We woke up this morning feeling in the mood for a cutesy anime dungeon crawler game - and lucky for us, no sooner had we had the thought than Etrian Mystery Dungeon dropped onto our desk.
Published by Atlus, (the company who brought us the Etrian Odyssey games) and Chunsoft (who introduced us to the Mystery Dungeon genre, such as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon), Etrian Mystery Dungeon ticks almost every box we were looking for, as a third person turn-based role playing game, with a strong emphasis on building a well balanced team of adventurers, and heading out on quests! Combining the best of both series, it's a gorgeous looking, colourful game, full of interesting dialogue and storylines, and a beautiful soundtrack that sets the mood to boot.
Having just arrived in town via Skyship, you immediately find yourself in the town of Aslarga. A place well known for its mysterious dungeons, it attracts adventurers of all kinds, and is also known to have the "best view around!" Before you know it, you find yourself at the local Explorer's Guild, talking to the Guildmaster (who looks rather regimental and stern, but is quite nice when you get to know him!), who asks you to choose a name and a fighting class to play as. Well, he says to choose a class, but in reality the only option at this point is to become a Landsknecht - a close range melee fighter. You do, however, get to choose your gender and colour scheme for your hair and outfit!
After that, no sooner have you ticked your box than you're sent off out into the wilderness on your own, heading to your very first dungeon where you'll start to learn a bit about exploring. It's all a bit presumptuous, gearing you up and sending you off like that, leaving you feeling like you're going from being a "Sightseer", to an "Explorer of Dangerous, Monster-Infested Territories" in quite a short space of time, but handily, there are plenty of tutorials to help you along your way.
In fact, pretty much the entire first dungeon is a tutorial. Each dungeons is made up of multiple floors, but you'll have to explore before you come across the stairs that'll take you from one floor to the next. As you explore, you'll run into monsters such as giant grasshoppers (*shudder*), which for some reason feel the need to attack you. No option to say "hi" and make friends - it's kill or be killed! Realising your predicament, the only real thing to do here is to run at every monster you come across and destroy them, as you gain experience for every victory. Gain enough experience and you'll go up a level, becoming stronger and learning new moves.
When you get back from your first dungeon experience, you get to start your own guild (which you also get to choose a cool name for!) and build up a team of support. You have a choice of Runemasters, Dancers, Medics, Gunners, Landsknechts, Hexers and Protectors. They all vary in skills and abilities, some using melee weapons (for example, the Dancer uses a sword) and some using magic (the Hexers and the Runemasters). Whatever you choose, it's always useful to have a mixture of members with close range abilities (like a sword or dagger) and ranged (like a gun or magic). The Medic is essential to keeping everyone alive and healthy as well!
You can have up to 10 members in a guild, but only four in a team at any one time - but luckily, you can switch your members around before heading into a dungeon, letting you experiment with different combinations, and discover what works well and is fun for you. You can rename the characters, and when inside a dungeon you can switch control to whichever one you like, so if you end up attached to a certain one, you can make them your main character. It just so happened that we got along with Emi the blonde haired and blue clothed Landsknecht quite well, so we stuck with her!
Once you have your team organised, you can start accepting quests from the townspeople. You may be sent on a mission to fight off monsters that have been causing trouble by using a character of a specific class, gather items from a dungeon, or even ones dropped by certain monsters when defeated. The main story missions usually involve tracking down a monster that's a fair bit stronger than those you've fought so far, and all you have to do is defeat said monster and voila! You've completed your quest and can head back to town! Of course, that's easier said than done, as these "boss" monsters are tough cookies. You can't just run in, attack and hope for the best. You really need to consider which attacks are most effective. Are they hurt more by magic, swords or guns?
And you need to be prepared to use the potions and items found littered around the dungeon floors. Picking them up as you go, you'll find yourself with a bag full of potions, pills and scrolls. To begin with, the main potions you find restore health, but as you progress you may find ones with more powerful effects, like raising your level. The pills affect the character that consumes them, some in a positive way and some in a negative way. Some can cause paralysis or sleep, so should be thrown at an enemy to aid you in battle. Others should be kept for use on your team as they can cure ailments, such as the antidote pill that cures poison. The scrolls are pretty cool, too, as reading out an incantation that sends an enemy to sleep or leaves them confused so that they can't tell which direction they should attack be attacking in is handy. Money can also be found lying around, so help yourself to all you come across and get saving for better armour and weapons (you're going to need it!). If only finding money was that easy (and morally acceptable) in real life…
If you find yourself wanting to raise the level of multiple guild members, you soon unlock the option of building a fort inside a dungeon, which lets you station certain characters there and leave them to train whilst you carry on questing. A rather convenient option, it's really helpful to be able to leave a few characters behind as you swap your team around, knowing you won't be leaving the ones who haven't been used in a while behind!
Once you get started, the quests start rolling in, and the main storyline is revealed to be about odd climatic changes and overly agitated monsters. And the only way to get to the bottom of the mysteries is to keep exploring and uncover the truth!
So far we bet you're thinking how fun this game sounds; full of quests and exploration, the opportunity to grow and develop a team of fighters. And we agree, it's great! But it isn't as simple as it sounds. Defeat every enemy you come across and you'll be fine, but go up against a formidable opponent that's more than a match for you and you will soon be defeated yourself. "No problem" you're probably thinking, "I'll just head in and try again". But Etrian Mystery Dungeon, being an Etrian Odyssey style game, isn't that simple. If you get defeated, you lose all the items and money you took with you into the dungeon. All your precious swords, all your armour - everything you'd collected and had on you up until that point, gone. You have to start over again item-wise, and end up going up against the same monster that lamped you last time, only this time without your sword of smiting + 7. "No problem," you say again, "I'll just turn my game off and reload with all my items and money still in my bag." Afraid not, my friend - this game is clever. If you turn your 3DS off for any reason while in a dungeon then the game will count this as giving up. So no matter what, when you turn it back on it will continue as if you've been defeated. We learnt this the hard way! If you feel like playing cautiously, you can store money and items at the local inn where you can also save the game. Mostly we found it more helpful to take the items with us, as we needed all the help we could get, but storing away money made it easier to save up for armour and weapons (and more items!)
There is a twist of realism to this cute and colourful role play game, and that is hunger. The longer you stay in a dungeon, the hungrier you become, and if you haven't packed provisions, this is something you'll need to keep an eye on. On the screen where your health bar is, there's also be a bar to show how full you are. If this empties completely, you'll pass out, the same as you would if you were defeated by a monster. Luckily, you can acquire food to take with you on your journeys from the inn and restaurant in town.
As you continue in the story, you also unlock the ability to upgrade the shops in town. Once upgraded, the inn, the restaurant and guild can provide you with more quests and more items to experiment with and improve on your fighting strategy. It costs a lot of money, and can take a while to save up, but we found the benefits were worth it!
We are only a few dungeons into our adventure so far, and we've yet to touch the extra quests you can download, costing in between £1.39 and £1.79 each. It may take us a while and require a lot of patience, but we can't wait to delve deeper into the mystery of these dungeons and find out what's making the weird and wonderful creatures so angry!
For fans of the Etrian Odyssey games, or those who like the idea of dungeon exploring and questing games, this is a great one to pick up. Just be warned that it can get a bit frustrating at times, but persevere and you will have a lot of fun developing the perfect guild!
So get on your protective armour, clean those guns and sharpen those swords! Adventure awaits!
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS