The Nintendo 3DS has become quite the JRPG powerhouse over the years. If you’re remotely interested in the genre, the 3DS is a must-have machine with so many fantastic titles that will keep you entertained for literally thousands of hours. Now, Atlus is about to take over another 50 – 100 hours of your life with Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth, the latest in the unique cartography dungeon exploration series. It’s been available for about a year in Japan, so I know many fans have been eagerly anticipating a localized version. The good news is that it’s a hardcore return to form. The bad news is that it might intimidate newcomers.
You begin the game by creating your team of fighters that you want to take into the vast dungeon inside a massive world tree called Yggdrasil. Legend has it that those who venture forth and make it to the top will see their wildest dreams come true. It won’t be easy though; there are hundreds of rooms to explore in this vast labyrinth. As you make it further up the tree into a new stratum, the entire environment can change and new monstrosities will stand in your way. The key to your success will be accurately mapping each area via the bottom touchscreen so you won’t get lost and to remember to come back to important spots. Just as crucial is creating a robust party of characters that can take on any challenge.
This time around the character creation aspect of the game is deeper than ever before. You’ll first pick a race, of which there are four different choices. Within each race are preferred classes. The Earthlains can choose from: Fencer, Dragoon, Pugilist, or Harbinger. The Celestrians can be Warlocks or Necromancers. Therians take on the roles of Masuarao or Rover. Finally, the Brouni class can pick from Botanist or Shaman. Each class has its own specialized fighting style and perks. For example, the Dragoons can now fight from the back row, despite being almost like a tank character with high defense. Meanwhile, you’ll probably want a Botanist in your group, as they will be able to learn healing skills. Needless to say, the amount of variety here is very high, and it can be very challenging to find the right team that suits your play style. Luckily you can take five people in your group out to battle at once, and you can create many more that you can always rotate in to try out. Experimentation will probably be key unless you’re super familiar with each race and class before beginning your adventure.
You can further customize the look of each of your party members. From hair color to voice, you have total control of what your team looks and sounds like. As you begin to earn experience, you can choose what skills to upgrade and learn. These can be Race Skills or Master Skills. The former are passive and unique to each race and will allow you to learn Union Skills so you can combine forces with your allies to deal massive damage.
The entire game is presented with a classic first person viewpoint. As you explore the labyrinth you’ll come across some random battles where the enemies face you down, sort of like the classic Dragon Quest games of yesteryear. This type of presentation has been around since the ‘80s, but with colorful graphics it works well on the 3DS. It is a bit odd that you can spend so much time creating each of your characters’ looks and you really only see them in portraits and not actively engaging the enemies on-screen. As you make your way through the lush green forests of the lower areas of the tree, you’ll soon find very different and exotic environments to explore. I never grew bored with the scenery and was always excited to see what waited for me on the next floor.
The soundtrack is fantastic, which is to be expected from famed composer Yuzo Koshiro. I’ve been a fan of his from games like Ys and Streets of Rage, and he does a fantastic job here with some jazzy tunes and an overall upbeat temp that makes adventuring fun. The sound effects and voices are fairly generic, and there aren’t vast amounts of story or voice acting to be heard here. This makes the game feel a bit older than it really is, but in some ways adds to the classic feel of the entire experience.
In many ways Etrian Odyssey V harkens back to the start of the series. It has removed the world exploration from part IV and instead concentrated on one big dungeon. You’ll be revisiting the same labyrinth, but you can warp to floors so it’s not like your trudging through the same exact stuff over and over again. I do like my RPGs to have new towns to discover and exciting places to explore, and this one doesn’t really deliver the goods in that aspect. Sure, the different stratums of the tree change, but it’s just not as compelling as a game like Xenoblade where every few hours I felt awed and amazed.
Still, if you’re into dungeon crawling turn-based JRPGs, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better one on the 3DS. I highly suggest newcomers begin the game on the easiest difficulty as the game can easily put in you in your place rather early on. Veterans of the series will no doubt dive in headfirst and appreciate the number of classes at their disposal. This game is made for those who love to get sucked into a maze and explore every inch of it. If that’s you, why are you still reading this review? Go kill some monsters!