Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth Review
Release Date: October 17, 2017
In 2007 the Etrian Odyssey series began. Through the years on the DS and 3DS, the series has evolved, ever expanding out to make the game deeper and more dramatic. With Etrian Odyssey V, the game attempts to streamline down in hopes of a simpler, easy to master experience that eliminates a lot of the haggles of previous entries.
The Etrian Odyssey series has often had many sub quests and side jobs, but the prime gameplay consists of mapping out dungeons as you fight through turn-based battles with the enemies within. Instead of a map that auto-fills like a traditional RPG, the Etrian series has a grid-based map. Action takes place on the top screen, with the bottom screen dedicated to a map that you assist in drawing. When you find new points of interest, whether it be a titanic enemy, campfire, berry gathering spot, or an old campfire, you can mark them on your map. Fully mapping an area nets you several rewards. You turn in the map for payment of a job well done. Others will ask you for quests, which will be easier depending on the depth you have marked your map. You can craft auto-runs of certain levels to take you to supply caches to help you in your quest. And, of course, you will find the next set of stairs to continue your journey.
This time, your team is tasked with mapping out the Yggdrasil Tree. Those following the series can take note that there are not multiple dungeons this time. All floors are on their way up the tree. This allows you to focus and streamline your gameplay. Other benefits are the auto-map that will help draw your borders if you see the need, markers that can show whether you have accessed the materials at a procurement site or not, and an easy-access and customizable marker tab that's always within reach. It may sound boring to design maps, but it is highly satisfying to have someone beg you for help, and thanks to your map, you know exactly where to go to get what they need. As the game proceeds, the maps get more and more complicated, putting your map skills to the test. One wrong wall and the maze you are trying to find your way through becomes impossible. A skilled cartographer will not only map perfectly, but they'll be able to create an automated route through the maze to get deeper into the world. You can use the icons and colors for whatever works for you to best remember the items in the world. You aren't required to stay with traditional set ups, which makes the map feel more unique to you.
Within the game, the traditional RPG battles are just that: dedicated, diehard classic. At the start of the game you are tasked with putting your team together. There are a slew of options just in the combination of races and classes, and no set templates required at all. You can craft a huge clan of warriors, then pick the five that are to go into the dungeon together. You will fight traditional RPG style battles, and also come across some simple storyline bits that you have to have the right skills unlocked in order to proceed. Depending on the obstacles, some teams will do better than others. Early characters are definitely "green": I haven't seen a level one party get slammed by early enemies this hard since I played Final Fantasy I. Leveling up gets you points to put into abilities, specialized to the race and class of your character. There are enough options that you can really make each character your own and tailor them to the tasks at hand. As your characters go on, they can use their own personal skills, or once certain meters are filled, team up to do specialized attacks or defenses that can truly change the tide of battle. While there is a base story, what I've seen of it is not hardcore dedicated to anything specific. Each combination has four different pictures to represent a character, and you customize their hair and eye colors to your suit. There are no default names, either. It lets you make the game your own, but also impedes the developers from really crafting an epic tale.
What is there suffices, though, as the prime reasons to dive into this story involve map creation and character customization. As you work your way up the tree, adding new skills and weaponry, selling your finds to open up new crafted materials in the shop, and hanging out at the tavern to find new side quests, the game easily comes into it's own, and it becomes exciting to revisit the world, delving deeper and learning more, with or without an epic overarching plot. There is a direction that the game is going, and I can see the story getting bigger, but it looks like I've got a long way to go. Even after you clearly map a dungeon floor, the side quests will send you back in searching to take down a particular enemy or find a certain item. The game becomes a cycle of getting requests, mapping, growing, finding things, and reporting to unlock more requests. The system lends itself well to a portable title with each quest being concise and effective. You know what to do and how to do it, and you can often iron out a quest in one setting. The stylus gameplay makes mapping a breeze. It's a nice cycle grind that finds it's home perfectly in the 3DS.
There's my one biggest concern though. This series has been prolific enough to put out five main titles in ten years, with the odd remake or side game as well. When it comes time for Etrian Odyssey VI, I hope that Nintendo still supports the 3DS. We all know that they insist that the Switch is simply one of the pillars of their industry, with the 3DS just as important, but as developers flock to the Switch they may abandon the 3DS. This the game flat-out needs the second touchscreen in order to succeed. A Switch edition would require reworking the entire system, eliminating a lot of the map features that make the game so good. Games like this, silly rhythm games like Elite Beat Agents, or deep visual novels really work better on this little "pocket book" with a neat 3D feature, and I hope to see Nintendo continue to support their unique device. Even though the Switch is a great system, the 3DS has it's own little quirks that certain games can't live without.
Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth is a wonderful title. The RPG elements harken back to the unforgiving NES days. You need to be ready for anything, especially with low-level characters. The mapping seems like a chore at first but is amazingly satisfying once you get the hang of it. Storyline is simple, but needs to be so if you really want to make this game your own. Overall, Etrian Odyssey V is a great addition to a classic RPG lover's library.
-Extremely deep customization
-You feel smart for finding the perfect team and leveling them just right
-Mapping becomes addicting when you know what to do and how to get what you need to complete quests
-A perfect fit for the 3DS in system functionality and quick-access mobile gaming
-Early difficulty will surprise you if you're used to recent "hand holding" games
-The game does get back to traditional mazes but is rather open at the start, which is off putting for some fans of the series
-I want a bit more freedom of control over my character than the block-by-block, at least better control of the camera
Special thanks to ATLUS for providing a code for review.