Over the years, Etrian Odyssey has become one of my favorite smaller franchises on the 3DS. Its retro feel and tight mechanics coupled with a vivid style make every single entry solid, even if few really stand out. And while there’s been a smattering of games on the system — including the Untold remakes and the Mystery Dungeon and Persona spinoffs — there’s more than enough room for one more.
I’m happy to report that Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth is another great entry in the series. While it doesn’t change the Etrian core much at all, it manages to improve upon enough aspects to feel fresh and inviting while still offering the same charm, exploration and challenge that the franchise is known for.
Legends are made, not born
The premise of Beyond the Myth is pretty much the same as every other mainline Etrian game — there’s a giant tree named Yggdrasil that holds secrets, treasures and monsters in great abound, and you as the founder of a new guild must scrounge up a group of able adventurers and set forth to explore the tree’s strata. The plot is quite light by JRPG standards, but it manages to squeak by as always with charm and good writing.
Character creation has always been one of the bigger draws of the Etrian series for me, and EOV’s customization options are greatly expanded over its predecessors. For the first time, there are races you can choose between — the humanoid Earthlains, the elflike Celestrians, the animalistic Therians and the hobbit-esque Brouni — each with their own pool of skills and abilities. Each of the game’s ten classes are restrained to one race at first, but you’ll quickly gain the ability to change classes, allowing for a creative mix of race and class skills.
What’s more, Beyond the Myth adds the ability to change your characters’ hair, eye, and skin color to your liking, and offers voices to your party for the first time — free of gender restrictions, to boot. If you want to make your Shaman a buff bodybuilder with the voice of a valley girl, you can. If you’d like to make your Pugilist a halfling girl who sounds like Ganondorf, you can. Of course, you can also opt for the more fitting options, of which there’s plenty of nuance available to tweak to your liking.
The classes themselves are quite interesting as well. There are some fairly standard ones — the Botanist is a healer, the Warlock is a mage — but there are some really unique classes as well. The Harbinger’s toolkit focuses on debuffing as well as taking its own HP to deal damage. Necromancers summon wraiths and then sacrifice them to hit many foes or support the party. Rovers can summon either a hawk or a hound in order to assault enemies (the former) or dish out some healing (the latter). And once you get far enough in the game, you’ll be able to promote your characters into one of two Master Classes, depending on their Base Class.
This intense amount of flexibility and diversity in character composition — Race, Base Class and Master Class — is where Beyond the Myth shines. I’m always particular about my customization options, and I was stoked to find the sheer creativity one could pull off. While I didn’t get too wild and crazy with class changing or min-maxing character builds, the great number of options available is a huge plus for the game.
Sights and sounds abound
Etrian Odyssey titles always have great aesthetic and presentation, but V might hold the series’ strongest allocation of graphics and sound yet. To start, there’s finally been an overhaul in UI (after basically not changing at all since the first few games) and it feels like a breath of fresh air. The menus are crisp and clean, and while it lacks a great amount of style, it feels like a step above the more simplistic displays of old.
Perennial Etrian character designer Yuji Himeaki’s cutesy, vaguely chiaroscuro style is as wonderful as ever, offering a range of sizes and shapes for both playable characters and NPCs. The environments are also excellently stylized, with some of the strata’s themes being new favorites in the first series. While the first stratum is your typical starting forest areas, the others provide some really interesting or cool aesthetic choices, particularly the 5th Stratum (though that one suffers from slowdown at times due to how expansive and multifaceted it is).
The soundtrack is another great plus — Yuzo Koshiro always delivers a good score, but V is one of the series’ strongest yet. Exploration themes are steadily paced and reserved, while battle themes are rocking and emotive. Sound effects have bite, and the voice clips convey a surprising amount of character personality (such as how my wee Brouni would curse out the enemy when hurt badly). Special shoutouts to the 3rd stratum’s song, which I found myself slow jamming to on more than one occasion.
The meat of any Etrian game is, of course, the exploration and battles. Yggdrasil has the customary five strata and 25 floors (plus postgame content) to burn through, and the whole way through is fraught with danger. Like every other game in the series, you’ll have to draw your map yourself, sketching in the lines and filling in the floors, and I still find the act of doing so oddly cathartic and pleasant — though for those looking for a less ingratiating time, there is an option to fill in walls as well as floors automatically as you walk.
The actual mechanics of the various strata themselves are fairly interesting. From finding golems to open up passageways to pushing over rocks to open up paths to engaging in teleportation mazes, there’s plenty to be found. Of course, you’ll have to contend with series staple FOEs on the way — immensely strong monsters that appear on the map and hinder your progress. You’ll need to either find a way to circumvent their various patrol patterns or engage them in draining battles if you want to make it forward.
While exploration is as engaging as ever, it also felt somewhat barebones and unadorned with anything new or interesting, which I felt was Beyond the Myth’s biggest failing. EOIII had sailing, EOIV had the airship, and the Untold games have extensive plots and extra dungeons — but here there was just the standard Yggdrasil Labyrinth. I would’ve liked something a bit more interesting or fresh when it came to actual exploration mechanics, but for the most part, they felt very similar to previous games. Not the most disappointing or even surprising thing in the world, but I felt the lack of a solid big exploration mechanic made the game feel a bit hindered at times.
Fortunately, some of the other little aspects help out. You can now cook and eat food in the labyrinth, providing some out-of-battle HP and TP in a pinch, and also giving you resources to collect. Engaging in various events found throughout the mazes will also add records to your Adventurer’s Log, which not only provides a nice memory but also gives a little EXP. Your various race skills can also come into effect during these events — having a character with good reflexes or night vision will come in handy during times when you may be injured otherwise. These little touches help improve on an already great experience, even if they don’t feel substantial enough to completely differentiate the game from its predecessors.
Go up, young man
Etrian Odyssey V occasionally feels a bit too similar to previous games in the series, yet it still manages to be a great adventure full of engaging gameplay. While the light plot and lack of significant exploration changes prevent it from being an all time great, there’s no doubt that it’s another solid entry in a series that continues to prove itself — and if you haven’t played an Etrian game before, then this is a great place to start. Atlus knows how to make a difficult JRPG that still manages to feel balanced, and Beyond the Myth shows that even its smaller releases can provide players with a well rounded experience.
One has to wonder about Etrian Odyssey’s future beyond the 3DS, considering the series’ mechanics are so intrinsically tied to the dual screen setup and drawing the map. While it’s tough to say for certain, I do hope it can keep going, for the experience it provides is one-of-a-kind in the modern age, and would be sorely missed.Leave a Comment