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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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