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Etrian Mystery Dungeon Review—Spelunking with Style

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In Etrian Mystery Dungeon, you’re an adventurer who journeys to the bustling town of Aslarga to realize their dreams and hopes. Once there, it quickly becomes apparent with what troubles Aslarga is besieged, and why adventurers have become so sought after in the town. This gives our entrepreneurial protagonist an idea: create a guild for other adventurers to join, and help the town with its problems.

The gameplay closely follows Chunsoft’s other roguelike Mystery Dungeon games, such as Shiren the Wanderer (going so far as to even have a class named after that title). The player can bring three other adventurers along on his forays into randomized dungeon layouts. While venturing the depths of the dungeon, the lead character of the player’s party will get hungry—how hungry depends on who the player is controlling, and how much they have been moving—which hunger is remedied by eating food, but also by picking up drops of amber in the dungeons, which will also restore TP for skills/magic. Movement is turn-based, so once the player is near a monster, the game follows a turn order. This is great for a more strategic approach to gameplay.

What really makes fighting and combat exceptional is Etrian‘s iconic skill trees for the various classes. Mixing proper classes for a party can yield ridiculous results depending on the situation. This relies on the user picking the right skills for their particular strategy, in order to make it more effective. To also aid on your adventure is the ability to utilize blast skills, which uses a gauge from that ranges from 0-5. This raises when you attack, get attacked, and pick up amber. Blast skills can unleash orders to the whole party, heal members, give the ability to control each member individually, do a major attack to the room, etc. These are pretty cool and nifty skills to utilize, especially as the game continues, where you have the ability to get new class specific tomes that can change the tide of battle.

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The computer AI is fairly decent at maneuvering on the battlefield and determining proper skills for situations. However, there are a few issues with the AI, which seemingly happen at random, some of which can easily kill the whole party. One of these issues is that party members will sometimes stop attacking enemies and become punching bags as all enemies gang up on them.

Another such issue is that if a party member is a space or more away from the party, there’s a chance that the party member will run randomly to a different area. The player can take control of that member, but when returning to the team, another team member will begin to run away on their own, which will waste FP (leading to hunger). It seems to be a pathfinding error of some sort. If this is intended as an added aspect of AI behavior, perhaps it should have been detailed somewhere. It does add some extra challenge to gameplay, but is also annoying.

Despite those two nuisances, dungeon exploration is fun. Players will also meet random adventurers that can help out if the party has space remaining. Exploration could perhaps have aimed for more randomness, however, which is what makes roguelike games so engaging. Etrian plays it more safe, opting simply for randomized dungeon layouts, which follow similar formations and standard traps. What is a cool twist is the ability to create forts on the map, which will lock the layout of a dungeon. Players can choose what type of fort to build, for example, whether to have a stat-boosting fort or to create a searching fort for easy transportation from Aslarga.

Players can choose an additional four characters to man the fort, which will net more experience while the main party is fighting. Most of the boss fights in dungeons are satisfyingly challenging but there’s nothing too ridiculous outside of DOE’s, which require specialized tactics to fight, since they can’t be damaged by normal means. Players may need one trip to survey the boss, and a second in which they’ve prepared for the battle. The game’s difficulty is moderate, as it’s more forgiving and manageable, so it may not be as brutally difficult as fans of unforgiving rogue-type games may prefer.

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The ability to upgrade the town is a welcome feature. Money and resources are hard to come by, so players will need to think carefully about how to prioritize upgrades, each of which are extremely beneficial add-ons to the town. Town upgrades are locked behind story, so you cannot grind and upgrade everything until you progress the narrative. Another fun feature to aid players is the Rescue party function. When a group dies in the dungeon, players would normally lose all their money and equipment; however, EMD gives the player the chance to recover the lost teammates and bring them back as part of a mission (with a new set of characters) without losing money and equipment.

The art is, as usual, beautiful. It would have been nice to customize the characters’ appearance with more external equipment, but only weapons are showcased, and the animations could have been a bit more stylized, as a significant number of abilities feel flat or basic. What I didn’t like, however, were the visuals which correlate with the translation/story.

The music was absolutely superb and great to listen to with headphones. The score was truly able to bring out the sense of adventure, mystery, and danger in its own right. This honestly made me come back to a few dungeons just to hear the catchy tunes again, and was probably one of my favorite features besides class management and DOE fights with 8 people.

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Etrian Mystery Dungeon has a few good twists on the roguelike formula but could have strived for a little more diversity in the dungeon experience. There were a few kinks in gameplay, which are minor issues they will hopefully fix. The classes are fun and diverse, allowing for interesting combinations. This is not a revolutionary title, but it will be a great experience for people unfamiliar with rogue-type games or for those who want an easier time of it. Purists may not be as happy with its challenges.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon was reviewed using a review copy provided by Atlus USA. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 8

The Good:

  • Class diversity and strategy is fun and top-knotch for exploring
  • Fort Battles/DOE battles are fun and intense, especially when you have access to using 8 players
  • Difficulty is nicely balanced for people easing into rogue-style games, especially with the rescue party options open
  • Good challenge of resource management from upgrading the town to using materials to build and refine weapons
  • Music is absolutely wonderful

The Bad:

  • Having to work with some weird bugs in the dungeon runs that could jeopardize the expedition
  • Mediocre story progression in comparison to other Etrian games
  • Needed to add more variety and flavor to dungeon exploring
,
Chris Gollmer

About

I have been an avid gamer since I was a child, playing Legend of Zelda on the NES and began true niche gaming during the SNES/Genesis battles.




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21 comments
  1. JackDandy
    JackDandy
    April 6, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Looks fun as hell. Wish I had a 3DS.

  2. ReaperX30
    ReaperX30
    April 6, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Getting this tomorrow. Can’t wait.

  3. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    April 6, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    C’mon NISA, the EU is waiting on you to do Atlus’ job for them again…

  4. Nonscpo
    Nonscpo
    April 6, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    Hey Chris welcome back, haven’t seen an article from you in a while ;)

  5. bf313
    bf313
    April 6, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    Happy that Etrian is getting a game that isn’t first person style. Excited to play it!

  6. Chris Gollmer
    Chris Gollmer
    April 6, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    D’aaww thank you haha. I’m actually trying my hand again in game development so its been taking my time on top of work and band activities (No worries, my own personal development no ads or anything.). Helping out Brandon with the reviews when I got the time. Things calmed down a bit so I should at least be able to help with reviews a bit more.

  7. Chris Gollmer
    Chris Gollmer
    April 6, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    Enjoy, it’s fun! Tell me how you feel about it when you play it.

  8. Chris Gollmer
    Chris Gollmer
    April 6, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    I was really happy to see the classes in 3d Models too. Enjoy the game! When you get the chance, comment how you feel about it when you play it. I’ll be happy to discuss anything. ^_^

  9. Chris Gollmer
    Chris Gollmer
    April 6, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    Its good fun; it gets steadily more difficult but still manageable so I don’t think it was unforgiving as some of the Shiren the Wanderer games were which some people liked. At times I wish I didn’t get hooked on the 3ds because now that the Amiibo craze took full swing I’m trying to get the Fire Emblem characters and grab the new 3DS when Fire Emblem IF comes out. -_- I’ve been unlucky with getting any of the characters. I hope you do not get swarmed in the vortex of longing amiibos. Outside of that, great system! ^_^

  10. Tromboner
    Tromboner
    April 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

    Picking it up tomorrow and I can’t wait. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this game, and your review has only made me more excited. Great work!

  11. G3n3raL86
    G3n3raL86
    April 7, 2015 at 4:00 am

    NISA does not dissapoint, hoping for a EU release, too:)

  12. Joseph Villa
    Joseph Villa
    April 9, 2015 at 4:46 am

    I am glad most of the reviews for this game are good. I can’t wait to play it going to getting Xenoblade Chronicles 3D first though.

  13. ReaperX30
    ReaperX30
    April 10, 2015 at 3:25 am

    I tried it a bit and I now have the quest to kill the boss of the second dungeon. The only thing I could complain about is one thing you mentioned. When character from your party decides to go attack a monster on their own and your party end up being killed because it was more than you could handle. Beyond that though I know I’ll play it for a long time. The 3D is pretty good. I’ve played it pretty much only in 3D and I never use 3D for any game even MH4U which I’m addicted to. All in all I’m glad I got the game and it’s another Etrian game I will treasure and I’m proud to add to my collection.

  14. Chris Gollmer
    Chris Gollmer
    April 11, 2015 at 12:22 am

    Good! I haven’t actually tried the 3d function yet. ever since it first came out; I kinda shunned it haha. I’m willing to give it another go if you say its good. The best thing I could possibly suggest is if you are making bank in the game. Create a search fort when your characters decide to not do anything; get to the next floor or previous floors for the fort to be made and exit via Ariadne Thread. It’ll reset whatever was going through them and you’d be able to progress pretty closely to where you were last time.

    What classes is your primary group I’ve mostly stuck with Ninja, Paladin, Nurse, Runemaster. I switch in hexers and nobles when I feel like it but I still need to find my absolute team.

  15. Chris Gollmer
    Chris Gollmer
    April 11, 2015 at 12:23 am

    Thanks! I appreciate it. Hope you like it! it’s a fun game!

  16. Chris Gollmer
    Chris Gollmer
    April 11, 2015 at 12:24 am

    Xenoblade is an experience I think everyone should partake. It’s an amazing title. I fought for the shulk amiibo in hopes that something would come of it for this; but nothing. Of course haha. hopefully X will be more fruitful.

  17. ReaperX30
    ReaperX30
    April 11, 2015 at 12:53 am

    I went with Landsknecht, Medic, Protector and gunner. I’ve also taken one of each class from premade characters the guild offers you when you start but so far haven’t used any of them. Thanks for the advice. It would suck pretty bad to loose all my money due to a character doing nothing.

  18. Wand
    Wand
    April 12, 2015 at 10:23 am

    “Another such issue is that if a party
    member is a space or more away from the party, there’s a chance that the
    party member will run randomly to a different area.”

    This also happened in the first Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. Is it a gameplay mechanic or a bug nobody managed to fix in ten years?

  19. Wand
    Wand
    April 12, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Hoping NISA to port it is pretty much asking me not to buy it

  20. Hagane-Cosplay.tumblr.com
    Hagane-Cosplay.tumblr.com
    April 15, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Ditto – I was very disappointed to see this isn’t out in the EU until “Q3/Q4” (which as I know from experience is code speak for “maybe not at all, we’ll see if people still care in 6 months”)

  21. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    April 15, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    It’s coming, was confirmed either yesterday or the day before I believe