Etrian Odyssey III adds fresh job classes and heads out to – and under – the sea

There’s nothing that gets a true RPG geek all hot and bothered for some hardcore dungeon crawling action quite like having to draw our own map charts on virtual graph paper – okay, we’re kidding. But there is a certain hardcore-ness to it, as well as everything else about Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City. This third outing into nigh-endless, dark and dangerous catacombs doesn’t screw around much with the gameplay that made the first two games both brutally challenging and awesomely geeky. But it does offer some fresh goodies that get us good and wet. And not in the way you’re thinking of, pervert (seriously, why go there?).

As its title suggests, Etrian Odyssey III’s adventure does indeed send you marching, armed and armored into the treacherous, monster-filled ruins of a submerged city. Most of your time will still be spent sticking it to roaming monsters, leveling up your custom band of heroes, meticulously graphing out the winding hallways of the Yggdrasil Labyrinth on the touch screen, and taking on quests from the inhabitants of Armoroad City.

However, there’s a new, seafaring twist: When you need a break from bashing beasties’ heads in and getting your cartography on, you can head over to the docks, pimp out your ship, and explore the seas in very much the same way you would a dungeon. When you’re out on the ocean, the terrain is much more open, and there’s a lot to do. Making sea charts, trading with merchant vessels, tussling with pirates, and catching fish to sell at the market are only a few of the various pursuits on offer.

This new mode also has an interesting catch: you can only venture out for a limited number of turns based on the amount of food you’ve brought with you and the other unique ship supplies you’ve purchased. The way you choose to outfit your ship prior to launch can have a big impact on where you can explore and what you can do during your voyage.

Assembling a custom party and cranking up their killing power with special skills has always been a key component of the series, and Etrian Odyssey III sports 10 all new character classes. Some fulfill familiar roles, though others are wild new additions. Among a few of the more unusual classes, you can play as Farmers, who suck at combat but deliver some pretty cool passive skills; Ballista, who specialize in long-range weapons and can even wield full-body cannons; and Ninjas, who can split themselves into two separate characters temporarily. If you want to go hog wild, you can even select a sub-class that lets you divvy up your upgrade points (earned in battle) between dual classes to super diversify your character – naturally, at the expense of specializing in one specific area. There are also new Limit Skills, which can be slotted across multiple characters in your party to produce staggering attacks and other powerful effects.

A few other notable additions round out the game’s new features. Mapping is pretty much the same as in past games, though there’s a new icon that lets you program auto routes along the dungeon floors. Stepping onto one of these routes you’ve created is like plunking your party onto a conveyor belt that automatically shoots them along the path you’ve set out. It’s a powerful new option that makes trudging back and forth through many of the same areas a breeze. Etrian Odyssey III also will include a multiplayer mode so up to four players with their own copies of the game can connect wirelessly and take on boss fight quests in a single party. For fans of the series, all of these extras should be icing on the moist and delicious dungeon crawling cake that waits in the heart of The Drowned City.

Jul 21, 2010