NS Review – Etrian Mystery Dungeon (3DS)


For those of you that might not know, I am a sucker for a JRPG with an anime aesthetic. Games like Chrono Trigger and The Worlds End With You rank as some of my favourite games of all time for their gameplay, art style, music and many other factors. As the genre is running a little dry at the moment (unless you happen to have a PlayStation 3 or 4), imagine my joy when I heard that a new Atlus JRPG was coming and for a Nintendo platform no less. Enter Etrian Mystery Dungeon for Nintendo 3DS.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon contains all the common tropes that any player would expect from its genre, and I do mean all of them. Set in a far-flung world that is simultaneously both past and present, close to Yggdrasil (that tree from mythology – I know it’s more complex than that but it would be a little too much to explain the mythos here), your intrepid generic anime adventurer avatar enlists a troupe of like-minded anime stereotypes to explore various dungeons to save the world. Beyond that, there isn’t much to speak of in terms of a narrative, but nonetheless, this is enough to encourage progress and the world is built up well enough to create a desire in the player to save this world and its denizens.

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Right, now, the gameplay. This is where my issues with the game begin to take root and render the title unfortunately unplayable. Etrian Mystery Dungeon is, unsurprisingly, a dungeon crawler but has the added pitfall for players of randomised dungeon layouts. All of the dungeons are divided into a faint grid to explore where if the player moves, the enemies in the dungeons will also move. This, so far, isn’t bad. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this prospect is thoroughly enjoyable. My personal problems lie in the various nuances to this system. For instance, if an enemy knocks out a member of your party, that enemy will then become stronger, usually to the point that it can one-hit the rest of your party members. If you add to this that all your party members falling causes you to lose equipment, money, and then means you have to start the dungeon again (which is then, once again, randomised), it leaves an unfortunate feeling similar to ramming your head against a brick wall. Basically it left me personally feeling like the hours I spent on it were mostly spent making zero progress.

This particular factor is infuriating enough, but is made worse by the fact that your party are almost completely incapable of acting usefully (or at the very least are not consistent in doing so). There were various instances in which my ranged party member did not attack enemies that were both in range and in her line of sight, which then led to my party leader being knocked out and ultimately my party being entirely eliminated meaning that all “progress” was lost instantly. I am not going to deny that there is the possibility that I don’t understand the mechanics of the title and that I might be missing something integral that would aid me in success. However, if such a technique exists, the title has hidden it extraordinarily well. Furthermore, as the difficulty steps up in such an unbalanced way, with no help afforded to the player, I personally have come away feeling that the gameplay itself is poorly designed (whether or not it is or not, it is sadly my personal lasting impression of the game). This comes as even more of a shame for me considering that I have enjoyed games by Atlus in the past (and am looking forward greatly to Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold next year).

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This game is utterly beautiful, beyond a shadow of doubt. The characters are wonderfully quirky in their design, but never appear out of place in the world itself, and the dungeons are very pretty despite their arguable linearity. Musically, the title is quite generic (and relatively forgettable) for the genre, but this still places the soundtrack significantly higher than most video game music (sorry, biased). The level of polish across the board, to put it short, is nothing short of astounding. Essentially, like every well-constructed game world, all of the presentation in Etrian Mystery Dungeon just feels like it belongs and makes sense within that world.

So, should you play Etrian Mystery Dungeon? I have personally not enjoyed this game, but that doesn’t mean that others might not. If the “Mystery Dungeon” series is your sort of title, you might get a lot out of this game that I could not. Conversely, you might not enjoy the lack of any palpable progress in the title as a whole. My suggestion would be to tread carefully, it is a beautiful game with so much to love about it, it’s just a shame about the gameplay.

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Thank you to NIS America for supplying us with a review code of this title (and apologies that I couldn’t get a long with it).

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