Dungeon crawlers can either drag on tediously or take you on a fun, exploratory adventure. Etrian Mystery Dungeon, just released for the 3DS in North America, is thankfully one of the good ones. Instead of finding yourself repeating the same actions endlessly, you are constantly presented with new challenges. The game is the perfect crossover between two popular franchises, Etrian Odyssey and Mystery Dungeon. Etrian Mystery Dungeon allows players to explore labyrinthine dungeons, engage in turn-based combat with mutated beasts, take on quests and build their own guild.
The game’s fully orchestrated soundtrack is instantly memorable. Composer Koshiro Yuzo, known for his influential work on numerous titles including the Streets of Rage series, reaffirms his mastery of sound design. Koshiro has a knack for exemplifying the idiosyncrasies of a dozen sub-genres of electronica, while maintaining the finesse to blend in jazz and classical influences. The score adds an irreplaceable layer of immersion, characteristic more of a television series or film than a handheld video game.
On the surface, the game doesn't look overly complex, but it allows more customization than most in its genre. When first traveling through the rabbit hole of menus, it may seem that there is no end in site, but Etrian Odyssey fans should be used to the level of intricacy. Guilds, the most important aspect of the game, are handled rather nicely. It’s easy to get lost trying to create the perfect combination of characters. Once you get access to your guild, I suggest limiting yourself to three recruits. Unless you’re aiming for a completely bespoke configuration, don’t fill your guild to the brim immediately like I did. I wasn’t too happy when I was deep down in a dungeon and found an NPC that wanted to join my guild but couldn’t. If you grab yourself a healer, a caster and a protector, you should be set for the first few hours.
After arriving at a dungeon, your goal is to defeat enemies and collect loot until you reach the bottom floor. Some treasures require you to go off-path, venturing down dead ends, forcing you to retrace your steps. As for the fighting mechanics, they can be a tad tricky. I don’t know how many times I died in the first dungeon alone. Etrian Mystery Dungeon brings its fair share of frustration, but it’s never enough to void the satisfaction of finally completing an objective.
As you defeat enemies, your characters gain experience and skill points. You can choose to apply skill points manually, or let the game handle them automatically. Let’s say you have a character in your party that is a protector. You can apply these skill points in areas like speed, but they may be better applied to HP or defense. The game will automatically make the best decision for point distribution. Keeping this setting on auto at the start of the game can be helpful, as you familiarize yourself with the environment.
Etrian’s gameplay is easy enough to grasp but difficult to master. It takes well-thought strategy and precise timing to make your way through dungeons without getting annihilated. There are several limiting factors to keep in check, to keep gameplay challenging. As you walk through the dungeons, you consume FP, energy that allows your characters to move. Regenerative gold tiles replenish FP, along with HP and TP. Mini bosses often need to be killed within a fixed number of turns. If you aren’t successful, they enrage and deal a considerable amount of damage to you and your party.
Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a great way spend your time with your 3DS. The slow-burning narrative, backed by a powerful original score, provides a great experience. If dungeon crawlers are your thing, then I highly suggest this game. It has found a permanent spot on my 3DS. You can grab the game for yourself from the Nintendo eShop on your 3DS for $39.99 as a digital download.
Review by: Mike Ackerman | Reviewed on: 3DS