Now I love me some strategy games, Disgaea, Tactics Ogre, Advance Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and many others, so when Tony came to me with a review code for Etrian Mystery Dungeon, I was excited to experience a fresh take on this style of game. Having never played an Etrian Odyssey or Mystery Dungeon game, I walked into this with very little idea of what to expect.
What You Need To Know
EMD is a collaboration title using the gameplay style of Spike Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon games with a coat of Etrian Odyssey paint to brighten things up. The game starts off by having you create a character and a guild for exploring the mysteriously changing dungeons around the town of Aslarga. The town serves as a strictly menu based point of operation for your guild where you can visit the inn, buy weapons, items and food, recruit new guild members, and speak to NPCs with the ultimate goal of preparing to leave town and explore the dungeons.
All At Once!
The best words that I can use to describe EMD’s gameplay is to call it “Active Turn-Based Strategy”. What I mean by this is, like in other turn-based strategy games, nothing happens until you make a move, where this becomes active is that whenever you move, every other character in the dungeon makes their move at the exact same time. Every dungeon is laid out on an invisible grid (that can be pulled up on the fly to adjust your direction) and is procedurally generated as you progress through it. Your movement is directed using a “leader system” where you can select one of your four party members to take direct control of on the fly while the other three follow behind in formation, this also means that your other tree party members’ decisions (to attack, defend, use items, etc.) are directed by the game’s AI. This style of gameplay took me a while to get used to but once it made sense, I was thinking every decision through knowing that my next step could be my last.
Difficulty Cranked to Eleven!
In EMD, you will spend 90% of the game inside of dungeons, you will see monsters that seem like a breeze to destroy but don’t be fooled, they thirst for your blood. If an enemy kills one of your party members, it will level up and become almost impossible to destroy. In the same way that F.O.E.s are a threat in the Etrian Odyssey series, a new enemy type known as D.O.E.s will begin to appear after the fourth dungeon and slowly climb their way up through the labyrinth towards your town, if one reaches the exit, it will destroy one of the buildings in town possibly crippling you till the building has been repaired. There were many times where I entered a dungeon to quickly retreat and grind through a previous one because I was severally underpowered. Though you may be asking yourself why this is on the list of things I liked, all I can say is that the difficulty spike brought me back to my days of grinding through countless floors in the Item Worlds of Disgaea…
Beautiful Paint Job
One of the most notable things in EMD is the beautiful art style that was chosen for the game. Overall, the character detail is extremely bright and charming giving them all a very ‘moe’ feel. The setting of the game feels like a constant autumn where the trees are always changing colors and leaves kick up under your feet. Apart from the sprites in direct gameplay, your interaction with NPCs is done by a static image with a text box below which would normally bug me but EMD’s beautiful character art kept me from being disappointed by this design decision.
Not Much Story Here
From the start, it is made it obvious to the player that there isn’t much story to be found in the game. Though there is an overall narrative, most of the story related missions you’ll take in the game only have information that sets the table for the dungeon you’re about to enter. This is a little disappointing considering that one of the things I like most about other games in the ‘Strategy Genre’ have deep and engrossing stories that build your attachment to the main character, NPCs, and the world in which they live. EMD had little to none of this making the beautiful characters and world feel paperthin and lacking depth.
Though you’ve already heard me gush over the difficulty in EMD, I’m about to explain the most disappointing thing I encountered in the game. If you die in a dungeon, you lose almost everything you brought in with you. Equipment, items, money, all gone! The only way to recover any of it is to send in a rescue team to recover your lost party from the exact location where they fell. If your rescue party dies, that’s it, more loss. And don’t even think about trying to cheat and restart the game, it auto saves upon entering or exiting a dungeon and attempting to cheat the system results in severe punishment of even more loss! I was so baffled by this system that upon my first and second deaths, I was under the impression that my entire party was gone! EMD touts a motto of, “High risk, high reward!” but the roguelike experiences I had only left a sour taste in my mouth making me feel like I had wasted hours of my life.
I had a lot of fun playing EMD, with the exception of losing everything upon dying. Even though there wasn’t much story in the game, the dungeon crawling and constant strategy scratched an itch that I didn’t quite know I had been neglecting. If you’re up for a challenge and have countless hours to invest in a strategy game, consider giving this one a try.