GameCentral’s favourite dungeon crawler returns, with some strange new ideas about how to make a sequel.
There are many games we recommend despite knowing they are doomed never to sell. Somebody (in Japan we imagine) must be buying Etrian Odyssey games, because they keep making them, but we’ve hardly met anyone else that enjoys them. As far as we’re concerned Etrian Odyssey IV is one of the best portable role-playing games of all-time, but we’ve long ago accepted that almost nobody else has heard of it. We were really looking forward to eulogising this new sequel, so you can imagine our upset when it turned out to be one of the most backwards sequels we’ve ever played.
If you’re looking at the screenshots and videos and wondering what we’re getting so excited about, we have to admit that the Etrian Odyssey series is a hard sell. It’s an old school dungeon crawler with turn-based combat, lots of level-grinding, and constant backtracking. All things that, under normal circumstances, we usually don’t enjoy at all.
As you’d probably guess the game’s also extremely difficult, and yet its tone is one of cheerful innocence. The relatively rare text descriptions are unusually verbose, and suggest a game considerably more laidback and whimsical than the punishing experience you’re actually put through. But this odd juxtaposition puts you off guard just long enough for the game to get its claws into you, and for the addiction to begin…
Etrian Odyssey uses a first person perspective but a highly simplified grid-based movement system, where you only move forward in discreet steps – as in Atari ST classic Dungeon Master and modern homages such as Legend Of Grimrock. There’s almost no story and your characters are all custom-made, so they don’t talk or have any personality of their own – except in your own head.
But the game’s most retro feature is that you have to build a map of the dungeons yourself by drawing on the 3DS’s touchscreen, just as ‘80s gamers had to with bits of graph paper.
This is completely unnecessary and yet somehow instantly endearing, as you carefully note down the position of shortcuts, resource spots, and larger monsters. The game will automate the drawing of floors and walls if you want it to, so it’s not quite as pedantic as earlier entries in the series, but to us at least that feels like cheating.
The cartography theme is carried through into the various quests you take on, many of which require you to map a certain dungeon level or use your knowledge from a previous trip to visit a specific location. Combat is just as old school as you’d expect, and although nominally first person it still looks like something out of an old school Dragon Quest game, as your team of five characters takes turns beating up the various monsters you come across.
There are many different class types you can choose from, all of which try their best to offer something at least a little different to the fighter/mage/healer norm. All have their own complex skill trees and wide range of very specific abilities, from creating physical barricades to absorb attacks to a complex range of buffs and de-buffs that can all be stacked together.
New for Etrian Odyssey V is the ability to team up with one or more team-mates, once a meter has charged, to perform more powerful attacks or things lings like instantly escaping back to the entrance. And…. that’s pretty much it for new ideas. On the lower difficulty setting you now get a second chance if your team wipes out, and there are finally some minor cosmetic customisation options for your avatars, but that’s really it in terms of anything new.
As absurd as that sounds the worst thing is that Etrian Odyssey V has no meta game at all. This idea started in the third game, where you could also map the oceans around your home town in what was almost another game in itself. In Etrian Odyssey IV this was expanded into a giant overworld filled with hidden secrets and high-level monsters. But Etrian Odyssey V’s equivalent to this is… nothing at all.
We were really looking forward to seeing how this element of the game would evolve this time around, but it’s just not there. As a result, this just feels like a remake of the first game. Except there’s already one of those, and that justified itself a lot more than this by adding in a proper story and characters. By contrast Etrian Odyssey V does absolutely nothing to justify its existence.
We’d thoroughly recommend Etrian Oddysey IV as one of the best games on the 3DS and a true hidden gem. It’s not on the eShop but most online shops seem to have it in stock, so it’s not hard to get. But really, any of the other games on the 3DS are better than this strange, almost entirely pointless sequel.
Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond The Myth
In Short: One of the oddest sequels of all time, which removes one of the series’ most interesting features and adds almost nothing in return.
Pros: The core gameplay is as charmingly addictive as ever, with some of the best-designed levels of the series and a few new options to make things easier for newcomers.
Cons: No significant new ideas, with the same very basic graphics and presentation as always. No meta exploration element of any kind.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: 3rd November 2017
Age Rating: 12