Etrian Odyssey III
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: Atlus
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: Cartridge
Release: US 09/21/10
Japan 04/01/10

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You'll come across a number of landmarks as you sail the ocean blue.
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Looks like someone's still got a lot of exploring to do – this is the first of two full screens of ocean.
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These red arrows are an "auto-pilot" path, a really handy feature.
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Everything you need to do in town is handled via straightforward menus.
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John Tucker
Hands-on Preview Update
John Tucker

Pat recently wrote that in his opinion, there's plenty of love to go around for new-style games and retro games alike. Well that's good, because the Etrian Odyssey series includes some of the most retro gaming features around, taking players back to their amateur cartographer days, when the only way to avoid getting lost in dungeons was to draw up their own maps. The latest installment in the series will be hitting stores later this month, and after having the chance to put quite a few hours into Etrian Odyssey III, we wanted to add some hands-on info to our earlier preview (below).

As previously reported, this game changes up the classes entirely from the previous Etrian Odyssey, and although some of them occupy standard RPG roles, there are some that really break the mold in ways that only work in the EO formula. For example, the unlockable Yggdroid class (previously reported on as the "Android") not only has several skills that result in some part of the character "binding" itself, it even has skills that provide benefits for being bound. For the benefit of those who haven't played the series, "bindings" are a special class of negative statuses that can be inflicted in addition to genre classics such as poison or stun. A character's head can be bound, restricting them from casting spells, their arms can be bound, restricting some weapon skills and weakening regular attacks, or their legs can be bound, stopping them from attempting to escape battle. While bindings are generally bad news, this is not necessarily the case for the Yggdroid, whose very first skill is the passive ability to regain TP (mana) whenever it is bound.

Interestingly, the importance of these classes appear to extend beyond their skill trees – at certain locations in the game's 25-floor dungeon (including post-end-game content), having members of specific classes in your party can help you avoid potentially painful mistakes. For example, you may come across a tree with shriveled fruit, and if your party includes a Farmer, that character will automatically "speak up" and let you know if the fruit is OK to eat, or if it will make your party sick.

The Etrian Odyssey series is known for requiring a fair amount of grinding, and while that hasn't changed, the developers have clearly made an effort to make grinding as painless as possible, both through the game's interface and through class design. As previously mentioned, players can now lay down an "auto-pilot" path on the map, which allows players to determine the fastest way through a floor and have the party follow it, or to find a handy spot for grinding and lay down a loop that the party will pace over and over, getting into random encounter battles until its inventory fills up or until it's time to retreat to town for some healing.

In terms of class designs that help make grinding more fun, Farmers have a skill that allows the party to instantly transport back to town, as well as a "Slap Awake" skill to revive fallen party members, which eases the burdens placed on the party's Monk (healer). In addition, a member of the Prince/Princess class seems to be a must-have: the class has skills that heal the entire party each turn that the Prince's HP is maxed, if the Prince is alive at the end of battles, and even with every step the party takes outside of battle.

Of course, it just wouldn't be Etrian Odyssey without FOEs ("F'ing Overpowered Enemies"). They're still around, and they'll make players grind their teeth like always. Of course, that just makes them all the more fun to pound after leveling up. Certain FOEs follow a set path, others chase after the player, and still others appear to stay in one place until something specific happens, such as the player getting into a battle near them.

In short, if you enjoyed the previous entries in the series, or thought they just needed some tweaking to be great, our time with Etrian Odyssey III indicates that you've probably got a lot to look forward in a few weeks. Keep watching RPGFan for a review in the days leading up to the game's release.

Stephen Meyerink
First Look Preview
Stephen Meyerink

The Etrian Odyssey series (known as Sekaiju no MeiQ in Japan) is well known for its old school style of cartography-heavy dungeon crawling and its high level of difficulty. This past April saw the release of the third game in the series in Japan, Sekaiju no MeiQ 3: Seikai no Raihosha (Visitor from Star Ocean). English-speaking fans of the series may not have to wait long, however, as the game was recently announced for a domestic release under the subtitle The Drowned Labyrinth.

As one might imagine from the subtitle, this iteration of the series introduces a watery, ocean setting. Along with the new seaside locales come a host of additions, refinements, and changes to the gameplay. One of the first things players will notice is that Atlus has done away with the classes from the previous two games, opting instead to offer a fresh selection, including Zodiac, Phalanx, Monk, Farmer, Prince/Princess, Pirate, Shinobi, Ballista, and Beast King, as well as the unlockable Shogun and Android.

Some of the new classes appear to fulfill similar roles in the party as the previous classes, but all offer brand-new skill sets. The Prince/Princess class offers a variety of skills that appear to be aimed at protecting and buffing the party. The Zodiac seems to be the replacement for Etrian Odyssey II's Alchemist class, utilizing the power of the stars to call upon elemental forces to damage the enemy. The Warrior provides, unsurprisingly, a variety of physical attack skills and passive weapon masteries for direct damage. The Phalanx comes packed with numerous skills that offer varying types of protective benefits that vary depending on which row he/she is currently in, as well as skills that allow him/her to strategically change position. The Pirate wields a rapier and a gun and has abilities that allow it to follow-up the attacks of other party members, along with a few support abilities that can do things like lower the defense of opponents or increase the party's chance to score critical hits. The Monk offers a fusion of powerful barehanded fighting techniques and a selection of variable healing skills that could prove invaluable. The Ballista class serves as the party's back row ranged damager, utilizing crossbows and a selection of skills to dish out the pain and support allies. The Farmer possesses very little combat prowess, but makes up for it with a number of support abilities that help the party get around, as well as skills that make gathering items much easier.

In order to entice players into trying new party setups with fewer than five members, classes like the Beast King and Shinobi have the ability to bolster your ranks through the use of their skills. The Beast King allows you to call upon creatures like elephants, snakes, bulls, and birds, as well as a few others. These summoned beasts have unique skills of their own and each can serve different purposes – for example, elephants can confuse opponents, moles can bind an enemy's legs, and owls can put foes to sleep.

The Shinobi is also able to "create" additional party members. By utilizing his Heat Haze and Clone skills, he is capable of creating decoys and even creating slightly weaker clones of himself. Another skill allows him to attack in unison with his clone for big damage bonuses.

As for unlockable classes, the Shogun wields a katana and has the skills to use it. In addition, it also fulfills the role of "general," utilizing skills that command the party to assume formations, counter enemy attacks, and strike in unison, among others. The Android, perhaps one of the most intriguing additions to the roster, possesses a skill set that revolves around dealing damage with various body parts in exchange for binding those body parts after the attack. Another set of skills allow it to summon bots that follow up the elemental attacks of allies and can be commanded to attack and deflect incoming enemy strikes.

Another new feature to the class system is the ability to select a subclass. This allows you to retain both the skills and stats of your original class while gaining access to a selection of the subclass' skills and weapon choices. Players gain the ability to select a subclass after completing the second section (stratum, in the game's terms) of the labyrinth.

One particularly notable new feature in the game is the ability to explore the ocean in a customizable ship. While sailing the high seas, players can find extra cash, trade with friendly ships, and unlock additional secrets and boss battles. However, the ocean exploration differs from regular dungeon traversal in that your equipment affects your ship's stats, thus determining how far you can travel per voyage. Players are able to use a number of different types of equipment, including sails, that can offer movement stat bonuses or allow one to bypass certain obstacles, weapons, which provide defense against hostile vessels, and rations, which also help determine your travel distance. Different combinations of equipment will allow the player to pass through different sections of the ocean.

The game also offers a several other changes to the experience, such as a larger amount of stylus control in menus, safe camps within the labyrinth, a wireless multiplayer option that allows up to five players to team up while navigating the vast blue ocean, and numerous tweaks to the combat that appear aimed at maintaining the notable difficulty of the series while eliminating some of the more time-consuming, grind-happy elements found in the first two outings. Another new feature aimed at reducing frustration is the autopilot function. Using several new map icons, players can draw a path on their map. If the autopilot switch is turned on, when the party steps on these paths, they will automatically follow them to their endpoint. This seems to be a good way for players to quickly get through an old floor that no longer poses any threat (though the party will still run into fights) or quickly and easily navigate a particularly treacherous section of the maze on repeat pass throughs.

The graphics in the game appear to follow the mold of previous Etrian Odyssey titles very closely. The dungeons are rendered in 3D and appear full of color. There also appears to be a greater amount of variation in terms of environments, which should help to keep the experience visually fresh for players. Enemies are still Final Fantasy I-VI style static images with different effects and animation applied for combat effects, though it appears that there is a larger variety of these effects now, making combat a bit more visually appealing. Towns are still menu-driven, with the same kinds of background art and large, detailed character portraits seen in the last two games. Each playable class has a selection of up to four portraits, all of which feel very much in sync with what has appeared before in the series.

The audio is classic Yuzo Kushiro. The music sounds reminiscent of both classic, old-school RPGs and the previous Etrian Odyssey games without sounding too much like a retread. The main battle theme is exciting and full of energy, and seems as though it would stand up well to the test of numerous battles fought over the course of the game. If previous games in the series are any indication, though, players can certainly anticipate a variety of battle themes throughout the journey. The town and exploration themes are varied and certainly in line with what players have come to expect from the series, and there are even a few carry-overs from the previous games for musical consistency. All in all, it sounds as though those who have enjoyed Kushiro's work in the past have plenty to look forward to here.

It seems as though Atlus has really worked hard to add new features to the Etrian Odyssey formula while tightening the nuts and bolts of the experience. The steps taken to minimize some of the game's more time-consuming tasks look be a welcome addition, and the new ocean exploration should offer a fresh method of advancement for players. The game certainly looks like it will offer an experience that adventurers can really sink their teeth into, and the title will see release in September. If all of the new features pan out, lovers of this particular brand of Atlus dungeon crawling should have a great new challenge to tackle when the game finally does release on this side of the ocean.


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