Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth is Atlus’ latest entry into the dungeon crawling and cartography simulation series but does it stack up to the rest?
Etrian Odyssey V hasn’t got much of a story to talk about. The game is all about exploring floor after floor of a dungeon inside Yggdrasil the world tree. Who needs a plot anyway? The tree literally calls out for adventurers to come in and explore so what better excuse is there than that?
Your team of adventurers isn’t the only group of interesting characters to see. The market, council hall, guild hall, the tavern and the inn; Each of these places has interesting people to talk to, side quests to get and of course their own unique uses. The inn is for resting and saving, the market for buying and upgrading equipment, the guild hall for recruiting new party members and the council hall for turning in maps and item data.
Now while there isn’t much of a main story the side quests are entertaining enough to keep you going. They all have a story behind them like finding a relative, disabling magic traps set by a hunter who forgot where she put them or gathering ingredients so the inn has a new kind of bread to offer you when you stay over. This bit of context makes them that bit more enjoyable. Yes a lot of them play out like typical fetch quests but they’re more rewarding and since the whole game is about dungeon crawling and looting they fit in perfectly with the main gameplay.
During your adventure in the dungeon you’ll also come across random events that give you choices in how to proceed. One such event involves trying to outwit a turtle so you can get the shiny coin it’s sitting on without being bitten. I enjoyed these events a lot because they break up the monotony of wandering around and you have some agency in them. Some events will give you different options depending on the skills your characters have. For example, finding those hidden magic traps is easier if a character in your party has the Detect Mana skill.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back to the beginning. The game starts you off by asking you to create a team of 5 heroes. It kinds throws you into the deep end and it’s a little overwhelming since you don’t even know how the game plays and what you’ll need but the short descriptions of each race and class are enough to let you know what you’re into. One thing that’s annoying though is that you can’t see a character’s list of available skills until you’ve created them. So if you don’t know what a necromancer can do in battle, you won’t know until you have one. The best thing to do probably is to just make sure you have a healer and at least one tough guy in the front. Fortunately you have 30 character slots so if you don’t like your initial choices you can always just keep making characters until you find a combination of classes you like.
After creating your party you’re railroaded into doing a quest for the council which is just to map out the first floor of the tree. You’re also forced to visit each area in town before you go. Thankfully that doesn’t take long and it’s a good to get it all out of the way so you’re free to play as you like after. The game doesn’t hold your hand much, or at all actually after the intro. From there on out it’s just dungeon crawling, turn based fighting and cartography!
The bottom screen of the 3DS is for the map but when you first go onto a dungeon floor your map is completely bare. This is one of my favorite parts of the game. The top screen shows a first person perspective and you’re meant to draw out the map on the bottom as you go along. Mapping out a dungeon is really easy since everything is laid out on a grid and you just draw lines as you go. But there’s more to it than that. You can colour squares in to denote where there are bits of water or rocky ground or whatever you like. Apart from colours and lines you’ve also got access to an array of icons to help you remember important spots. You’ll be glad you stuck down the pickaxe icon when it comes time to get materials for a side quest.
What’s cool about the icons is that they change when you interact with the relevant spots on the map. When you place an icon on a square where there’s a tree to chop it will be grayed out once you’ve gathered materials there. Similarly on some levels of the dungeon there are statues you need to turn around to solve puzzles. If you place the statue icon down it’ll show you what direction it’s facing. Little things like this help to reduce tedium so you don’t have to try to remember every single detail about the place as you’re exploring. Actually Etrian Odyssey V has plenty of quality of life improvements to make things that much smoother. For example, sometimes you’ll have to go down a few floors you’ve already mapped out. It’s kind of boring holding up on the d pad all that time so you can draw a line on the bottom screen and have your party automatically walk along. Same for battles. Press a button and they just spam attack. It still doesn’t make long walks like that interesting but at least they feel less tedious.
As you’re going about the dungeon you will also have to engage in combat with various enemies. Combat is also played form a first person perspective and it turn based. Your party is split into two rows, with the front row taking and dealing more damage. At the start of a turn you give each party member and then they play out. I enjoyed the battles in Etrian Odyssey. Most of the time there isn’t a whole lot of strategy. Basic enemies usually only need basic attacks to deal with but there is enough enemy variety that battles remain enjoyable. You’ll get enemies with elemental attacks or ones that can poison you that require certain strategies to get through the battle safely so it keeps you on your toes. The boss fights are much more difficult, however.
Each floor has huge enemies that appear on the map rather than random battles and they move when you do, though each one has a different pattern. They are easily avoidable but you may have to fight them to complete side quests or get special loot. Them and the final boss of each floor present a much bigger challenge. This difficulty is never too much though as you always have a variety of ways to over come it. If your party isn’t able to beat the boss you can change their class, change their gear or grind a little to get new skills.
Grinding can be annoying but it always feels rewarding. You’re guaranteed to get items from certain enemies and that means you always have loot to sell when you get back to town. This brings up something I think Etrian Odyssey V does very well. All the mechanics work together. What I mean is that when you go into a dungeon you map it out, you build up a compendium of items and monsters and you get loot. When you get back to town you sell those items for money. The shopkeep also needs certain items to make different weapons and armour. Even if you have the money you can’t buy them without first selling him the materials needed for smithing them. You’re always getting rewarded or progressing towards something. The council will even reward you for your maps. At their hall you show them your map and update them on new materials and monsters you’ve found and they’ll give you money or special items. Even side quests can have permanent effects like rescuing a chicken and leaving it at the inn. From then on, you’ll always get eggs when you rest at the inn.
On the subjective of things working cohesivley, I’ll use that to segue nicely into this paragraph about the graphics. Etrian Odyssey V is a pretty good-looking game. The environments are nice to look at and there’s enough visual variety in the different dungeon levels that you don’t spend too long looking at the same thing. That said, you’ll spend most of your time looking at the bottom screen as navigating on the map is far easier than trying to find your way around with such a small field of vision as on the top screen. The monsters are all nicely detailed and well animated too. This game is also one of few where I’d say the 3D actually looks really good. You get a real sense of depth with it turned up full but unfortunately I couldn’t use it without my eyes getting disoriented. If you were just looking at the top screen it’d be fine but since you’re constantly switching between top and bottom it can put a strain on your eyeballs.
So that’s Etrian Odyssey V. It’s mechanics are simple but immensely enjoyable. The gameplay loop of exploring, gathering loot and selling it for new gear is fun and I find that seeing a floor you’ve completely mapped out is very gratifying. If you want a game that really makes you feel like an explorer, this is the one for you. Make sure to save often and in separate slots though, as your party only gets one extra life.