A good article that gets at some of the joys of the Etrian series. I’m not as much a fan of drawing maps as some other fans, but one of the the joys I’ve always gotten from the games is the gradual familiarity you gain of the labyrinth. There’s a quiet sense of accomplishment that all this space that was blank and terrifying beforehand is more charted and known, and that sense of slowly pushing the boundary is not one that I can think of often in video games. It helps that there’s some thought in exploring the dungeon, whether it’s figuring out how to dodge the roaming minibosses or dealing with the floor’s mechanic, in a genre where level design is often corridors you march down, and the most nuance you get is a detour for some treasure.
I can’t agree that games are honest though, much less unusually honest. When I first read “You cast Blizaga every turn and don’t sweat the details, and people who love esoterica figure it out online so you don’t have to.”, I thought that it applies more to Etrian than other RPGs. There’s a lot of details in the combat system that’s not particularly well explained. Shoes increase speed and therefore turn order, but I have no real idea how much or when that speed boost was enough to matter. I don’t really have a good sense for how much protection armor gives, other than the bigger number the better. Leg binds, sleep, blind, and paralyze prevent you from dodging, and there are battles where you will die if you don’t know this. If this is explained in game anywhere, it’s in a one off NPC dialogue because I don’t remember how I learned this other than through forum discussions. I didn’t realize blind and paralyze also lower your evasion until just now looking things up for this post, and I’ve been playing these games since II.
Maybe the previous examples are just minor trivia, but I find the game’s opaqueness really frustrating when it comes to character skills. I do not feel like I have all the information when it’s time to pick skills to invest in and the only skill information I have is “^ heal rate” when casting buffs. Is that enough to keep my party alive? Who knows? I have bad memories of starting up Etrian Odyssey II and putting points into Regen All for my War Magus because free, party wide healing sounds great! I then found out it heals a fixed 5 HP a turn at max, 5 levels later. In a game where you end up with hundreds of HP for your characters in the end and enemies hit incredibly hard, burning 5 levels for a skill that heals 1-2% a turn is incredibly frustrating. Even beyond raw numbers, it’s often hard to figure out how skills work. I didn’t understand why my Fencer’s chase skills weren’t activating in this game until I went online and discovered that they only activate on stabbing or matching elemental attacks. You can reset skill points in exchange for lowering your level, so these mistakes aren’t permanent, but I don’t feel like I was making an informed decision that went poorly-I feel like I was making a blind guess, with no way to know the odds. It’s probably my biggest mechanical complaint about the series, and it’s big enough that I can’t agree with Aevee’s second to last paragraph.