Etrian Odyssey III HD Review – Review

The dungeon-crawler subset of RPGs was formative in establishing the genre as a whole, and when Atlus added cartography to the mix with its Etrian Odyssey series, it was a match made in Heaven. Originally released in 2010 on the Nintendo DS, Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City is being given a new lease on HD life as part of the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection, even though each of the three titles in that package can be purchased separately. While the first two games saw story-enhanced re-releases on the 3DS in their Untold versions, Etrian Odyssey III HD marks the first time this particular entry has been available in over a decade. How does it fare moving from Nintendo’s first dual-screen handheld to its home-portable hybrid? Let’s just say it may be worth keeping a stylus handy.

Like with other Etrian titles, you play as a band of customizable explorers, who venture to the city of Armoroad to uncover the secrets of the nearby undersea labyrinth. From the outset, you create your own guild and recruit up to 5 party members from the 12 available job classes. I’ve always appreciated the uniqueness and variety of warriors, healers, and mages you can enlist in this series, and the offerings of EO3 are certainly interesting. Selecting from the berzerker-like Gladiator and unarmed healing Monk to the battle-inept Farmer and the follow-up ace Buccaneer, it’s both challenging and satisfying to devise an effective group to take on the foes and obstacles of the multi-floor dungeon. One class I was particularly drawn to was the Sovereign, who would automatically heal the party if they were at full HP, alive at the end of combat, or even just by taking steps around each floor.

Major story missions are acquired from the Via Senatus area in town, but there’s also an inn to rest and revive your squadmates, a store to buy, sell, and forge items and equipment, and a tavern to collect info and pick up sidequests. EO3 also features a sailing-centered mini game in which you attempt to fill out an ocean map by acquiring new rations that let you go on longer voyages; here you’ll also encounter events, battles, and NPCs much like you do in the undersea labyrinth itself.

Etrian Odyssey III HD Review – Review

What separates Etrian-style RPGs from other dungeon-crawlers is how they encourage players to draw their own map of each floor as they progress. While there are some handy auto-mapping features, it’s still up to the player to mark out doors, treasure chests, renewable harvesting spots, and other points of interest. On the DS and 3DS systems, this was a much easier task given that the second screen was dedicated to the floor map and there was a stylus attached to the console. On Switch, while you can still use the touchscreen feature (and I did), the implementation of button/stick controls for mapping are clunky and never felt quite right. They involve a combination of the right stick and the ZL/ZR buttons; the result may work well enough for some, but the touch controls felt infinitely superior. In terms of the single-screen display, you can choose between a zoomed-in view of the map that divides the right half of the screen into a full shot of the entire floor up and then the zoomed-in mini-map below, or else you can relegate the mini-map to just the top-right corner and have more screen real estate for the first-person dungeon exploration.

The classic turn-based combat is fairly straightforward, with a couple neat features. The first is the Reference tab, which allows you to view enemy stats, weaknesses, skills, and item drops. The second is the LIMIT ability, which enables a high-powered attack, boosted stats, or other special move. What’s unremarkable about the combat is that it’s not overly impressive from a visual standpoint, which can happen with first-person dungeon crawlers in particular. The different dungeon strata themselves are also fairly lackluster looks-wise, but the character art has a certain flair that makes it appealing.

For those unfamiliar with the Etrian series, you don’t actually earn any gold or money from combat; instead, you’ll need to sell the items dropped by defeated monsters to the store in town, and this earns you currency to spend while also adding new equipment to the stock. Another wrinkle to combat and progression is that depending on how you defeat an enemy, you can pick up different items from them. If you bind their arms first or defeat them with fire or ice, you may earn a rare item drop, which can translate to a special weapon or helmet becoming available for purchase at the store.

On the topic of difficulty, it’s no secret that the Etrian Odyssey titles have been largely meant for veteran RPG fans. Rolling credits on EO3 requires grinding, strategizing, and patience, but the inclusion of three difficulty settings, which can be adjusted any time you’re in town, is very much welcome. What’s unfortunate is that the Basic and Expert options are vastly more challenging than the easy Picnic option, with the latter essentially a cake walk in comparison. It’s nice being able to switch between these three settings–like using the Picnic option for grinding experience and items–but it’s worth knowing that Picnic is as leisurely as its name suggests.

The final title in the Origins Collection, Etrian Odyssey III HD offers a stout RPG challenge with some minor visual, audio, and quality-of-life upgrades. While all three titles are a welcome addition to the Switch’s growing stable of turn-based affairs, they don’t feel quite as at home as they did on two-screens. Mapping out your way through the 20-plus floors of EO3 was just better with a stylus in hand and a single screen dedicated to map-making; the HD shine of this re-release on Switch doesn’t quite do enough to push this third game into must-play territory. That said, if you’re already an Etrian fan and never played EO3 (especially since it didn’t get a 3DS Untold release like the first two titles), then the multiple endings, varied character classes, and nautical theming are more than enough to warrant a look.

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