Etrian Mystery Dungeon

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Atlus U.S.A.
Developer: Chunsoft
Release Date: April 7, 2015 (US), Fall 2015 (EU)


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3DS Review - 'Etrian Mystery Dungeon'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 8, 2015 @ 12:01 a.m. PDT

Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a turn-based action RPG roguelike, mixing Etrian Odyssey's vast RPG party and skill customization aspects, and Mystery Dungeon's infinitely random dungeon adventures.

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Etrian Mystery Dungeon is an example of two great ideas coming together like peanut butter and chocolate. It's a mix of the Shiren the Wanderer-style Mystery Dungeon roguelike gameplay and Etrian Odyssey-style party composition and design, and it successfully combines the strengths of both genres. It isn't a perfect mix, and some elements do clash, but it works more often than it doesn't.

You play as an adventurer who traverses an always-shifting, randomly generated dungeon. The game is turn-based, so you take an action, and then every enemy around you takes an action. Combat involves using your resources to kill enemies before they can kill you. You manage your HP, your technique points, and your hunger while exploring the dungeon. It requires careful thought and planning, and one wrong move can lead to disaster. Every enemy has a gimmick that ranges from high-defense enemies to self-destructing monsters and poisonous creatures. To survive, it's essential that you master the abilities and items.

First, you create a character to explore the dungeons. Most of the characters are based on classic Etrian Odyssey archetypes. Landsknecht are powerful melee-focused warriors, and Protectors are tanky and durable. Gunners can shoot from the distance, and Hexers can badstat entire rooms full of enemies but are physically weak. Unique to Mystery Dungeon is the Wanderer class, which is based on Shiren the Wanderer and specializes in dungeon exploration and manipulation. Each character gains skill points as he or she levels up, and the points can be spent to learn new skills. For example, Gunners can learn how to bind enemy attacks, and Medics can learn to heal various ailments.

The one thing that defines Etrian Mystery Dungeon over other Mystery Dungeon titles is its emphasis on party play. Every character type (except perhaps Medic) can play solo, but they work best as a team of four. You have one playable character and three AI partners, who function under their own rules and logic, though you can lightly manage them by altering which spells they use. You can switch between the four characters at any point, but you can't control them individually — most of the time.

The burst meter also functions as a party command meter. This fills up as you explore the dungeon, and it can be spent to issue special commands or temporarily take control of your entire party for a number of turns, which is essential for difficult fights. The boss fights automatically default to full party control, so you can take on the toughest foes without wasting your precious burst meter. As long as one party member is up, the game isn't over, and you can retreat to safety. You can also spend the burst meter to perform special attacks, such as an area-wide heal or a highly damaging special move, but doing so limits your control over the party.

The core problem with the party system is that it's a tad awkward. Most of the time, the non-player characters are AI controlled, but the AI is just bad enough to be frustrating. Runemasters waste their TP on spells when one more hit would kill an enemy, and Medics refuse to heal when you're low on health. It isn't crippling, since the AI usually works, but it fails often enough. The AI was designed around the idea that you fight enemies in narrow corridors and take advantage of your surroundings. If you're caught in an open area, such as when you're walking down steps, it can be a disaster unless you burn a Burst charge to temporarily control the party. It's exasperating that you have to waste precious resources because of mechanical flaws

There are two ways to play the game. One is to play it like a Mystery Dungeon game and go in solo. The other is to play it like an Etrian Odyssey game and go in with a party. Trying to focus on only one approach leads to frustration, since there are advantages and disadvantages to both. A single character levels up much faster than a party and can take advantage of abilities and skills that don't work well in a party format, such as walking on water. You sacrifice the safety and comfort of multiple party members for a single, slightly more flexible party member. Many early quests ask you to try them with a single character to emphasize the benefits of this. In general, a good policy is to explore with a single character and take on missions with multiple characters. If you constantly rotate your cast, you get a good feel for the different skills, and they level up faster.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon can occasionally be punishing, but the difficulty is fairly tame for a Mystery Dungeon title. It has more bite than Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, but it's more forgiving than Shiren the Wanderer. Death can lose your valuable resources, but it's rare to be in a position where you can die. Yggdrasil Leaves, which revive you, are plentiful, and items that allow you to escape the dungeon are easily farmed. You also don't lose everything when you die, just what you have on hand. If you are wiped, you can send in a rescue team to help. When it comes, Death has a harsh penalty in loss of items and equipment. The game is more along the lines of Etrian Odyssey than Shiren, and it's built around repeating dungeon dives rather than a single successful one.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon doesn't hesitate to punish complacency. If you're surrounded by enemies or burdened by badstats, you can go down much quicker than expected. The game also features the traditional Etrian Odyssey FOE minibosses, which are rebranded here as DOEs. They venture toward the town while you're exploring. If they reach town without being defeated, they devastate the town and temporarily render shops and services unavailable. You can halt this by setting up forts, which serve as blockades that lessen the mystery dungeon's ability to change shape. You can deploy characters to forts, where they passively gain levels while you're exploring. If a DOE hits a fort, you're dragged into a battle with them, and you're equipped with either your weapons or fort-specific weapons. If the characters defeat the DOE, everything is good. If not, the fort is destroyed, and you have to pay to rebuild it.

It's an interesting balance. The default fort is rather cheap, and as long as you have one located at a choke point in the dungeon, you won't run a serious risk of losing the town. DOEs are pretty brutal, especially if you fight them with your B team. Beating them is worth the safety and the prizes, but you need to balance the risk of taking them on with the trouble that a wipe would cause.

There's a good amount of content in the game. The main story has multiple dungeons, complete with nasty bosses, in addition to a large number of optional quests and missions. Finishing the game unlocks a variety of bonus areas, including a more traditionally Shiren-style mystery dungeon. You can spend a lot of time building your town. By investing resources, you unlock the ability to buy more things, hold more items, purchase special food that buffs you before a dungeon, and various other things. The game also supports DLC quests, although the ones available at launch were free and simple. The near-infinite randomization of the dungeon, especially mixed with a huge number of character classes, offers a ton of flexibility.

One area where Etrian Mystery Dungeon feels a little weak is visuals. The randomization works against it by leaving a lot of areas feeling rather dull and repetitive. The character models are cute and simple and easily read, which is important for the gameplay, but the art design feels a little weak. Etrian Odyssey dungeons were always striking visuals despite their repetition, but Mystery Dungeon feels generic. The 3-D effect is rather poor and gave me a headache, even when I played on the New 3DS. However, the soundtrack is excellent. It isn't quite up to par with the amazing Etrian Odyssey 4 soundtrack, but it's still top-notch and boasts some great tunes.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a solid game that conveys the strengths of both franchises involved. It has the tactical and brutal combat and exploration of Shiren the Wanderer and the character-building and style of Etrian Odyssey. Only a few things, like awkward AI design, hold back the game. The problems are annoying but can be reasonably worked past, especially once you understand the game mechanics. If you're a fan of both franchises, you'll find a lot to like here, and it's a great starting point for fans of one to get into the other. It doesn't break new ground for either franchise, but it's a simple, fun and addictive synthesis of both.

Score: 8.0/10

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