Nintendo DS Game Review: Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City

There are some who would have you believe that all of the games for the Nintendo DS are either casual puzzle games, shovelware (bad licensed games) or licensed products such as Pokemon (i.e good shovelware). Since I like neither or those game types and have played and reviewed more than a couple hundred DS games over the last five years, and have a library of over 100 DS games I love to play, it is safe to assume the platform has more to offer. From excellent adventures such as Hotel Dusk to grand strategy games like Advance Wars to the recent jRPG Dragon Quest IX, the DS has something for everyone. Nor are games trivial – there is the hard-as-nails Shiren the Wanderer … and there are the Etrian Odyssey games.

The Hype:
Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is a turn-based role-playing game (RPG) for DS and DSi that places the player in command of a band of adventurers on an ongoing quest to return their city to its once great status. The third release in the Etrian Odyssey franchise, the game features five character party combat, 5-player local wireless multiplayer support, a large number of character classes, the ability to explore and battle from sea vessels, customizable maps and three possible game endings.

* Up to 5 friends can team up in special combat challenges over a local wireless connection to take down the toughest monsters living in the ocean. Additional options let you wirelessly trade items
* A system of 10 new classes and a wealth of proprietary skills make developing the optimal party absorbing, tactical, and rewarding
* When danger lurks around every corner, it is imperative to keep track of where you have been and what you found there. The streamlined map maker lets you draw paths, paint in terrain, and drag and drop icons
* The ocean becomes a new stage for exploration. Sail your ship, chart the ocean map, sink enemy vessels, and take on seagoing foes
* Play again and again as you pursue each of the game’s three possible endings

The Reality:
I remember the first time I showed my kids the original Etrian Odyssey: I was deep in the labyrinth, trying to gain as much experience as I could before heading further down, and suddenly I turned into a small area and encountered a trap! There were creatures much too powerful for me, but I threw everything I had at them … only to have my entire party fall within two turns! Since this is the first game of the franchise I’ve reviewed here, let me start from the beginning …

Once upon a time there was this little game called Wizardry, in which you had to map your own dungeons and you walked about in a first person perspective and met wandering monsters as you explored the dungeon. Time has progressed but all that was old is new again on your DS! Etrian Odyssey is a dungeon crawler that makes you draw your own maps, pay close attention to all of the members of your party, make sure you are generating adequate amounts of cash reserves on a regular basis and face monsters that will wipe you out in a single round of intense turn-based combat.

Did I say ‘draw your own maps’? Yes, indeed! As you explore, your map is displayed on the lower screen, and you draw boundaries, make notes and highlights and otherwise add whatever you want to help you out – since this is a multilevel labyrinth you need to be prepared for some backtracking between zones. Eventually you reach a new section with an entry and exit directly to the outside world, but for several levels in-between you need to be able to navigate through the dangerous areas … because there are always monsters on the prowl! Compared to earlier games there are now just four levels per stratum, making it less of a gambit getting from stratum to stratum than before. This is further aided by the addition of many more hidden shortcuts – many times I was near death with few supplies and a quick trip through a shortcut got me to safety before another battle would surely have meant my demise!

Gameplay will be immediately familiar to fans of classic party-based role-playing games such as Ultima, Might & Magic and Bard’s Tale, yet much of it will not be alien to those whose idea of classic RPG’s begins with Final Fantasy. That is because the so-called jRPG (Japanese role playing game) sun-genre is based off of the Ultima tradition. To play you move through the world in a first person view and then meet enemies on a separate field and carry out your battles. Battles are turn-based, meaning that each player gets a turn to make an action with an order based character statistics. However, much more than with many other games you need to think of your party as a team that works together and supports one another – because the difficulty level of the game is brutal.

The presentation is fantastic – the graphics are rich and brightly colored and full of details that draw you in. The characters you meet are done in a fairly typical fixed-portrait 2D style, but each has a personality that shines through. The music is pleasant and atmospheric and really adds to the contrast between the beauty and danger simultaneously occurring.

While there are many similarities to the first two games, having to map the first level as your initial quest, for example – The Drowned City takes you BEYOND the labyrinth … and on to the sea! You actually get to captain a ship, and while it isn’t a dramatic gameplay change, the difference in style and setting is very refreshing. There are numerous tweaks to the class system and an overall feeling that the game has been even better balanced than the two prior entries. It all just works well, and with the interesting story and somewhat quicker pacing of exploration due to quicker strata and shortcuts makes for an exciting experience that is possible to play in shorter sessions – though the overall game remains huge! I would estimate that I spent more than 100 hours getting to the end!

Is it a strange thing to call a game that will mercilessly kill you ‘charming’? Perhaps it is, but that is a feeling I associate with this game. The nice graphics, draw-your-own dungeons and sweet music playing everywhere all just draw me in immediately whenever I start playing. I love the challenge, the feel of the game, and the ability to lead a party and have my choices matter. I enjoyed the characters in town, the way they change and grow. But everything comes down to the dungeons in a game like this, and that is where Etrian Odyssey shines brightest – the balance of you against your environment is perfect, and the execution of making a massive dungeon that is challenging at all levels is simply sweet perfection.

Review: Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City

Where to Buy:

Price: $29.99

What I Like: Still tough as nails; Excellent new & updated classes; combat is better than ever and executes more quickly; challenge level feels fair throughout; core game mechanics are still fresh and fun

What Needs Improvement: Still tough as nails; occasional difficulty spikes slow progress

Source: Personal Copy

Categories: Gaming, Reviews

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