I've been waiting for Etrian Odyssey 3 to come out for some time having fallen in love with the series since the first one. In some cases EO3 is more of the same, but it is a unique form of more of the same.
EO3 is of course the third in the Etrian Odyssey series that is on the Nintendo DS. A simple explanation would be a Japanese take on old school CRPGs, big on customization small on grand epic stories with thirty minute cut scenes. Once again you must create a custom party of adventurers to brave a massive dungeon for fame, fortune, and various monster appendages to create better equipment. From the start returning fans will find new choices available to them.
One criticism fans had about EO2 was that you had the same classes from EO 1 present with three new ones. EO3 however wipes the slate clean with brand new classes. What I love about the EO series is how the developers get as far away from traditional RPG classes as best they can. There is no standard "warrior, mage, cleric, thief" class in EO3 and it will throw gamers for a loop on how to create their party. I'm not going to break down every class but a few standouts from my group would be:
Ninja: Can create a full clone of themselves that effectively gives you a six member who given the right skills can sacrifice that clone to do massive damage.
Buccaneer: (Yes I have a pirate and a ninja on my team) Can learn "chase" skills that allows them to follow up teammates' attacks with one of their own. Combine that with my ninja's clone and I have him attacking twice per turn.
The amount of possible party combinations is staggering, as by not having to rely on the standard archetypes you are free to experiment and not be horrifically at a disadvantage by not having a spell caster on your team. Going further into customization there is a great deal of freedom with your parties’ skills.
Like in the previous EO titles, leveling up will get you a skill point that can be used to further enhance your team. You can either unlock new skills to use or improve an already unlocked skill. With EO3 the designers have done an excellent job in balancing out each class's tree. There is not one perfect way to develop your characters and you'll have to think about how they fit with your other teammates to get the most mileage out of them. Later on you'll unlock subclasses which allow you take another classes' skill tree and add it to each party member further increasing your possible options.
Moving on let's talk about dungeon crawling; another staple of the EO series is drawing your own maps for the dungeon. Using the touch screen you can draw walls, place icons and basically make your own references for the dungeon. At this point it has become one of the main elements of the design of the game and hard to argue against it. You do get a sense of accomplishment for having the entire floor mapped out and knowing where exactly everything is.
Combat has remained for the most part unchanged, everything is turned based as you'll trade blows with the denizens of the dungeon. The FOEs (aka mini bosses) have returned to make your life a living hell. Chances are your first FOE encounter will be met with failure.
One new mechanic for combat is the "limit" system. In EO 2 after fighting enough battles to fill a gauge you can then use a class specific "super move" to even the odds. EO 3 has removed that and replaced it with the limit system. As you play through the game you'll unlock these skills, there is a lot of variety with the limits; some will buff your team, others will do damage to your enemy.
Each limit has a requirement of so many members of your team must have the same limit equipped to use. For example the cross slash skill that does a decent amount of damage to one enemy requires two members for it to be used. One important detail to mention is that using the limit skill does not count as that character's turn for the round so it pays to use them as a great way to help with your fights.
Besides the dungeon you can explore the ocean as a sort of side quest. From the town you outfit your ship with provisions (determines how many moves you can make) and equipment which provide benefits or allows you to get past obstacles. After that you can explore and map the ocean, along with finding new towns and locales. When you discover a new location you can then play a quest there, which you can tackle with either AI partners or with your friends. The quests are just fights but they are different enemies then in the dungeon which keeps things from getting too stale.
The problems with EO3 are mostly unchanged from previous entries. This game is hard, expect death quick and early on, in fact most gamers will likely see the game over screen on the first floor. The new classes force everyone from newcomers to veterans of the series to start fresh with designing their team. The strength of not having standard archetypes also raises the difficulty curve.
Grinding is the way of life in EO 3, as bosses hit hard expect to spend time wandering the halls of floors wiping out every enemy you can for experience. On the positive side players will now receive experience from killing F.O.E.s and completing quests. Each area is concluded with a tough as nails boss fight which will most likely send groups back into the lower floors to level up before repeated attempts.
For fans of the Etrian Odyssey series #3 is a welcome return and for those that missed out on the last two, there are enough changes to the formula that you won't be at a disadvantage starting out here.