Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth, the fifth main installment of Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey series, introduces the continent of Arcania, where there is yet another Yggdrasil tree to which adventurers have been summoned for the purpose of revealing its secrets. At the base of the tree sits the city of Iorys, which acts as your base of operations throughout the game. It is up to the player to form a diverse guild of adventurers of different races and classes to chase the myths of the great tree. Etrian Odyssey V preserves the aesthetic of previous Etrian Odyssey games while providing new areas to explore and allowing every player to experience their own unique adventure.
Etrian Odyssey V, like its predecessors, is a Dungeon Crawler/RPG with cartography being one of the game’s key elements. The map in the game is organized as a grid with each step the player takes being one tile on the map. Each step that is taken fills the encounter rate meter in the corner of the 3DS’ top screen. Once this meter is filled, the player is pulled into a turn-based battle with various monsters. The player’s goal is to journey to the top of the giant labyrinth that is Yggdrasil, drawing in each floor on the 3DS’ bottom screen as they progress. Similar to previous games, the player is presented with a mapping system with many different symbols they can place to aid them in marking important locations on the map. However, little advice is given to player in how they should mark their map besides how to draw in walkable tiles and walls. In fact, the amount of tutorial-like material the game contains is very small.
The game provides the player with the barebones of what they need to know to navigate Yggdrasil, leaving the player to fill the gaps in their knowledge of the world. Major elements such as using Unison Skills in battle, the importance of the game’s four races, and the basics of Field-On Enemies (FOEs) are presented to the player in brief tutorial-like explanations when they become relevant early in the game. Many details in the game, such as the complexity of the game’s turn-based battle system and the social interactions among the different races are left to the player to learn through talking to NPCs and progressing through the game. The player is meant to seek out information
The game’s narrative structure can be best described as a vector with side branches. Understanding Video Games, Third Edition defines this narrative model as having “one main story that progresses chronologically” with the player being “allowed or even encouraged to make small detours”. Etrian Odyssey V adheres to this model due to the abundance of small events the player can engage in, the amount of optional character interactions, and the fact that no matter how the player behaves during these instances, there are only two different endings to the game, which are only different in terms of the dialogue presented. The richest experience playing this game comes from investment in the world in the forms of regularly communicating with NPCs and consistently engaging in optional events that occur inside the labyrinth. While traversing dungeon floors, the player is prompted with a “Check” option to trigger events by stepping on specific tiles. These events range from deciding to interact with monsters that are not hostile to curiously investigating dark caves. These events and the choices you are allowed to make, along with talking to NPCs and taking on quests, help bring the world of Etrian Odyssey V to life and make the player feel like a true adventurer.
Etrian Odyssey V presents itself with an emphasis on anime-styled music and visuals to appeal to a specific audience. The characters the player interacts with on their journey, including the city’s vendors, the characters they create as members of their guild, and the other characters they encounter as they travel through the game’s strata (different themed sections of the labyrinth), all have anime-styled 2D portraits that separate them from the world’s monsters. A notable new feature in this installment feature is the availability of partial voice-acting for all characters, and ability to customize the portraits of the adventurers the player creates in terms of hair, eye, and skin colors. The monsters the player encounters in battle all have 3D models, which helps them blend into the 3D environment the player traverses. Together, these visual elements draw a line between the society the game focuses on and the unknown world that its individuals to explore. This allows the player to easily make the distinction between “Us versus Them” and charge into every battle with the certainty that they are doing their part in the story’s progression. The music in Etrian Odyssey V provides the game with a “cinematic” feeling, evoking certain emotions from the player in every situation. Every battle is accompanied by upbeat music to evoke excitement in the player. Additionally, the game’s mechanic of preemptive attacks and ambushes changes how the battle theme sounds at the beginning of a battle. If a player attacks a horde of monsters preemptively, the song has a longer introduction, reflecting the fact that the player has the opportunity to devise a tactical first strike. If a player is ambushed by monsters, a discordant electric guitar riff plays as the monsters all take turns inflicting damage on the surprised party members, reflecting the painful price of being caught off guard. These details help the player relate to their characters’ situations and improve their engagement.
In addition to being pulled into Arcania through standard exploration and battles, the player is prompted in multiple situations to reflect upon their own values and decide whether or not to show empathy and kindness. One quest the player can accept while exploring the Second Stratum involves hunting down a beast that injures the client’s workers. The player is ultimately given the decision to either kill the beast or spare it in an ethical choice for which the game could decide to punish them. These moments bring a level of socio-cultural value to the game, allowing its influence to extend beyond the screen.
Furthermore, Etrian Odyssey V constantly reinforces the idea that both skill and caution are needed to survive in unknown territory, which is true even in real-life settings. In this sense, the game utilizes aspects of instructional edutainment to make these lessons prevalent. As stated in Understanding Video Games, in instructional edutainment, “The information in the game should be complex and unknown to encourage exploration and reorganization of the information”. The player is encouraged to make careful, observant choices, such as waiting for a mysterious figure in the distance to move before approaching it. Acting without caution does have its benefits at times, but there are many instances in which choices end with taking massive amounts of damage or being forced in to a battle (or multiple battles) with many enemies.
Ultimately, Etrian Odyssey V is a captivating game for those who enjoy anime-styled visuals and music, Dungeon Crawlers, and turn-based RPGs. For those unfamiliar with Etrian Odyssey, the game serves as a good entry point to the series, as each game in the series has a separate story, and the “Basic” difficulty option offers a less “rage-inducing” experience compared to the original DS trilogy.
Written for UCI's Computer Games in Society course.