We’re all gonna die!!!!
Normally my opening phrase is a quote or an in game motif or sometimes even something I would say if I were a character from the game. This time… it is the last because if I lived in this game I would be a nervous wreck huddled under a table waiting for the world to end. Etrian Mystery Dungeon (EMD from now on because Acronyms, yay!) is a 3DS game that is a mash up of two different franchises, Mystery Dungeon, a rogue like series that has had limited exposure in the west except via it’s other mash ups with famous series like Pokémon and Final Fantasy, and Etrian Odyssey, a first person RPG with turn based combat. It is a strange but rather fun mix. Even though you spend most of your time on the floor, the game has numerous great nuances and humour and combat is heavily tactical. I will explain in more detail below.
Okay, the comment about spending most of your time on the floor was a half joke. Both the EO and MD series are dungeon crawlers and you spend the majority of your time traversing through these vast labyrinths trying to find loot, exp and, most importantly, trying to stay alive. The original mystery dungeon series are notorious for their difficulty curves where a single death returns you to level 1. EMD is slightly more forgiving in the sense that you only lose all the items you have equipped to your party if the rescue party (That you very quickly gain enough space to form one, as you upgrade parts of your little town, you gain access to more people.) fails to rescue them. I can almost hear most of the gamers reading this now scoffing and not expecting to need this. I once had three parties die on the final floor of a dungeon because I didn’t want to lose a rare sword. After I cried for a while and didn’t play the game for three days, I went back to it and spent 15 hours levelling up my main party and smashed that boss into oblivion. This is an important anecdote because, like the game, this review is very hard to write and grade. It doesn’t conform to most game standards where I could easily talk about the story, combat and additions like tone, graphics and music. This is a game that can lead you to the edge of your patience because of how hard it can be and yet you keep coming back because it is a great challenge and not hard just for the sake of being hard. The story is rather uneventful with many tropes and clichés and part of the reason I won’t really discuss it is because you don’t really have an identity. There is no main character per say. You pick a class at the beginning and that is your first character, you can have so many other characters (Which you will need.) that you don’t really have a main unless you designate one in your head as you. You can rename some of them as well. I had a great time with a party of four all named Legion. The story only lasts for a short time, about 20 hours (Where much of that was spent trying to get my level in order to take on the bosses required.). The meat of the story happens after the story, the endgame content is so rich and full that you can spend over 100 hours on the game and still not be a master. Biggest tip I can offer is have 3 fully geared teams of 4, your main party, your side part (I’ll explain about the side team later in detail) and Legion because, well… I liked that whole imagining a group of clones saying “We are legion,” as they picked up my party and side party and all their stuff.
Onto the combat, this is slightly long because it is so vast. It is turn based but in a tactics-rpg style. When you move or act, your enemies move, some move twice, some move once for every two it can vary as you move through the game and gain access to different spells and such. You control the leader of your team, which you can change at will and after you act, the other members of your team act as well, they are AI controlled unless you use a specific ability. You have many different classes and abilities and you have the time to level up your characters to the point where they are at the maximum level with the maximum skill points. You’ll need this at times because the enemies get very strong, not just the regular enemies but also the DOE’s that show up. These are monsters that are so strong and vicious that their reason for existing seems to be to destroy you and the city you are from. They are too strong for a regular party so you need two, hence the need for a side party that is fully kitted out because you might have to fight one of these creatures and you will most of the time need 8 characters to do it. I enjoyed those battles almost more than I did fighting boss battles because it was almost like a larger than life battle where if you failed, this creature would run past you and destroy everyone in the town you cared about… although in truth they would destroy the fort they were in and run back lower into the dungeon. As with some games of this nature, your imagination takes control sometimes. You make the game large in your mind and it is enjoyable, you get to deal with real tactics as missteps in the dungeons can be fatal due to strong enemies and traps that seem to be EVERYWHERE! I did have some gripes with the combat as well polished as it was. I found that in the DOE battles, you can’t control your second party even with the special ability that allows you to control every member of your team. So sometimes they can be your undoing as they don’t get into the right position you need them to be in or use the right ability. It can be extremely irritating to have the one character you need to win a fight die because you couldn’t get them to move where you wanted. I also found that sometimes, the AI was very inconsistent. Half the time I’m rather happy to let them do what they need to do but at other times, they can be getting murdered by a honey bee while killing an enemy you were going to kill.
Out of combat, there are plenty of things to do. Combat tends to be what you are embroiled in when you are exploring the ever changing dungeons. You can freeze certain sections of the dungeons by building forts, a mechanic that becomes very important as the only place you can use the second party to fight a DOE is a fort, but for the most part dungeons are always different which means it never gets old. Well, that’s only half true; the locales do look very similar in the dungeon so you can get bored of the same dungeon look even if the route and enemies are always changing. Again, there are lots of dungeons to run about it, while the monsters do occasionally get reused, there are still lots to go about. The town mechanics were fun as well, you have your choice of what you can upgrade and the benefits are well explained although you have to get through the story to gain access to the best and most expensive upgrades. There is a barracks, inn, shop and café, among other things that will cater to your needs and keep you hunting for more gold and loot. The music is… well, it is good enough but after a while I did get bored as I prefer a more epic score. It is very fitting, usually the ice areas have a wintery feel and the deserts make you feel as if you are trekking under a hot sun. Good theming but sometimes a bit more oomph to the songs would have increased my enjoyment. I did like the boss and DOE battle music, they did make the encounters sound big.