March 2, 2016

Spike Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon series has crossed over with a number of games over the years. Etrian Mystery Dungeon sees it merge with Atlus’s dungeon delving Etrian Odyssey, which I adore. It gives Mystery Dungeon an Etrian skin; it shares the same basic gameplay as Mystery Dungeon, but the art, music, monsters and more are all lifted from Etrian Odyssey. I was pleasently surprised to find that the two worked well together.

The game has you play as an adventurer who has just arrived in the town of Aslarga, which is actively seeking out individuals willing to brave the mystery dungeons that have been opening up throughout the land. You and the other members of the town need to band together to figure out why there are so many new dungeons, and to stave off the monsters that are pouring out of them. Your journeys will lead to the secrets of the Yggdrasil tree located near Aslarga and how it relates to these dungeons. I enjoyed the game’s characters, as it had quite the colourful cast. If you’re after a game with a deep story though, I suggest you look elsewhere; Etrian Mystery Dungeon’s plot is not its strong point.

Aslarga will act as your hub. The town was founded to attract adventurers, so there are various facilities that allow you to buy, sell and store items and equipment, accept quests, have a bite to eat to raise your stats before a journey and more. You can improve the town using ‘en’, the game’s currency, with upgrades being unlocked as you progress the story and explore more dungeons.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon has you form a guild when you start, which you get to name. There are ten classes to choose from, with the game allowing you to name each character and choose from one of eight pre-determined portraits per class (four for each gender). You can have up to four characters in your party at any time and store more in forts, which I’ll discuss shortly. All unused characters will stay at the guild in Aslarga, to be called upon at any time.

As implied by the game’s name, the people of Aslarga know little of the dungeons’ inner workings. The number of floors in each dungeon is fixed, but the layout of each floor and the rooms on each floor will vary every time you enter. The goal is simply to reach the the bottom of the dungeon via the stairs on each floor, at which point you will encounter a geomagnetic pole that will warp you back to town. As you explore, your character will get more and more hungry; once they’re starving, their health will begin to drop. Dungeons are helpfully littered with amber, which your main character will consume to restore hunger and TP. I never found hunger to be a real issue, especially in later dungeons where there was more than enough amber to keep my character full. Dungeons also contain gathering points where you can pick up unique resources, with each class specialising in the exploitation of different types of these item points.

Forts exist to aid you in your exploration and make mystery dungeons less confusing. Their presence in a dungeon will fix its layout, ensuring it’ll always be the same every time you enter. Most forts will contain a geomagnetic pole so you can warp there; they will act as your checkpoints within the dungeons. They’ll also reveal a number of surrounding spaces and floors, helpfully allowing you to see more of the dungeon layout, including the arrangement of floors and areas you’ve yet to enter.

You can choose to fill your forts with other members of your guild who would otherwise have been twiddling their thumbs back in Aslarga. While in a fort, they will gain levels, and they’ll be able to defend a fort should it get attacked by an DOE; these are beasts which act as mini-bosses, and are far more powerful then regular monsters. The game will alert you when they appear in a dungeon, and you can watch their progress as they move from the base to the top of a dungeon. If they reach the top and get into Aslarga, the town will be flattened. Should your party fall in a dungeon, you can assume control of your allies in the fort and have them rescue you. Try to avoid dying as much as possible, as the consequences are brutal; you’ll lose all the items and money you had in your pack, as well as a great deal of your current equipment.

The game is entirely turn-based. In the field, your foes only move after you do, and you can see them clearly; there are no random encounters. I encountered an issue when there were lots of enemies on the floor, as it would cause the game to stutter. The same thing occasionally occurred when I stepped on a gathering point; if my party was able to pick a lot items up from that area, the game would freak out for a few seconds as it processed my find. I was playing on a New 3DS as well, so I’m not sure how a regular 3DS would handle it. It’s not game-breaking by any means, but it was jarring.

All encounters take place in the field, allowing you to surround your foes and vice versa. Red amber is situated at the entrance to many of the rooms on each floor, and standing on it allows the party to take a battle formation around it. You have a number of skills and magical abilities at your disposal, which vary between classes. Skill points are gained as you level up, which you can then spend on learning or improving skills. There are also special skills known as ‘blast skills’. Most of these are found by progressing the story or completing certain quests, and can only be used by filling the Blast Gauge as you explore. This meter is filled by dealing damage and collecting amber in dungeons, and it may be filled up to five times over before maxing out. You can then consume it to use these blast skills, which are all far more powerful than regular attacks. All of this allows for a great amount of flexibility in the way you build your characters and your team; you have complete control over all of it, which I appreciated.

Something which frustrated me about this game was how you could control your allies. In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, you can give them orders individually (fight, wait, go out on your own, and more). In Etrian Mystery Dungeon, there is none of that, with your allies acting of their own accord all the time. Their actions vary between classes; offensive ones always go out of their way to attack, for example, and there was nothing I could to to prevent them from doing so, short of taking control of that character. That would then leave my other party members doing as they please, and this was by far what killed my characters the most. I couldn’t stop them from doing stupid things, and no matter who they were, whether tank or squishy healer, they would always stop to fight any opponent that stood next to them. You can assume control of all of your allies at once using a blast skill, but to return to the regular control method, you had to use the blast skill again, which I found wasteful. Given its presence other games, I saw no reason why Etrian Mystery Dungeon couldn’t have had a better way to give out orders to your allies.

Aesthetically, I enjoyed Etrian Mystery Dungeon‘s world. The game was adorned with a variety of bright colours, giving each area its own unique feel. The music was nice to listen to as I played; it’s nothing particularly great, but it’s still good, and accompanies the events of the game well.

The game doesn’t stop offering new content even after the credits roll. I’d gotten 44 hours out of Etrian Mystery Dungeon before I finished the main scenario, after which some half a dozen new dungeons unlocked for me to explore. The postgame will double your play time with ease; I’ve played for another 15 thus far and barely scratched the surface. This game has a huge amount of content to offer for anyone who enjoys it.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon successfully incorporates the Etrian Odyssey series into the Mystery Dungeon series’ roguelike style. While the plot was paper thin, the gameplay is solid, and the two series’ work wonderfully together. Despite some minor technical difficulties, the game looked great, was filled with fun and brimming with content and dungeons to explore. It can be difficult, but if you’re a fan of the roguelike genre or an Etrian Odyssey fan looking for something a bit different, there are few games I would more heartily recommend.

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