The video game industry is no stranger to crossovers, and the trend only appears to have become more popular with time as developers bring their respective franchises together for an epic joint production. One of the earliest and most notable crossovers, Capcom and SNK cumulated their heated ‘90s rivalry by creating the ultimate dream battle that was Capcom vs SNK, pitching their celebrated fighting franchises into one mega 2D fighting package. Lately we’ve seen Virtua Fighter combatants make their way into Dead or Alive 5, but outside of fighting games we’ve seen some epic crossovers in the RPG genre with the likes of Project X Zone (Capcom, SEGA, and BandaiNamco), Kingdom Hearts (the still bizarre Disney and Square-Enix crossover), and with some unusual ones on the horizon like Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem. Another RPG crossover which only just recently graced the Europe and Australia/New Zealand region is Etrian Mystery Dungeon, a crossover between Etrian Odyssey (by Atlus) and Mystery Dungeon (Spike Chunsoft). A crossover between two niche and brutally challenging RPG makes for a pretty worthwhile experience. It may lack the starpower of the other aforementioned games and crossovers, but that’s exactly why a crossover between these two hidden gems couldn’t be more ideal.
Mystery Dungeon is a roguelike RPG has an interesting history, but the release that really gave the franchise a solid footing was Mystery Dungeon Shiren the Wanderer, which subsequently made its way to the Nintendo DS. Even to this day, Shiren the Wanderer is a true gold standard for roguelike RPGs. It’s an adventure in the truest sense, filled with unpredictably with no two journeys feeling alike. Mystery Dungeon was all about getting beaten down and having to start all over again, a powerful life lesson for sure. Of course, over time more kind variants were created like the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series. Mystery Dungeon games are primarily characterised by randomised dungeon layouts, and a strategic combat system where it feels like you’re playing an action RPG, but at its core you’re really engaged in a turn-based game of chess where every movement matters. It’s pretty much a turn-based RPG taking place in a randomised real-time medium. It’s as cool and intuitive in practice as it sounds on paper.
Etrian Odyssey harks back to the early days of turn-based RPGs that were dungeon crawling epics utilising the first person perspective to explore maze-like (and dizzying) dungeons. The difficulty is absolutely punishing, where defeat/death is hugely consequential, but at the same time there are deep customisation options that give players a lot of freedom in deciding the composition of their party. Etrian Odyssey began on the Nintendo DS, and after three games on that system the series continues to thrive on the Nintendo 3DS with a major fourth entry and full fledged remakes of the DS titles. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Etrian Odyssey, but I respect and appreciate its niche and style. On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of the Mystery Dungeon series with its refreshing pick up and play appeal and how every playthrough is unique. The marriage of Etrian Odyssey and Mystery Dungeon fundamentals works very well in Etrian Mystery Dungeon, but more importantly it moves ahead with plenty of its own unique ideas.
Essentially, Etrian Mystery Dungeon is an Etrian Odyssey game powered by Mystery Dungeon design and fundamentals, and so the aesthetics, visuals, music, and premise are based on Etrian Odyssey. Basic fundamentals of the franchise also stay intact, such as the skill tree, guild/party system, and other detailed menu/micro management aspects. The core gameplay system, however, is based on Mystery Dungeon, which means you’ll be exploring randomly generated dungeon floors, and engage with enemies in pseudo turn-based battles taking place in real-time, all while collecting a wealth of items and loot along the way.
Etrian Mystery Dungeon starts out like any Etrian Odyssey game, where you’re placed in a town that is navigated using menus. Here you can create your own party, using a number of classes and recruit up to four members for an active party. The town has you covered in terms of supplies and weapons, and other cool features that are unlocked as you complete quests and missions. It’s simple and effective, but there’s surprisingly a lot to do as you’ll find yourself micromanaging your party and the town itself.
The features and content grow dramatically as you play, and the first couple of hours in Etrian Mystery Dungeon are a little bland but once all the systems and features kick in the game becomes an addiction. The party management alone is fantastic, as there is so much freedom and choice when it comes to the various classes of heroes you can choose from, allowing you to mix and match different classes to see what suits you. Something worth noting is that the Wanderer class is modelled after the the design of the iconic hero of Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer, and I didn’t hesitate to create my very own Shiren as the party leader. Each class uses their own unique gear, and the skill tree system opens up new abilities that makes it worthwhile to explore and develop each class. The cool thing about Etrian Mystery Dungeon is that you can create various sets of parties, where you can have one party that goes on the main adventures and have other parties on standby. Early on you gain the ability to construct forts and bases within the dungeons you explore, these forts allow you to train characters that are not part of your active team, and it’s a useful way to level up various characters. This also allows you to summon these characters as a rescue team should your main team fall during an adventure, and more importantly they serve as a line of defence for the town.
Town development is another important aspect of the experience, as you go on adventures you collect the funds and resources necessary to help the development of the town, which means you’ll have more useful features to play around with, and more importantly allow more useful items and equipment to be stocked. There’s also a wealth of quests to engage in apart from the main story missions, and so there is plenty to do outside of the main dungeon exploration. The town development is so important that it’s even threatened by powerful foes that manage to sneak in from the many dungeons, which is where the forts become crucial as a line of defence. Of course, this review would never end if I discussed the full extent of the content and features available in the game and its various RPG systems, and I haven’t even gotten to the dungeon exploration yet!
Dungeon exploration has a fun pick up and play appeal, and core gameplay system is laden with mechanical intricacies under its deceptively simple exterior. Every dungeon floor is like a randomly generated chess board, with every step and action you make, your foes are also making their move. Engaging with an enemy can feel like a real-time combat affair, but they’re actually simplified and streamlined turn-based battles that has all the strategic depth with none of the visual fluff. The arrangement and type of enemies, and the kind of items, materials, equipment you discover, are all randomly generated. However, what’s consistent is the end of dungeon boss battle, where you go up against a giant behemoth and use each turn to decide the placement of your party members and what action to perform. It’s during these testing and incredibly rewarding boss battles that the true strategic depth of Etrian Mystery Dungeon’s combat system reveals itself.
The penalty for death/defeat in Etrian Mystery Dungeon isn’t as cruel as you’d expect considering the notoriety of the difficulty featured in Mystery Dungeon and Etrian Odyssey. If your party gets wiped out during an adventure, you simply get sent back to town with all your items gone. The good thing is you get to keep your experience points and levels (a far cry from Shiren the Wanderer, which brings your character stats down to level 1 upon defeat), and for the most part you get to keep your equipped items and some portion of your money. So tasting defeat isn’t too much of a loss at the end of the day, which makes the experience in Etrian Mystery Dungeon more inviting than Etrian Odyssey or Shiren the Wanderer. Furthermore, the town inn allows you to store money and items, and so you can set up a nice rainy day fund.
What’s great about Etrian Mystery Dungeon is that no matter what you do, no effort feels wasted and there’s so much that you can indulge in. Whether you want to focus on the main story, take part in the numerous side-quests, or dedicate to developing the town and your party, there’s always something to keep you preoccupied. Even if you fail at a main mission, there’s enough you can sidetrack yourself in and grow stronger in the process.
It may not have all the qualities of a timeless classic like its predecessors, but Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a wonderful marriage of two very traditional and old school RPGs to create something that feels very original. After a slow start, Etrian Mystery Dungeon becomes an addictive experience with a ton to do, and the streamlined presentation and systems make it an ideal portable RPG that you can pick up any time on the go. Simplistic execution of sound and deep gameplay systems is what makes Etrian Mystery Dungeon shine. Furthermore, the randomly generated nature of the adventures, the epic boss battles, and the sheer amount of quests, features, and RPG systems to indulge in, all help make Etrian Mystery Dungeon an engaging experience where no effort or time spent feels wasted.
Check out Etrian Mystery Dungeon on the official Atlus website.