Feature Excerpt
Artwork from Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan shows a character waving down to the street from a second-floor window in a brick building.

The 3DS Made Dungeon Crawlers Accessible & Its Legacy Is Palpable

This is a feature excerpt from Unwinnable Monthly #165. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Artwork from Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan shows several characters browsing wares in an open-air market. A title card reading "The 3DS Made Dungeon Crawlers Accessible & Its Legacy Is Palpable by Latonya Pennington" is superimposed on top of it.

Since I had strict parents and video game consoles stolen in the past, I was a very late arrival to the Nintendo 3DS and modern roleplaying games in general. After seeing the plethora of RPGs available on the 3DS, I decided to get one to play some of them. Having a huge library of newer games plus backwards compatibility was important to me because I wanted to enhance my enjoyment of RPGs without parting with old favorites. I especially wanted a 3DS to play Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance and give different RPG subgenres a try.

During an Atlus game sale that occurred on the now defunct 3DS eShop, I became curious about dungeon crawlers after suffering burnout from Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance and other RPGs like Radiant Historia. While I enjoyed my time with these games, I also felt weary of rushing from story point to story point without having a chance to enjoy the world around me.

In particular, the dungeon crawler subgenre piqued my interest due to the brief taste I had through the Nintendo DS game Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness. I liked exploring randomly generated dungeons as a Pokemon rather than playing as a human with a Pokemon. I also liked the challenge of maintaining your party members health as you proceeded.

Thankfully, the 3DS had plenty of offerings, including the once notoriously difficult Etrian Odyssey series. Through the 3DS, dungeon crawlers would go from being a niche genre to something more accessible as the console matured.

Originally released for the Nintendo DS by game developer Atlus, Etrian Odyssey begins with the classic premise of the player creating a team of explorers from well-worn predefined classes such as a warrior, healer, or archer to journey through a city’s multi-floor legendary labyrinths. However, the game’s mechanics brought the style of 80’s dungeon crawler computer games such as Wizardry to the modern day through a creative use of the DS’ eponymous dual screens.

Side-by-side screenshots of the top and bottom screens of a 3DS running Etrian Odyssey. The left (top) screen shows a lushly green forest path and the right (bottom) screen shows the player's inventory and a small map of the area.

While the top screen displayed a first-person perspective of lush greenery and deadly creatures that were randomly encountered, the bottom screen allowed the player to use the stylus to chart their way through the labyrinth. You were mapping the walls and the lay of the land as you go, which was crucial to finding your way around without meeting an untimely demise. This is especially important when you consider how brutal playing the game could be.

A major reason the game could be so challenging is how the game introduced FOES, or “Field On Enemies”. FOES are monsters that serve as mini bosses that can be seen roaming each floor of the labyrinth. Not only were FOEs several levels higher when you first encountered them, but they also packed a stronger punch in terms of attack strength and special abilities. Although the player could try to watch a FOE’s movements and avoid them until they were ready to take them on, those who were unlucky could be wiped out in a single encounter.

Another reason for the game’s difficulty curve is the gameplay itself. You can’t just waltz into a floor and expect to quickly reach the stairs leading to the next floor. This was a game that encouraged you to take your time and explore while being cautious, mapping each floor little by little so you could find your way around better. Carefully examining the walls could result in you finding a shortcut that allowed you to bypass a FOE. You could also find resources at mining points that could be traded for items that could heal your party or hurt enemies. Not to mention, you had to do it while avoiding FOES and surviving random encounters with the most balanced exploration party possible. If you didn’t have a War Magus that could heal and attack or a Sovereign that could protect an entire row of characters, then you wouldn’t last long.

For those who would endure the game’s toughness, they could discover the game’s other notable features, particularly the character class system. While the game had typical pre-defined classes like a Medic with healing abilities and an alchemist with magical attacks, there were also more interesting classes such as Hexers, which could use status effects to gradually whittle away enemy HP. Not to mention, the classes were flexible, with certain skills such as healing abilities being usable by multiple classes. Josh Breyer, an author and veteran Etrian Odyssey fan, states, “one of my favorite ways to challenge myself was developing a party without a dedicated healer or mage class to see if I could create something viable.”

Flash forward to the 3DS, where the majority of the Etrian Odyssey series was released.  After doing research on both Etrian Odyssey Untold and Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold, enhanced remakes of the first two entries in the series, I opted for the second one due to several features that seemed appealing.

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Latonya Pennington is a pop culture freelance contributor and poet from Troy, AL. Their video game related writing can be found on Into More, Into The Spine, and Loopbreak, to name a few. You can find them on Twitter.

You’ve been reading an excerpt from Unwinnable Monthly Issue 165.

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