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Nintendo DS Review: Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City

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Fan-favorite game publisher Atlus continues to release niche titles for gamers looking for unique role-playing game experiences. So many amazing titles have come to America’s shores thanks to the company which definitely has a cult following. On the DS, the Etrian Odyssey franchise has done reasonably well with two titles already on the market. Now a third, The Drowned City, is set to make waves. Does this latest iteration have what it takes?

In case you are unfamiliar with what Etrian is all about, let’s just say it’s one of the harder RPG franchises out there. The game presents J-RPG systems and adds in a first-person dungeon-crawling aspect, a cartography element, and a crushing difficulty setting. Know that The Drowned City doesn’t step away from those staples, and it definitely takes some dedication to get into the experience here.

Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City takes players to the seaside capital of Armoroad where a mysterious and dangerous labyrinth has recently appeared. Full of untold treasures, glory, and beauty, this labyrinth is attracting adventurers from all across the world. When firing up the game, players are immediately charged with creating an adventure Guild and then creating upwards of 30 characters before venturing forth into the foliage. This kind of set up is necessary, but few things are explained and only those versed in Etrian‘s classes and systems will know what to do right out of the gate. Veterans of the RPG genre will have a general idea and for the most part it’s just common gaming sense, but some of the finer aspects do require knowledge of the franchise.

From this point forward, The Drowned City is a menu-heavy RPG. Interest points in towns, shops, inns, and places to accept missions are represented in a menu, and players can expect to be staring at stats and menus once they begin exploring the dungeons of the world as well. It’s not necessarily anything new to veterans of J-RPGs, but what’s here is a little more than most folks will be accustomed to seeing.

Once in the labyrinth, however, the gameplay really shines. For starters, the walking segment here is entirely in first person. It takes a little getting used to for gamers more familiar with traditional RPG adventuring, but the system doesn’t feel all that different. Random enemy encounters are here in force and players can expect to be jumped by monsters at pretty much every turn. This adds to the difficulty of the title, but in all fairness, that challenge is attributed more to the balance in attack, defense, and hit points on both sides of the fence. The game really wants players to feel like their fighting for every inch of ground they take, and that makes for a great sense of accomplishment.

Heading into the labyrinth, barely making it out alive, and resting up in the city are cyclical happenings in The Drowned City. A fair amount of grinding is necessary to press further on, but the leveling system brings plenty of rewards to the table. Powerful skills become available to each party member based on their class and there are sub-classes available later in the game which further expand those classes. All of these are important to the experience, especially if one hopes to take down the F.O.E.s, which are ‘suped up monsters that net some valuable experience points.

Combat is pretty straightforward and should be familiar to any RPG lover. Turn-based menu commands such as Attack, Defend, Skill, and Item are all present and the skill system is pretty intuitive.  Enemy variety will keep players on their toes and as the party size is limited to five characters, finding a balance amongst your team is another element to surviving the labyrinth. Heading into the fray with a poorly equipped or skilled team is like signing a death certificate.

When not locked in combat, slogging through menus, or walking around the labyrinth, players will be utilizing the bottom half of the DS to map out areas they’ve explored. The Drowned City offers an inventive map system that allows players to draw walls, showcase where items and powerful monsters are, and basically create a useful system for backtracking. It’s important to use this system, especially when you kick the bucket. Properly building the map allows players to fast-forward through parts of the dungeon they’ve been in, if necessary. The only problem with this cartography system is the fact that it’s not explained well. Aside from rudimentary introductions to the system, players are left to their own devices to tinker with the icons and stylus.

Eventually, the game branches out to the sea and allows for some ocean exploration as well. This does allow players to break free of the grind for a bit, visit other parts of the world, and take on missions. The seafaring expedition is really just a mini-game and distraction, yet it yields some useful rewards. It also provides a nice change of pace now and then.

Ultimately, Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is a thoroughly enjoyable RPG for the Nintendo DS even if the game doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means. First-person exploring, random encounters, and a standard battle system are the driving forces here. What’s unique to the game is the challenge, cartography, and the way everything comes together in the end. It’s a long game as well and players can expect to recharge their DS several times before all is said and done. Fans of the franchise will want to pick this up immediately and newcomers looking for a unique experience with familiar attributes will definitely dig this title as well.

Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is a decent looking title, but it doesn’t not push the system’s limits. Character details are fantastic thanks to some charming 2D artwork, though the only way to experience that is within the game’s menus. Monsters are detailed and easy on the eyes as well, though a lack of animation leaves things feeling like older Dragon Quest games. The environment also presents some great designs, but areas and elements are reused to a great extent.

Taking a cue from RPGs of old, the soundtrack in Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is awesome. If there has ever been adventuring music, this is it; I couldn’t get enough of some of the tunes. Similarly, the sound effects are all what one would expect from an RPG. The sound direction in this game is about as classic as it gets and definitely doesn’t leave one wanting.

Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City isn’t perfect and it’s not for everyone, but fans of the series and those brave enough to tackle the adventure will find an epic experience. The game is huge and it takes a long, long time to uncover everything. Some of the grinding gets stale after a while, but a rewarding skill tree system and constant challenge make it worth the effort. The third time is the charm for the Etrian Odyssey series and Atlus has another hit on their hands.

Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Language, Mild Fantasy Violence, and Suggestive Themes.

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