By William Haderlie / November 6th, 2017
|Title||Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth|
|Release Date||October 17, 2017|
|Genre||Dungeon Crawler RPG|
|Platform||New Nintendo 3DS XL|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen|
Any video game series of sufficient length will show that progress is never a straight line. There are a couple main reasons for returning to the well of your past, and certainly Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth applies to one of them. The more positive spin on reversal in idea progression is that you are perhaps returning to your series roots as a way of hearkening back to the old days and capitalizing on some of the nostalgia within your particular franchise fans. A good example of this is happening very soon with the extremely popular Call of Duty franchise, going back to World War 2 for the first time in many years, a move applauded by most gaming sites that you’ll run across. The less positive spin on this return to old ways is as a corrective measure for what many people felt was your franchise going a bridge too far. Often this reasoning for stepping back will be obfuscated by a large amount of PR spin, so it can be difficult to nail down if that is really the cause, but one of the most famous examples would probably be Final Fantasy IX as a response to fan reactions to Final Fantasy VIII. While many people were still fond of the setting and story of Final Fantasy VIII, it is still difficult to this day to find many people who are fans of the spell drawing or junctioning systems. I feel like Etrian Odyssey probably falls into the latter category in this case, even though five games is not nearly as long running of a franchise as either of those previous examples. It has been interesting reading some of the online chatter surrounding this release among the series fans because previously I did not realize that many people did not seem to like the direction that ATLUS took in Etrian Odyssey IV, because I truly loved that game (much more than our website reviewer did at the time). And that has really affected the way that I have reacted to its sequel.
It’s not particularly surprising that they removed the extra mode of transportation, the boat, for their next entry. But what was more surprising is that they did not take any cues from the Untold remakes of the first two games, or Etrian Odyssey IV, and add in any extra story. In fact, the game in the series that this title most resembles is the non-remake version of Etrian Odyssey II. Right from the beginning you will see the similarities when you open the game up with finding out that the Yggdrasil Tree is back as the central focus, and you are just one guild among many who are climbing the tree to test your mettle and become famous in your town. There is no existential threat that you know of, and people generally enter the labyrinth just to hunt for materials and food. No one has been beyond the 3rd Stratum of the Labyrinth in the known history of the town, so the Yggdrasil Tree has remained just a curiosity of the people living there. And, that is about the sum total of the information that you are given.
As you journey higher into the dungeon you will find a few special adventurers that have made it to the 2nd and 3rd Stratum, and they will fill you in on some more personal details. But really the only minor clues to any past in the labyrinth are done through the many sidequests that you can take as you climb (usually 2 per level of the labyrinth). That was true all the way up until about the 5th Stratum and definitely the 6th (about 90% of the game), and while I am not going to delve into spoilers, I do need to make one or two points about the end game. If that would have been truly all the story there was to this game, it would have knocked my score down a bit, possibly one full star. While I recognize that as a hardcore dungeon crawler at heart, the Etrian Odyssey series used to not have any story at all. But that had changed in the series over time, and I really did like that change. So, thankfully, when you do reach the end of the game, and especially the 6th Stratum (which only unlocks after you beat the main game), it was refreshing that I started to get more of a story and a lore that set this game apart from EO 1-3.
Okay, that is enough for now about what this game isn’t—it’s time to address what it is. The Etrian Odyssey games are really known for two things: drawing out the map using the DS and 3DS stylus, and their brutal difficulty. For the former, this game is actually a little bit better than previous entries. Those options you see with the map drawing above are obviously collapsed to their most widely used features. But you can drag out each of those tabs (particularly the bottom one) and have access to a wide array of symbols that you would want to denote on your map, many of which are exclusive to several Stratums that you will visit. A Stratum is a specific area of a labyrinth that is set apart and grouped together as part of a particular theme. This was true of every Etrian Odyssey game, except for Etrian Odyssey IV which just had separate dungeons instead of separate Stratums. The standard for the older games was that you had 5 Stratum in total and you would map out each floor of the labyrinth as much as possible before you moved on. Inevitably, each floor would have an area that was blocked off by a locked door, requiring a Master Key, or by an impassible blockade that you would have to wait until you completed the game to come back to. In that way each level of the labyrinth was actually about double the size that you initially thought it was, but you may not have known that unless you engaged in the post game content.
So I was rather shocked when I discovered the Master Key in this game by exploring in the 4th Stratum. It turns out that only the first three Stratum have those locked off areas, and even though there are a couple stronger creatures in them, they do not represent the post game content. Instead, after you defeat the initial final boss and roll the credits you just continue on as if the credits never happened and you can enter a 6th stratum beyond that. And I would strongly recommend you do so, because while the 5th Stratum is interesting and a little different than other EO games, the 6th Stratum is way different than anything that has ever been seen in the series. It was, in fact, the highlight of the entire game for me. It is actually very interesting that both of the previous two dungeon crawler RPGs have chosen to make the most different and most interesting dungeons only available after you finished the game, Etrian Odyssey V and Mary Skelter: Nightmares.
As to the famous difficulty of this series, that is mostly still applicable in this game, but with a few changes. It’s perhaps not surprising that there are now two difficulty modes, Basic and Advanced, which you can choose when you start the game. A little surprising for this series is that you can actually now change the difficulty at any time from the Options Menu. Basic is a little easier than Advanced, and Advanced is closer to the difficulty that you are used to if you’re a fan of the series. But the largest change in the Basic difficulty is that each time you enter the labyrinth you are given one chance to redo after a complete party wipe. It still should be pretty rare to completely wipe though, because not only are the enemies a bit easier with a few less instant kills, but you can run from almost any enemy. You can even run from FOE enemies, so really it’s only Stratum end bosses and special quest battles where you are ambushed.
The FOEs are very large enemies that you can see move around on the map (as you see above) and you will generally want to avoid them until you are of a power sufficient to take out the end boss of that Stratum. But they are actually a little easier this time around, even on Advanced difficulty. Particularly for some party compositions, as long as you can mitigate their increased damage, it’s not really all that difficult to take them out. My standard way of taking out each Stratum was to fill in the map as completely as possible on each Floor until I reached the 5th Floor of that Stratum and reached the final door before that Stratum boss. You are always given a warning when that happens so you don’t accidentally stumble into their room, and at that point I go back and defeat all of the FOEs in each of the previous floors, collecting their monster parts to upgrade my gear to the boss killer levels. That remained true until the last half of the game, the 4th Stratum and beyond, but I’ll go into the reasons for that soon.
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