my ears seem to perk up whenever i hear about a game that seems to polarize players, because that usually indicates that a game has taken some sort of risk. one that i played a fair amount recently was etrian odyssey by atlus for DS. this review at gamezone.com has a fairly detailed rundown of the game’s setup, but basically the game uses the tried-and-true, typical classic turn-based RPG battle system paired with a unique gimmick which is that you can make maps of the dungeons yourself using the in-game mapping system. the DS’s touchscreen makes this an intuitive, entertaining, and new experience, but the novelty quickly wears off as you slog through floor after floor of the entirely story-less quest (although apparently a semblance of a story does get incorporated about a third of the way through the game).
the game is often cited as being quite difficult, but my main problem with the game wasn’t the challenge. i don’t mind a challenge in general, although i agree that the game starts off being quite “difficult” in that you’ll have to return to the town to heal often at the beginning and you’ll be short of cash more often than not. but a few floors in, the difficulty evens out a lot and the “challenge” such as it is lessens considerably. the game also seems to get praised by reviewers for its “deliberate” pacing: the game only enables you to obtain better weapons, armor, items, or accessories after you reach a certain floor of the dungeon, and the gains you receive are palpable and really feel like upgrades, as opposed to all the filler equipment you find in other RPGs.
my main problem with the game is that, as with most RPGs, 90% of your time playing the game will be in battles and the battle mechanics themselves are just too dull to maintain your interest. as i’ve said before, there are only so many times a person wants to cast “fire 2” and “cure all” in one lifetime, and i’ve passed that point quite a while ago. the game did keep my interest for a while with its other key feature which is the character customization, where for every level up you’re given one skill point to allocate as you choose among your character’s class’s available skills. although this gives a definite sense of decision making, i found that it didn’t feel like enough of a unique feature to offset the fact that the majority of the classes and their skills are ones we’ve seen countless other times (fighter, check; white mage, check; black mage, check; geomancer, check). without a unique battle mechanic, story, characters, or even unique enemies or graphics (which are clean but minimal) to make up for it, exploring the dungeon just becomes repetitive once the gimmick of map-making wears off. and to top it all off, you can only warp into the labyrinth every 5 floors, so for 4 out of every 5 floors you play through you have to go through the same route over and over again fighting the same enemies to get to new areas.
although i played it obsessively for the first few floors, by the time i got to the 7th floor i felt like i had seen everything the game had to offer, so although i don’t usually do so i’ve decided to set the game aside indefinitely. it seems the second game is more of the same with a few new classes, but i’ve heard better things about the third iteration which features completely new and more-unique classes and some sailing mechanics to provide some variety. i’ll probably give that one a try at some point, but i don’t think it’ll be anytime soon.
mapping out some etrian odyssey links:
– entry at wikipedia
– PDF of manual at replacementdocs.com
– fansite with interactive maps. also includes the comics and much more easily downloadable access to the wallpapers featuring all the character portraits found on the official site.
– good FAQ at gamefaqs including a rundown of the skills and a ranking of the classes
– positive review at gamespot.com