It has taken me the better part of two months, but I have finally hacked my way through the main game of Etrian Mystery Dungeon. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but near the end I really had to force myself to keep playing it. I am tempted to call it two great tastes that taste great together, but I’m not sure I believe that. I love Etrian Odyssey’s brand of first person dungeon crawling, slowly and painstakingly building a team as I map out a dungeon. That is exactly my thing. But I am not a fan of the Mystery Dungeon part of the equation. Etrian Mystery Dungeon is enjoyable in spite of its roguelike elements, not because of a fusion of them and Etrian’s dungeon hack. Despite how good the game turned out, its two parent series never really stop warring.
I really just don’t like Mystery Dungeons or roguelikes. I don’t have a moronic, early 00’s hate for them like the ‘esteemed’ magazine Game Informer, which relished dropping low scores on Mystery Dungeon games for the crime of being Mystery Dungeon games and not just JRPGs. I’ve given the genre several chances to win me over and I am able to see what draws people to them. I’ve read Retronauts’ Jeremy Parish wax on about Shiren the Wanderer all over the place and I see where he’s coming from. That doesn’t change the fact that each of my attempts to enjoy the genre have failed utterly. I didn’t much like Shiren or Izuna the Unemployed Ninja or Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon. I was forced to the conclusion that I just do not like those sorts of games.
My indifference to roguelikes is why I was initially going to skip Etrian Mystery Dungeon, but strong reviews that highlighted the class building side of the game won me over. I am glad it did. It does the Etrian Odyssey character building very well. It may look like Shiren, but the team building is just like EO. It has a pretty standard array of classes, with the addition of a Wanderer class straight from the Shiren games. Building up a wide stable of characters while exploring the various dungeons is as engrossing as ever and it is easier to spread the love around thanks to the characters getting plenty of experience sitting on the bench or in forts. It makes for an addictive game, taunting the player to go down one more floor or to get one more level and keep building those characters.
The forts are where the two different branches of games fight with each other. While exploring the randomly generated dungeons, players can build a fort. Those forts lock in the surrounding floors of the dungeon. It is the static nature of the EO games clashing with the randomness of the roguelike. Periodically, super-powerful monsters, called DOEs, from deep in the dungeon will rise up and make for the town. The player can confront them with a party or by simply manning the forts with back up party members. If they lose, then the monster will destroy the fort. If there is no fort to block them, then they can rampage into the town.
Those monsters are a big reason why I didn’t want to play the game after a certain point. Those monsters don’t really play fair and the constant drain on resources it takes to battle them can be frustrating. The permanence of the gains made by an Etrian party doesn’t mix well with the frequent loss of everything that happens with Mystery Dungeons games.The DOEs are constantly coming to destroy the player’s hard earned progress. They really aren’t that big of a deterrent, most dungeons are cleared before more than a couple of them can make their way up from the depths.
I don’t know that this game actually managed to meld these two very different kinds of dungeon crawlers into a cohesive experience. However, Etrian Mystery Dungeon is still a really good game. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I do regular Etrain Odyssey games, but I still liked it. The forts that help keep benched party members leveled up is a good system that I hope makes it into latter EO games. If you happen to enjoy Mystery Dungeon style games more than I do this game should be an absolute blast. Even if you only like one of the two ingredients of this it is still a good time.