New faces, familiar places
A young child comes up to me at the airport after he notices I am playing my 3DS, waiting for my plane to arrive. Wearing Poké Ball headphones, he asks me if I am playing Pokémon as he reaches into his backpack to pull out his dinged and dirty 2DS. I wasn’t and he quickly wanders off when I try to explain to him what Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth is. Kids never want to talk about Etrian Odyssey.
Well, sucks for him because Beyond the Myth just may be the best Etrian game from Atlus. It may also be the least creative entry to date.
Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth (Nintendo 3DS)
Released: October 17, 2017 (NA), TBA (EU)
The opening moments of Etrian Odyssey V is something I’ve wanted from the franchise since its inception. The general concept of the series is I create my own team of explorers to take down the many strata of the legendary Yggdrasils. With V, I finally feel like I am creating my own, unique team and not just picking from a few preset portraits. The customization of hair, skin and eye color, as well as clothing and voice selection, is such a small addition but it makes me absolutely care about creating the characters behind the classes.
After two games of exploring vast seas and sunny skies, Etrian Odyssey V dials it back to the first two entries in the series. Unless there is some mystery Yggdrasil hidden deep in the post-game content, I am back exploring one big tree, taking it floor by floor, stratum by stratum, massive FOE by massive FOE. It is an extremely familiar experience, like seeing something new but swearing it’s a rerun. As a fan since Etrian Odyssey II, I am accustomed to the throwback sensibilities of the series but I can never shake that feeling of déjà vu.
There are attempts to make what is old new again. In creating my team with those new customization options, I can choose from four, generic character races each with their own race skills and available classes. (I like what they are going for, but come on, can nobody think of something more creative than elves, humans, hobbits, and people with bunny ears?) Classes are tied to the races for like a minute before I can start reclassing my characters. Doing so drops them down five levels but it’s worth it to get all those skills I need to create my own band of Übermensch. When I finally unlock the Legendary Titles for my crew, I become an unstoppable force.
Maybe I get lucky when putting my team together. Going in blind I manage to make a perfectly balanced squad capable of not only massive damage but great protection as well. With my Dragoon, Pugulist, Rover, Necromancer, and Shaman, I am constantly doling out damage and bathing in a kiddie pool of HP nourishment. Even my backup squad consisting of the five other classes can hold their own. Early in my adventure, it is almost too easy. I’m winning too much, to the point where I’m almost getting tired of it. But then I hit the third stratum and realize oh damn, it’s not that easy and I’m going to get my ass kicked for the next several hours or so.
Battles are as interesting as ever with the addition of Union Skills, replacing Burst Skills from the previous game. When characters hit a 100% union level, they can unleash one of many skills that can either hurt the enemy or help my team. The variety of skills keeps each battle fresh, as do some of the puzzles I have to solve if I actually want to beat any of the bosses that stand in my way. I can’t just power my way through Etrian Odyssey V and with the diversity in strategies at hand, I am constantly putting my brain to good use. There is nothing I appreciate more than an RPG that really makes me think.
Traversing my way up the mighty tree is a slow burn but even when I only play for a half hour at a time I make real progress. That may be the most substantial change from prior games. No matter how little or how much I play, I always come away with a feeling of accomplishment. Even if all I do is make a little progress on the map, which remains as intuitive as before with a whole assortment of icons at my disposal, I never turn off my 3DS in defeat.
But I do turn it off and I do so often. Beyond the Myth, despite its best efforts, doesn’t really grab me as the series has in the past. Perhaps it is just a smattering too much of “been there, done that.” The game is beautiful, the enemies are creative, the battles are challenging, my success is well earned and the jazzy, Kenny G-esque soundtrack grows on me through my hours of map making. That’s all well and good, dandy and candy, but at the end of the day, it lacks a dynamic creative spark to keep it from feeling like anything other than a well-trodden enterprise.
I’m torn on Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth. I sincerely believe it could be the best entry in the series, that it has refined the formula to near perfection. But in perfecting what is already there, it makes no strides to further advance the series. There are new additions but no new ideas, and after the last two games in the series, I leave this entry not wondering what is next, but if the developers have anything left in them.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]