Oh what's that? You thought I was dead? Naw nigga. The struggle continues! With already two more of these muhfugguz out this year, can I even play these games faster than they can make them? It is not clear.
So while Etrian 2 was extremely similar to 1, this one shakes things up quite a bit. Whereas the classes in 2 were largely the same ones as the previous game, with a few new ones, Etrian 3 wipes the slate clean and makes up completely new ones. Of course, there are still vague analogues of the classic roles. The Hoplite is the obvious new Protector, the Zodiac is the obvious new Alchemist, the Monk is the obvious new Medic, and etc. But even though they have the same roles they have a lot of differences from the old classes, which is pretty cool. Or not cool depending on how attached you were to how the old classes were. This shift is really evident with the Zodiac. In 1 and 2 the Alchemist was one of the strongest, most damaging classes. The Zodiac on the other hand is SUPER weak, and eventually gets displaced from the damage role to an almost pure support role for the physical classes which now deal waaaaay more damage.
To all this comes a curveball addition to the game in the form of subclasses. You can now assign a subclass to each of your characters and get access to all of the skills of the secondary class. It's kind of like subjobs in the Final Fantasy games. It's... an interesting mechanic but I'm not sure I'm completely on board with it, or at the very least the way it's implemented here. On the one hand, the good thing about subclasses is that it makes it highly unlikely for you to get stuck in a situation where you need certain skills but picked the wrong classes. If you have 5 characters in your party and each one gets a different subclass, you pretty much have the skills of 10 classes at your disposal, and there are only like, what, 12 classes in the game? The other obvious benefit is just straight up variety in the options available to you: you have twice as many skills to choose from when you level up.
But. The system has downsides too that I don't like. For one, it kind of takes away from the uniqueness of having different classes when you can just have access to almost all of the skills in one party. For example, someone who picks a Monk as their healer would have a completely different experience as someone who picked Prince as their healer. But once subclasses are unlocked, they can go Monk/Prince and Prince/Monk and it becomes almost exactly the same. The choices you have when picking the classes that will make your party become less meaningful when you eventually will have access to all of the skills of the classes that you didn't pick. I think it would've been better if they put some limitations on the subclass. Like, I dunno, make it so that there are skills that can't be learned if the class is your secondary, or make it so that they're weaker. The other downside is that it opens up the door to a lot of overpowered possibilities. This isn't bad by itself, as long as the game is balanced with these things in mind. The problem is that Etrian 3 is definitely not.
I mean holy shit, the damage you can deal now in this game is completely out of whack. In the previous games, if you could do 1000 damage, that was considered a lot of damage. But in THIS game you can do over 20k damage in one attack. It's so fucked up. The worst part about this is that it seems as if the developers weren't aware of the extreme levels of power available to your party because Etrian 3 is far, far easier than the previous games. Almost all FOEs can now be one shotted as early as the second stratum. Same goes with the bosses. Pretty much nothing poses any danger, the challenge level has been severely downgraded and it sucks.
Note how I said it SEEMS as if the developers weren't aware of the power levels achievable by your party. So it would seem... until you get to the post-game. And then you find that those fuckers were aware of it ALL ALONG because the post-game bosses are given significantly higher health and stats to make up for your damage and the difficulty is bumped back up to what you'd expect from the series. Nowhere does this become more apparent than against the real final boss, who is AMAZINGLY fucked up in this game. I mean, after how ludicrous the one in Etrian 2 was, I was sure there was no way they could make a tougher one, especially with how much easier the overall game was. But hooooly shit was I wrong. I underestimated this game and I got raped. The real final boss in this one is the most amazing one of the series. After this son of a bitch was done having his way with me I was nothing but the broken shell of a man. While the boss in the previous game was extremely fucked up and took me like 7 hours to beat, at least it was doable. THIS one was just actually impossible. Never seen a more hopeless fight in my life. There was nothing I could do so I had to grind it out for a while and make a few changes to my team. In the end it took me about 2 days to get strong enough to beat him and even then I wasn't sure if it would work out but thankfully it did. Crazy stuff man.
Notice how I said that I grinded it out for a while? That's because Etrian 3 addresses one of the problems with the series that I have been complaining about since day 1, which is that you always reach the level cap of 70 long before the game is done. Not anymore, because now you can break the level cap and go all the way to 99 as it should be, and you don't have to worry about getting there before the game is done because it definitely will not happen unless you're grinding hard, and I mean HARD. This is great because now, for the first time, you can feel like you're getting something out of all the battles you will have in that sixth stratum. Speaking of strata though, now there are only 4 floors per stratum (with the exception of the sixth) instead of the traditional 5. Who are they trying to gyp?! Taking our rightful 5th floors! But nah, all kidding aside I don't really mind. By the 5th floor you're kind of already wanting a change of scenery anyways.
Maybe the reason they put less floors in the game is because they put some of that time into the new seafaring feature? They've added a new feature where you can take a break from crawling around the dungeon, take a ship and explore the seas. Here you'll be able to do things like fish for money, discover locations and cities, find items, merchant ships to trade with, enemy pirate ships to sink, and take sea quests where you fight special bosses for certain rewards. Overall I like it. It's a fun addition, although it feels a little disconnected from the main game. It seems like it would be natural for you to be able to actually go in and explore locations that you find as if they were dungeons, but this isn't the case. Missed opportunity maybe, but oh well.
The story has been improved quite a bit. I mean, this is still Etrian Odyssey, so don't expect anything crazy, but the plot is much cooler and more interesting than in the other games. There are also more characters and more dialogue and events happening throughout the game, which is cool. For the first time ever, characters get new dialogue after you beat the postgame, acknowledging what you have done. Speaking of characters, all these Trauma Center characters being put in both this game and Etrian 2 is really making me miss that series. GOD. WHYYYYY did you stop making Trauma Center, Atlus?! EASILY one of the greatest series of ALL TIME and you just abandon it like old shit by the roadside? Why do you do this to me?! WHY DAMMIT. ANSWER ME.
Ahem. Where was I? Oh right, the story. It's not all perfect. Though the general plot is more interesting, they decided to put multiple endings into the game and it's badly executed. Firstly the game is very miserly with the information it gives you. You're expected to make choices such as picking a faction to side with but you're working with very little information to make such a decision. Even outside of that there's so much mystery and vagueness surrounding so many things that you're not sure what to make of them a lot of the time. I think maybe the developers wanted you to have to play the game several times getting different endings in order to piece the information together and get the whole picture (not to mention complete your bestiary) but come on, do you really expect me to play this long ass shit 3 times in a row? Fuck outta here. The other problem is that the way to get the true ending is retarded and illogical, and you will almost certainly be locked out of being able to get it unless you're extremely lucky or know the illogical thing that you have to do ahead of time. Shitty.
You know what's not shitty though? The music in this game. Holy SHIT they have outdone themselves on this one. They've pulled out all the stops here. I might have to promote Yuzo Koshiro to genius level after this game. I dunno, maybe he was on drugs or something. The previous games had generally pretty good music, but THIS one right here is a cut above. So much good shit. Calling That Detestable Name. The End of the Raging Waves. And I don't think there will ever be another Etrian with a boss theme as badass as Hoist The Sword With Pride In The Heart. Also all of the strata have good music but the sixth one especially. After how boring the sixth stratum was in Etrian 2 both visually and auditorily, this is a glorious return to how it should be. Everybody knows the final stratum should be the darkest, most evil, sinister looking one with the coolest music.
Sadly map drawing is STILL not automated, but you know something funny? After 3 games of this bullshit I've gotten so used to the dumb map drawing mechanic that I'm not even bothered by it anymore. Shit is so second nature it doesn't even faze me anymore. This must be what stockholm syndrome feels like.
The quests this time around have been significantly improved. It doesn't have all of the stupid quests that take ages from 1 and 2. Like the one where you have to mine those super rare minerals in 2? Or the one where you have to go around clicking every fucking wall ([again] because the points don't appear until after you start the quest)? Uggghhhh I wanted to die. None of that bullshit here anymore. Also no more "Stay in the same floor for 3 days" quest! The cycle has been broken! Another improvement they made is that now they've added a skill that allows characters to gain a fraction of exp even if they're not in your party, which allows you to level up other classes in preparation for all those shitty quests and situations that require you to have leveled a class that you don't have. Of which there aren't any in this game because, as I said, the quests aren't stupid anymore. But I'm just sayin', if there HAD been then we woulda been covered. In reality what it does help with is allowing you to easily level a separate team of farmers whose entire purpose is just to mine/gather/chop materials. So there's that.
Lastly they've also addressed the problem I complained about in Etrian 2, where force skills were either crazy broken or utterly useless depending on which classes you were playing. They've overhauled the system and changed the name to limit skills. Now the limit skills are obtained as items throughout the game and can be equipped on any character. It's well implemented and works much better this time around.
So anyways, that's Etrian III! Though it has its shortcomings: mainly a badly executed story, an unfortunately easier main game with imbalanced damage output from your party and cannon fodder FOEs, and less class uniqueness due to the subclass system, it fixes a lot of problems present in the previous games, has amazing music, cooler plot and characters, and the best real final boss. It might be my favorite Etrian game.
Final Verdict: B
Final Playtime: 206 hours