Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City
Nintendo DS
Reviewed: 9/22/2010

A hundred years ago, a technologically advanced city named “Armoroad” suffered a devastating earthquake. Known as the “Great Event,” this quake took out the entire middle of the city; separating the north from the south. A grand labyrinth was soon found nearby, enticing adventurers and profiteers to seek their fame and fortune. You are one such adventurer and leader of a guild of likeminded adventurers. Thus begins Etrian Odyssey III.

Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey series is marked by a few recurring features, the most prominent being players must create their own maps via the touch screen and stylus. Creating these maps is a bit easier this time around because the icons are clearer. Sure, part of this ritual gives a sense of exploration and discovery that few games have. But… seriously, it’s just as much of a turn off as it always has been for those who note that Wizardry, one of the gameplay inspirations of Etrian Odyssey, soon to be released on the DS, will not make people create their own maps. It’s not a feature many players will look forward to. In the end, this particular feature will be accepted by few players, perhaps those with a bit of nostalgia for older games of this ilk, or, more likely it shall be hated entirely.

Another feature making a comeback is creating and customizing a party of adventurers, choosing class and skills to make individuals that fit certain roles and a team that overcomes certain challenges. Etrian Odyssey III has done this better than any game in the franchise yet. The player will have access to ten new classes, with two additional classes unlocked later in the game. Amazingly, each class is useful and versitile. For example, the Monk class can hurt things with their fists, or can cure things with their Qi. The Prince/Princess class can be a solid front line damage dealer or a buff/debuffer tucked safely in the back, it may also use passive abilities to restore the entire party’s HP. The farmer can harvest with more ease than any other class, they get abilities that can restore TP for themselves, take the party back to town, or get through mazes with a little less pain.

Screen Shot
Now with 20% less mapmaking!

As respectable as the character and party creation is, things become more customizable after the first third of the game, when sub classes are opened up. With a few exceptions for skills meant specifically for other classes, adventurers can learn abilities once restricted to other classes. It’s amazing how balanced it all is. There are some strong combinations here, but none of them are overpowering or game breaking. Etrian Odyssey II’s Hexer and Dark Hunter, I’m glaring at you.

In every Etrian Odyssey game, there is a dungeon to delve into with secrets to reveal. This game manages to be just as brilliant as the first two in this department. Although initially difficult, the stratums themselves are shorter with 4 floors per stratum. Every floor seemed much more involved and developed. The graphics are consistently beautiful with their playful anime style, and the music sets the mood well for each stratum and boss fight.

Unlike many games in this brand of dungeon diving RPG, Etrian Odyssey III has an actual story. In Etrian Odyssey II, the story’s hook involved collecting the Holy Grail with a come-to-realize twist well into the game. Other than discovering back stories of NPCs and the secrets of the castle in the game, however, there was no overarching story. Etrian Odyssey III opens with a broad “It’s time to explore!” hook and introduces NPCs along the way when suddenly the game drags the player’s Guild into a conflict of “Good versus Evil,” which plays out more tool vs. bigger tool, that actually forces choices on the player. The game has multiple endings, and while the story is by no means epic, it’s solid and won’t trip up the dungeon exploration. A New Game+ feature also allows players to experience different viewpoints of the story without grinding up old characters or fighting for currency and gear.

There is a sidequest-meets-minigame feature where players explore the sea in a customizable craft. It involves a bit of mapping and a lot of planning, and is more puzzle game than dungeon exploration. It’s a nice change of pace between harsh, unforgiving dungeon crawling and can be a decent way to make money without grinding. Although frustrating at the beginning, especially with no knowledge of where to find better equipment and supplies to sail farther out, as it opens up it is quite amazing.

Screen Shot
I’m on a boat!

This game is the first of its lineage to allow friends to play together simultaneously to combat bosses for loot, though the feature is really limited. First off, you’ll need friends who actually bought this game. As a niche title, that alone may prove challenge. Then each player chooses a character from his guild roster, selects a couple of NPCs, and beats up some boss for fun and profit. There is absolutely no exploring to be had, just “this is what the one character I’m in control of in this party will do” combined with everyone else’s chosen actions, the NPCs brought along as backup if there were any will act autonomously. While multiplayer is not a reason to buy this game, it doesn’t detract from one’s enjoyment and should be tried if able.

Etrian Odyssey III proves itself to not only be a great addition to the franchise, but also upholds its place as exemplar of the niche. It’s fresh and changed, but still familiar and enjoyable. Those turned off by the thought of drawing maps or cheap deaths, however, might think twice before taking this dungeon dive.

-Tim Olsen

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Average
Graphics Good
Sound/Music Great
Replay Value Excellent
The Verdict: Great