DS rarely offers enough for seasoned players. As I quickly found out when playing Atlus’ latest instalment of Etrian Odyssey, that just isn’t the case. This dungeon-crawling extravaganza will put even the most veteran of RPG players’ skill to the test. But whilst it does pose a challenge, it also offers a hugely satisfying chunk of gameplay that blows the dust off the retro RPG genre, polishes it up, and presents it on a plate for you.
Right, before we get into the plot, I’ll make it clear that I haven’t been able to finish the game yet – so take this paragraph as a “review in progress”. The plot behind the game is incredibly simple, you’re not out to save the world or expel some mystical threat. Instead, you’re given the opportunity to explore a long-abandoned labyrinth outside of the city – that’s it. I was sure the plot would quickly develop after this, but it does seem that you’re simply tasked with creating a guild in order to explore.
The simplicity of the plot is seemingly enough though, especially when the game doesn’t offer a specific main character for you to take control of. Instead, you create a cast of characters using the game’s customisation tool. Here, you can choose from a small variety of jobs and sub-group within them. Add to this the ability to customise a character’s appearance and voice and it’s a nice touch; though, with up to 30 characters to register into your guild, the customisation process can quickly become tiresome. This is especially true when you consider that you’ll most likely rely on the same five members throughout the game – meaning any other characters you make run the risk of being a colossal waste of time.
The combat of the game is fairly straight-forward, using a simple turn-based system that does little to separate itself from countless other games. The differing job systems mean each character will have an affinity for offensive or defensive moves. One merit of the system is the Union Strikes, an ability to perform an ability by teaming up with one or more member of your party. It’s something that could have been executed in a far more substantial way – but a nice inclusion nonetheless.
The enemies that you come across perfectly underline the issues with difficulty in the game. This isn’t to say that the game is unfair, it really isn’t, but it doesn’t attempt to hold your hand at any point either. I assumed that the first floor I explored would be filled with adorable morons who only existed for me to gain easy experience. So, when I was murdered by a gang of rabid acorns who systematically one-hit killed three of my members before the other two heroically ran away, I quickly realised that the game wasn’t there to be my friend. It’s definitely tough during the early stages, but it’s a steep incline in difficulty that makes every victory something of a miniature achievement.
When you’re not being killed by forest critters, the game has you ascending the labyrinth. As you move along, you’ll notice that the bottom screen of the 3DS fills out a map for you because you don’t find or buy maps in Etrian Odyssey – you make them. Now, this is something of a divisive issue for me. I’m not a bloody cartographer and I don’t really have any interest in being one, but after some research, I quickly realised that the map creation is a massive selling point for the game’s community. It’s a feature that not only echoes the early text-based RPGs that were well before my time but also introduces a simple sense of immersion by way of having your adventurers creating the maps and handing them into the city’s council afterwards. Again, it’s an interesting feature, but one that is explained only briefly at the very start of the game.
The parts that stood out were the flickers of decision making the game allows you. As you explore each floor, the game stops you and points, presenting you with a situation where you can react differently. These moments reflect many of the “choose your own adventure” books many of you may have read as children. And whilst the consequences aren’t far-reaching or the decisions hugely expansive, it’s nonetheless an extra aspect of the game that made exploring incredibly worthwhile. Not only do the events follow a logical path, meaning you won’t ever be tricked, but they’re spaced out well enough to mean they don’t become tiresome or predictable. It’s a feature I really wasn’t expecting to come across, yet it’s one that I’ve really enjoyed using.
Fans of the Etrian series can expect a more refined iteration of earlier titles. The game doesn’t offer anything entirely new, instead working to perfect the features that have kept the titles relevant in the gaming world. That said, if you haven’t played an Etrian game before, it’s certain;y worth picking up. This isn’t a game that you’ll binge on for a month or two, it’s something that you’ll return to every now and again – whether on your journey to work each day or when you want a chilled out session on a Sunday – and for those times, Etrian delivers a perfect adventure to jump in and out of.
- The adventurer log segments provide some really fun intermissions when you’re exploring
- The game’s simple premise rarely becomes a bore, the focus of exploration is a strangely satisfying enough
- The game is difficult without being unfair – a tough balance to execute properly
- If you don’t care for customisation, the character creator will be a bore
- The combat is turn-based in its purest form – some will find it painfully slow
- The music is a series of elevator jazz songs when you’re in town – which is a strange and confusing choice.
Etrian Odyssey V is rated 12+ in the UK and 16 in the US. Expect the occasional swear word and an unforgiving forest of bloodthirsty acorns.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a code provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.