Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City basically has no plot, and that’s a good thing. Rather than trying to write a RPG story its hardcore fan base hasn’t seen before, Atlus simply delivers some great, old-fashioned dungeon-crawling.
Just as in the series’ original game, players control a party of five adventurers exploring the depths of the underground forest Yggdrasil in search of wealth and glory. You build all the characters from scratch, creating a stable of up to 30 guild members. With 10 starting classes, deep skill trees, and the addition of subclasses later in the game, players patient enough to do the power-leveling can craft specialized parties to handle whatever the dungeon throws at them. While the classes offer all the traditional roles, like healer, tank, mage, and mêlée and ranged damage-dealers, there are also some refreshingly different options. Farmers are almost useless in combat, but it’s still worth taking one along, since they increase experience-point and item-drop rates, and provide other benefits that make exploring easier. Princes and princesses are support characters with passive healing effects, but they like to be on the front line. With only one skill point earned per level, players must carefully consider whether to go with constant passive effects, or active skills which must be used infrequently, since the resources to use them only regenerate outside the dungeon, and at sparse rest sites within the labyrinth.
Players are responsible for using the touchpad to draw their own dungeon maps, and one detailed with secret passages, traps, resource sites, and monster locations will serve you well. Levels are populated with plenty of random encounters, along with patrolling FOEs. These extra-tough monsters are best avoided until you’re in peak shape, since fighting one is a grueling affair that will tax all of a party’s resources. Random encounters are challenging enough to require micromanagement when you first enter a new stratum, but once you’ve leveled up, you can put your party on autopilot with the click of a button and just watch the fight play out. Etrian Odyssey III also adds an automatic movement function to the dungeon map, where you can lay down directional arrows to create a path for your party. But placing rows of icons is time-consuming, reducing the utility of the function. It’s a shame the game wasn’t designed to let players just draw paths using the stylus.
The Drowned City part of the title is a tangential mini-game. Along with dungeon-delving, players can board a ship and explore the oceans, to draw maps, fish, and fight pirates. It’s a decent way to earn some money to gear out your party, but overall, the movement-based puzzle game is much less fun than killing weird monsters underground.