Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City Review
Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is a roguelike RPG that scoffs at formalities such as story-arcs and melodramatic characterization. You command a group of explorers into the Yggdrasil Labyrinth in search of treasure, which is about as deep as the story goes. In its place is a wealth of options for customizing characters and plenty of mysteries to be solved with ingenuity as your only guide. Veterans of the series know exactly what to expect, but for newcomers to the roguelike sub-genre, I will warn you now that Etrian Odyssey III should not be your first.
There is no main character. Instead, you handpick a group of five adventurers from ten classes, and later, hidden sub-classes. The 40+ character portraits have no bearing on gameplay, but it is worth mentioning that Yuji Himukai has once again offered his wonderful talents as an illustrator to the game. The eclectic collection of classes includes buccaneers, ninja, monks, medieval warriors, and even princesses. You’re free to mix-and-match and, should you find one class disagreeable, there are twenty open slots waiting in reserve.
Although each class has initial strengths and weaknesses, adding one point per level to a branching skill-tree allows you to define a character’s role with nuance. For example: the farmer is a miserable combatant, but the proper skills can turn him into a keen treasure hunter, or a guide, capable of letting you slip past traps and deadly monsters. Monks are wonderful healers, but they can also be powerful warriors with a few alterations. Empowering the monk with the Fist Mastery skill and removing his weapon will cause his attack damage to skyrocket, and is one of the clever secrets waiting to be uncovered.
Creating maps of the dungeons is your responsibility, using in-game tools, and I suggest pursuing perfectionism. Much like Atlus’ own Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey or, more aptly, The Dark Spire, repetition is unavoidable, to put it mildly. Unexpected traps and dangerous foes can deplete supplies in an instant and force you to turn tail and run back to town. You can only hope that you have made enough profit and gained enough experience to progress a few steps further during your next visit.
Grinding is an important aspect of Etrian Odyssey III, and one that typically comes with the territory of roguelikes. Believe it or not, some of us actually enjoy the punishment, if only to make success more rewarding, but Etrian Odyssey III pushes the boundaries of overkill. After dutifully exploring every nook and cranny of a dungeon floor, often in triplicate, you should expect to spend at least one more hour grinding with the faint hope of surviving your first encounter on the next floor down. More quests from the townsfolk would be appreciated, as would fewer quests that require scouring areas already explored.
Combat is turn-based and should feel familiar, if not anachronistic, with the standard abilities to attack, defend, use an item, or activate a skill. The combat is functional and, even against some minor opponents, will test your tactical abilities, but the series still suffers from the absences of two features. Most noticeable is the lack of a chart for turn-order, which is critical to planning attacks and healing judiciously. Second, is information pertaining to monsters, so if you discover a weakness, you better write it down or commit it to memory.
Between dungeon-crawls, you can also hire the services of a ship to explore the seas. Much like the dungeons, there are no guides, but plenty of secrets to uncover. How far you can venture out is dictated by how many supplies you can afford, but you might find an island with valuable resources or a profitable fishing spot to make the trip worthwhile. There are no battles at sea, but sailing is another welcome layer of exploration atop an already deep experience.
Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City requires a level of commitment that few RPGs dare to ask of players. You will struggle to survive and you will curse the hours of grinding to restock your supplies, but the victorious satisfaction of beating the odds and reaching the next floor makes it all worthwhile. Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is a must-have for roguelike gamers.