A lot of people can justify their affection towards something with an answer of intangibles. "It's just good," or "I just do." These answers are great all on their own, but I've always been one for argumentation, so I always shoot for a way to articulate why I like something.
In the spirit of raising awareness for Etrian Odyssey III (which Atlus has still not announced for U.S. release, but it'd make no sense not releasing it given its fiscal success), I've decided to put into words just why I feel so strongly towards a game I feel is worthy of the adjective "unique" in today's video game meta.
Etrian Odyssey is a very eclectic game. It successfully draws on nostalgia from the past and combines it with the technology of the present. It's a crunch-heavy game that pushes the focus onto where the rubber meets the road: combat, and spelunking. Story is not essential, and is not given that much attention in the game.
...or is it?
While Etrian Odyssey may be infamous for taking the road Final Fantasy would never take in regards to video game narrative, I would challenge those who claim Etrian Odyssey's story is throwaway. True, it's not at the forefront... that's because it's everywhere in the game. And that includes the music.
What Etrian Odyssey does to increase the story is provide a soundtrack that is, quite simply, unlike anything else on the Nintendo DS. When famed composer Yuzo Koshiro was told the game was aiming for an old-school feel, he decided to dust off the PC-88 he used to make game music in the 1980s, and use it for Etrian Odyssey.
Yuzo ingrained in the music an odd mystique; they were still modulated blips, but much as any great composer who's familiar with restricted format, he used creativity and musical artistry to negate this. What resulted was music that actually told the story itself. The tracks heard while exploring the strata were given special moods and tones that perfectly fit the scenario in the game. In the first embedded video, you can practically sink your fingers into the thick feelings of awe, caution, and mystery your party feels when you take your first steps into the First Stratum; and in the second video (much later in the game), the evoked feelings of grief, conviction, and duty are reflective of what you must do in the Fourth Stratum, which has a very Hayao Miyazaki-like scenario.
The most important music in JRPGs--the battle themes--are all incredible, as well. The first battle theme (the third embedded video) evokes a struggle for pure survival... which is exactly what your fledgling guild is doing, at the beginning of the game. You face horrific beasts around every corner, and the fight music is a perfect beat for your guild to dance to. The second battle theme (fourth video, and introduced in the Fourth Stratum) reflects a change in tone, almost giving a feeling of sorrow, tempered by steely-eyed conviction. Again, this is done intentionally, as the aforementioned plot of the Fourth Stratum is intended to make you feel rather... unheroic.
The boss theme also does a magnificent job at capturing emotion, this time being pure malice. You can practically taste the murder in the air as your guild watches the Stratum's guardian stir from its resting spot to see who challenges it. Truly memorable boss music.
And of course, I couldn't avoid mentioning the music for the Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens ("Terrible Ancient Warriors of Nature"), aka the F.O.E.s. If the boss music evokes malice, the F.O.E. music reflects pure terror. Infernal monsters who will chase you even if you escape them in battle, how scary it is! The F.O.E.'s music is so iconic, it even got a famous viral video.
In summary, a big part of why I love the Etrian Odyssey franchise is just how well its makers seem to understand psychology of video games, and the artistry involved in manifesting it. From the snippets I've heard of Etrian Odyssey III's music, it seems to be a full return to the evocative glory of the first game... which makes me all the more antsy for Atlus's inevitable announcement of its arrival to U.S. shores.