Etrian Odyssey games are always about heading into the unknown and finding a way to thrive and survive in it. You head into a dungeon where everything is a mystery, map it out, learn its intricacies, and master it. Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth is no different. But, there are some ways in which the dungeon and what lies within are slightly different, and this makes the experience a little more interesting for people who dare to delve within.
To start, Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth returns to the series’ classic formula. There’s no world map to chart or multiple dungeons. All you do is climb Arcania’s Yggdrasil Tree. This single labyrinth has multiple strata, each one with its own challenges, ecosystems, and monsters. The bottom screen is essentially a sheet of graph paper, with players able to draw lines for walls, fill in floors, place icons from a sheet to mark points of interest, write notes, and label traps and hazards. For those who have mastered certain floors, it is possible to lay down tracks for auto-walking through floors. You can also make cartography more efficient by allowing the game to automatically draw floors and walls for you.
After so many installments, such things are rather fluid. It is easy to pop out the icon table to find the images you need. When placing icons for gathering points or treasure chests, these will change to show if you’ve already gotten the items for the day or acquired the treasure. The UI is very streamlined and well laid out. In fact, you can even arrange the icons in their little pull out tray, shifting things around so your 12 most used items are always there, even when it is reduced. It is comfortable, something you need when you’ll be placing multiple doors and items throughout a floor.
As for the layout, one thing I noticed is that this installment feels very well balanced. Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth is a challenging game, of course. But it feels like the enemies you are facing are such that if you have the right party and are playing smart, you won’t endure cheap deaths. I would say it is more difficult than Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titans, in terms of the strategies it forces you to use, but is never brutal. In the case of the first boss, I challenged it just to have an idea of what it would be capable of around level 18-20. (Though, two party members were around level 12, due to reclassing.) Because I was able to see its patterns, I was able to rather easily defeat it. But, its attacks were still strong. It is just presented in a way where the right balance and skill usage could mitigate its abilities and allow my survival.
I also felt like the labyrinth got more interesting more quickly in Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth. The best way I could describe it is by saying it feels like only the first floor is the “tutorial” floor. The other floors work on presenting puzzles and thoughtful trials. In previous games, you might not start seeing hazards and switches until the second stratum. Here, the first stratum introduces not only a series of switches, but ones that control pillars that appear and disappear to block or open paths. It gets you thinking about finding proper routes and looking for shortcuts very early on. Later strata involve F.O.E.s with certain patterns and other environmental issues.
The actual labyrinth collection points and events also help make it feel like a living, rich environment. It isn’t difficult to find gathering points for materials, resource spots for food, or campfires for cooking. Said food items even has its own section in your on-hand storage, so you have a separate area for HP and TP restoring items. (Unfortunately, you can’t sell these items in town to free up space.) Most of these sections where you can acquire regenerating items are near shortcuts, to make restocking trips easy. Each floor also has a number of events with different outcomes, each awarding experience to the entire party after you’ve “learned” from them. Other adventurers and guards even appear, sometimes offering a side-quest, opportunity to trade, advice, or an item. It’s really an active place.
Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth harkens back to a simpler time. It abandons multiple dungeons and a world for a single labyrinth. But don’t take that to mean it is easy or uncomplicated. The game is filled with all kinds of challenges. You will need to sometimes use your brain to find the right paths or strategies to defeat the enemies you’ll face. But even though you need to think, nothing is impossible or cheap. Everything is balanced, giving you the information and opportunities you need to get by.
Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth releases on the Nintendo 3DS in North America and Europe on October 17, 2017. Europe will get the physical release on November 3, 2017