JRPG Game Review: Etrian Odyssey V, Beyond the Myth
Written by Otaku Apologist
Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth, a turn-based JRPG developed by Atlus. Released August 4, 2016. Available for download in Nintendo e-shop for €39.99. Available for Nintendo 3DS and 2DS handhelds. Partial voice-acting. No sex scenes.
The fifth installment in the Etrian Odyssey saga is a blissful dungeon crawling experience that improved on select aspects of Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan. It’s the story of a guild of adventurers scaling the mysterious Yggdrassil, fighting monsters in mazes full of danger. The game is heavily inspired by Dungeons and Dragons.
This game has content for easily a hundred hours of fun.
Set in an original medieval fantasy world, Etrian Odyssey tells the tale of Yggdrasil, the mythical tree of life from Norse folklore. The city of Iorys resides at the roots of the tree, and has for many years forbidden anyone from exploring it. Just recently the city council opened the tree for explorers. Adventuring guilds from around the world come to Iorys to test their mettle against the monsters of the labyrinth. Your guild joins the buzz and mayhem.
The world tree, Yggdrassil is so massively large, it holds multiple natural labyrinths inside its trunk. The first level is a lush forest, the second level is a rocky mountain. The third level is a grizzly necropolis, while the fourth level is a crystal cavern. The fifth level is… a plot twist!
The story doesn’t interfere much with your monster killing loot grinding experience. Every labyrinth of Yggrassil tells a very light story, often contextualizing the final boss. Many times however, you learn what you’re up against very late into the level. A lot of questions are never answered. The epicness is diminshed by the rather lacking storytelling.
The lore could be much more expansive. The narrative keeps you focused only on the most essential plot elements. The world is just detailed enough to not break immersion.
Etrian Odyssey is a turn-based RPG. You build a team of five characters who take on different roles. You fight groups of enemies who attack you every turn. You can play it like a traditional RPG, specialize one guy as the tank, a dedicated healer, a melee or ranged damage-dealer, and a hybrid support. But you don’t have to play a traditional style.
The game’s character classes are not archetypal in the RPG genre. The game’s class system is very fluid; characters seldom specialize into one rigid role. The talent system offers so many options for builds, it’ll make your head spin.
The class system has multiple mechanics that allow for endless customization. You can compensate every weakness your team composition has with gear, talents, potions, and union skills.
For example, you can have multiple characters specialize in “binds”, which are debuffs that disable enemies from attacking. If you’re fighting a spell caster, a successful “head bind” will stop them from uttering their incantations. My favorite bind skills affect the arms. “Arm binds” affect maybe 60% of all enemies in the game, stopping them from swinging their weapons. Debuff-focused playstyles are viable because you can hurl them at boss monsters. If you’re successfully rotating binds in combination with other buffs and debuffs, you don’t need a dedicated tank.
Union skills are another way to customize your team. You can build your strategy around defensive or offensive union skills. Every attack builds up your union gauge located on the right side. When the gauge is full, you can cast a union skill. If your team is extremely aggressive, defensive skills can compensate. Vice versa, if your team is defensive, you can improve your offense by only using union skills that provide burst damage.
The gear in this game is rather dull, with stats that increase linearly with item level. However, you can play around with traits like resistances and binds. You can stack weapon enhancements that increase your bind procs. If you’re meeting enemies that give you trouble because of debuffs ie. petrify, give your healer an item that increases their resistance to petrify.
There’s no saving while you’re in the maze slaying monsters, except on the first floor of the maze. You pack up in town for a picnic of murder, and try to get as much loot and progress made before you run out of rations. Should you fall in battle, you lose all your progress. There’s a sense of danger in every encounter while adventuring. You have to assess risks and opportunities and think exit strategies. It’s still softcore compared to how RPGs were in the early days, but that sense of danger is well-captivated in this game.
While adventuring, you’re often one mistake away from certain death.
A special feature of Etrian Odyssey is the map drawing. You have a blank map when entering a floor. The mazes can throw you off with their insane layouts, so you have to mark up doors, traps, and roaming enemies with the plastic pen that comes with your 3DS. You kill lots of monsters, and solve a puzzle or two, while clearing the path. There’s a shortcut hidden behind a bush or rock usually in the last room of a floor that lets you circumvent the worst annoyances of the floor. You just have to first clear your way to it! There’s 25 floors in this game.
Etrian Odyssey has a great resource system that forces you to think. Your “TP” points are depleted on every skill use. Different skills cost different amounts of TP, and you’re often better off using auto-attack, or cheap skills while roaming dungeons. However, it’s good to max out certain skills of a couple classes for the maximum burst effect. My necromancer for example has an insane AEO Fire Bomb spell that I only cast in desperate situations to clean house quickly. Meanwhile, I always keep two damage classes using the cheapest skills, to make their TP last longer.
After you’ve killed enough monsters on your run, you can return to town using an Ariadne Thread. Unload your bags at the town shop, and unlock new items to buy for your team members.
Etrian Odyssey has animated 3D models for enemies. The 3D monsters are well-animated. I prefer them to static 2D target dummies. It feels good to see the enemies prancing around, waiving around their limbs and weapons without care before my party’s blades cut them down like trash. The enemies visibly react to your attacks by flinching, and hunching. When an enemy is paralyzed, they might be hunched over, looking dazed. The enemy visual designs are unique and creative, but things can get so bizarre that you’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland.
Your party members’ sprites, and friendly NPCs, are featured in beautiful 2D anime art. The artwork is very professional: Characters are drawn in motion, with vibrant colors and strong black lines. If you’re into flat chests, this game supplies plenty of flat cuties. If you don’t like how your guys are colored, you can customize their color schemes in character creation.
There’s very few 2D backgrounds, but each of them is gorgeous to the point of jaw-dropping. They create the mood for an epic journey. The town of Iorys and every place in it feels homely to visit.
The 3D environments are a pleasure to maneuver. The detailed textures in the mazes make them come alive. You will see the same trees, gravestones, rocks, statues, and other textures recycled a lot. In combat, you engage the 3D enemies in the same 3D environment you’re in.
The soundtrack in this installment of Etrian Odyssey is rich and powerful. Every stratus has its own theme, while the battle songs have multiple variations. I always get hyped for battles while listening to the tracks. Dramatic moments have their own song. The town has a nice relaxing song.
VOICE ACTING AND SOUND EFFECTS (SFX)
An amazing new feature in this sequel is the ability to choose the voices for your characters. There are tens of different choices, both male and female. You can test-listen to each voice in the character customization. Dialog is only voiced in very limited contexts.
The voice acting is in English. It’s rather good on western standards. Because I’m a mad god tentacle monster, I chose youthful female voices for all my characters. They were very cute, very empowered, and not too high-pitched while pleading for death on my sacrificial altar.
The sound effects are many and varied. Most effects are combat-related. Every strike has its own sound, that can come off as “gamey” rather than realistic. I most enjoyed the little “pling” sounds from clicking menu buttons. The audio overall is very satisfying to listen to.
Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth is one of the most enjoyable JRPGs available for your Nintendo 3DS handheld. It’s not as flashy as some other games out there, but it makes up for its simplistic visuals with challenging gameplay and character customization. This isn’t your casual mobile game, and you need adult qualities to beat it, ie. patience, resource management skills, and a mind for strategy. I recommend this RPG for adult nerds starved for adventure.
You can download this game at Nintendo e-shop. Check out the official website.