Persistence is futile.
Etrian Odyssey III is an emotional rollercoaster. Half roguelike, half JRPG, the Etrian Odyssey games are known for their intense challenge and rewarding gameplay.
You start out by founding an explorer's guild, and are sent on a mission to map the depths of the game's immense labyrinth. Both cartography and turn-based battles are at the heart of every Etrian Odyssey game, and are what you will spend the bulk of your time doing in this sequel.
The pairing of maps and bloodshed is what gives Etrian Odyssey III its challenging edge. Players must cautiously venture through unmapped floors of the dungeon, never knowing if a powerful F.O.E. is lurking around the corner. F.O.E.s are essentially bosses that wander the floors of the dungeon, always ready to almost instantaneously send your party packing. While F.O.E.s are certainly frustrating to encounter, proper mapping will allow you to avoid them and fight another day. It is of course possible to take down F.O.E.s, but most often not until you have mastered the floor you are currently on.
As if F.O.E.s weren't enough to keep you on constant guard, each floor is riddled with random battles. Individual battles are intense; enemies will throw plenty of debuffs and status changes at your guild, and a good portion of them can wipe out several of your characters if you so much as blink. If your party is indeed wiped out, the game will allow you to reload your last save, which means you only keep any map data collected before death.
All of this challenge would be for naught if the game weren't so rewarding. Blitzing through several floors with the game's new route-mapping function, while crushing every enemy that rears its head along the way, results in a feeling of complete triumph. Of course, the next boss or floor will gladly knock you down a peg.
For those seeking to try out the franchise, don't worry, because it is fully possible to make Etrian Odyssey III an easier game than it is made out to be. With the help of new features, and some cautious playing, it can actually be quite manageable.
The biggest change in accessibility is the addition of sailing sequences. While in town, the player can take a break from the dungeon diving and explore the open seas. Ocean sequences play out in a more puzzle-like fashion, requiring the player to balance the amount of moves they wish to make with the amount of supplies that must be purchased before setting sail. While at sea, one can take on missions, or simply pursue schools of fish that can be sold once caught, eliminating the need to grind for gold in the dungeon. Other smaller changes have been made, such as the ability to revive teammates at the inn instead of a separate hospital, but the sailing portion of the game remains the biggest boon to newcomers.
One major draw of the Etrian Odyssey series is its class-based combat system. The sheer variety between classes is astounding, and this time around one can even unlock a subclass to complement a character's existing elements. While subclasses can certainly be helpful, I found that they added to the stress of having to already choose between so many possible combinations of classes and skills. Much like many western RPGs, the game starts you off by forcing you to pick classes and skills without offering suggestions for how to proceed.
The need to experiment with classes and skills does encourage discovery, and Etrian Odyssey III makes a clear effort to change up the classes for the sequel. My favorite new addition is the Monarch class because of their handy passive healing abilities. While creating my first party, I noticed that it shifted even more towards the use of TP (the game’s magic point equivalent) heavy skills, and away from the ability to add points to things like "strength" for every party member. The Monarch's passive abilities allowed me to create a party that is less reliant on TP, and be a bit more comfortable journeying deep into the dungeon.
The danger of trying out new classes or subclasses is that you risk misjudging the potential use of a skill that you have invested hard-earned points in. Fortunately, placing skill points in the wrong abilities isn't too much of a worry, since the game makes it easy enough to simply reset your character's abilities.
I can blab on and on about the nuances of the new classes, what I feel about certain enemy types, or even how I feel about the new floor-tile types, but all of this is a moot point if the player isn't interested in the fundamental dungeon crawling of Etrian Odyssey. This experience does not stray too far from previous entries in the franchise, but there are enough worthwhile changes to make this the definitive edition. Story and presentation take a backseat in favor of an incredibly intricate class-based role-playing experience. If you are up for a challenge, and ready to discover the dangers of always having a dungeon at the ready in sleep mode, Etrian Odyssey III is worth a shot.