I’m pretty bad at Etrian Odyssey games but this one seemed a lot more accessible and I’ve enjoyed other games similar to it, so it was with excitement that I finally sat down to play an EO game that was right up my alley.
Etrian Odyssey games aren’t particularly known for their well-woven tales and Mystery Dungeon is no different – you’re an adventurer who wishes to prowl the dungeons in search of treasure and what not. It gets the job done and gives you all the reason you need to go dungeon-crawling, and so once you’ve picked your character class, their gender and one of the various colour palettes, you manage to form a party and venture into your very first dungeon.
None of your party has any personality to speak of but the NPC’s still have plenty to say although, like the story, there’s not a whole lot of world-building or intriguing dialogue going on. If you have any expectations that this game might pack a powerful and enthralling story then you’ll want to know that you’re not getting any of that, and that the main draw of Mystery Dungeon is the dungeon-crawling and, well, the mysteries within them.
Mystery Dungeon plays like a few other notable Japanese games including Guided Fate Paradox and its sequel, where you have a square-grid you have to navigate and every time you move a space then so does the enemy – it isn’t turn-based, though. You can attack an enemy in any square adjacent to you with your classes skills, whether that be swordplay, bow, magic or other skills, and it’s a good idea to defeat enemies that are pursuing you as it’s easy to become outnumbered or have your exit blocked and if you fail in a dungeon, you pay the heavy price of losing your items and yes, you will want to become strong enough that this doesn’t become a regular threat against bosses and DOE’s – Dangerously Overpowered Enemies.
Exploration is encouraged as that’s the best way you gain new equipment as dungeon-crawling is, surprisingly, a poorly paying endeavour. You’ll have to go on other floors completely out of your way to find new equipment but if you don’t, then you’re going to have a near impossible time when you get to the later dungeons and much stronger enemies. It’s a very straightforward game that requires some strategic planning but unlike other Etrian Odyssey games, this one is far more accessible to newcomers and it requires no knowledge of the series to understand and enjoy.
I was surprised with how detailed it was visually because whilst I expected the 2D art to be top-notch, the 3D models impressed me beyond my expectations – they’re so clean and no detail was spared. The playful colours, shadowing and lighting across the different environments, and that the bright art style in general create something gorgeous to look at and makes long journeys in the dungeons easier to bear. I’m happy with how the visuals turned out but I do miss seeing the 2D portraits regularly as there’s very little dialogue in the game.
There’s close to no spoken dialogue and the most you’ll be hearing is grunts and other noises from your party, but the OST is delightful and creates a pretty lively ambience in the dungeon and doesn’t feel all that threatening until you come across a DOE or boss – it’s usually lighthearted and fits the mood well such as providing relaxing music for when you’re chilling in the village.
Etrian Mystery Dungeon has been my favourite EO title to date, partially due to great developer Spike Chunsoft who also develop the Danganronpa games, as I’m not particularly a huge fan of the focus on grinding that’s required in the mainline games, but Mystery Dungeon proves to be enjoyable and allows you to travel the dungeons at a pace which you find comfortable. It might not pack the same level of challenge that the main games do but longtime fans should find plenty to enjoy here as it still feels like an EO game, and it does a lot to appeal to new fans or even those who enjoy the art but don’t enjoy the gameplay of the main games. It’s a lengthy adventure too so if you choose to pick it up then you’ll certainly want to set some time aside for your journey!
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