Etrian Odyssey 3 Review «

The Etrian Odyssey games haven’t become cult favorites simply by making cartography cool again. No, the classic RPG formula (borrowed from Wizardry and its ilk) is just one facet of the series’ longevity. What impresses me most after three years and a sequel is how its creators are still able to create worlds brimming with wonderment and verisimilitude by doing exactly what old-school games were great at: dropping you in a vast world and leaving you alone to discover all its hidden secrets.
Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City easily re-captures the familiar aesthetic of its predecessors thanks to its immersive locales and throwback soundtrack (composed by Yuzo Koshiro of Ys and Actraiser fame), but this time around, it’s been streamlined and revamped to instill a newfound sense of vitality. While the second game felt more like an expansion pack than an entirely new adventure, Etrian Odyssey III takes the tried-and-true, first-person RPG formula and refines it into the most approachable game in the series yet.

As a ragtag guild of adventurers hailing from Armoroad — a beautiful island with a deep, dark secret — you’re tasked with mapping and observing the creatures within the Yggdrasil labyrinth that mysteriously appeared after the “Great Disaster” that rocked the city over a century ago. As you make your way further down into the maze, ancient legends regarding lost cities and fiendish “Deep Ones” give the game a sense of mystery that actually leaves you curious about what’s lurking on the next floor.

For those starting the series for the first time, Etrian Odyssey III is a dungeon crawler/RPG that sends you face-first into the Yggdrasil labyrinth with nothing more than (virtual) pen and paper by your side. Your hand-picked guild must map out each floor one day at a time and eliminate any hostiles in standard menu-based RPG fashion. It’s a sizable (80+ hour) task, but someone’s gotta do it!

Even though you’ll probably end up beat to a bloody pulp every couple of hours, Etrian Odyssey III is the perfect starting point for those new to the wonders of Yggdrasil. The mobs are still formidable — and leveling up continues to be a slow, deliberate process — but the game provides enough incentives in the way of quests, missions, and item customization that you’ll rarely have to grind for the sake of grinding. Almost all of the quests reward you with a couple of items and a healthy dose of experience once they’re completed, but a handful grant you rare hammers whose magical effects can be “forged” onto items — so long as you have the cash and the monster parts, of course.

Instead of finding leftover coins on the ground after random encounters, you acquire your money (and equipment!) the old-fashioned way: by harvesting natural resources or selling bits of defeated beasties. While there’s a random element to the drops you get from enemies and harvesting locations, most monsters have special “golden” items that will only drop if they’re killed in a particular fashion (like with fire, when bound, etc.). While that might sound like a lot to keep track of, golden drops are always worth uncovering for the awesome items they’ll bring to the shop.

 

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