I should preface this article by explicitly stating that I’m not well attuned to rogue-likes as a genre. I’ve dabbled here and there with games of that ilk such as Tower of Guns and The Binding of Isaac, however I hadn’t played a more traditional turn based rogue-like until my exposure to Etrian Mystery Dungeon. This is an injustice I hope to rectify at some point by going back to older Mystery Dungeon games such as the enhanced SNES port of Shiren to the DS, but that’s a story for another time.
With that said, Etrian Mystery Dungeon has become one of my best impulse purchases in recent memory; a purchase based solely on my adoration for the Etrian Odyssey series. Despite my relative inexperience with the genre, I consider myself an avid lover of rpg’s and all subgenre’s that stem from it. As such, I had reserved expectations going into the game.
The first three story dungeons were alarming in the worst way possible. After acclimating to the controls and gameplay style, I was able to power through the initial dungeons with little effort. It got to the point that I had to take regular breaks every few minutes to do something else with my time. After all, a game of this type ultimately lives or dies based on its difficulty. People don’t play a turn based game because it’s easy. People play turn based games because they want at the very least some degree of strategy; something the first several hours weren’t giving me.
My faith in the product began waining at this point only to be restored upon reaching the fourth story dungeon. The introduction of DOE’s and the fort building mechanic along with more difficult run-of-the-mill encounters gave me the strength to push onward. By the 25th floor of the sixth main dungeon, that restored faith was taken back and held captive behind an elaborate, impenetrable vault and you know what? That’s perfect fine.
I made a stupid decision that cost me several hours of progress and the game made me suffer as a result. For the uninformed, dungeons in Etrian Mystery Dungeon can inhabited by DOE’s, incredibly powerful boss-type enemies. It’s never wise to fight a DOE upon first encountering it, therefore players will want to avoid DOE’s at all costs while making it to the bottom of their first excursion within a dungeon.
Every time a player progresses by a floor in a dungeon, the DOE can also progress a floor. If the DOE reaches the first floor, it will destroy the hub-town and wipe away hours of progress spent upgrading various districts in town. This sounds like an unstoppable nightmare, though that’s where the fort building mechanic comes into play. Forts of various types can be set down on most floors of a dungeon and will ward off DOE’s, though they will be destroyed in the process as well.
The sixth main dungeon was the largest and most difficult area up until that point and as such, I built multiple search forts(which allow fast travel to that floor from town) to ensure steady progress through the labyrinth. I even had multiple forts destroyed by DOE’s.
Unfortunately, the game tested my patience a bit too far. I knew all too well that a DOE was heading upwards and yet I continued my descent, hoping to reach the boss floor before the DOE could do anything. As soon as I hit the 25th floor, the game instantly transported me back to town. All the districts I worked so hard to upgrade were destroyed and a lot of my gold was wiped. Even most of my currently equipped weapons and armor throughout the party disappeared. I was furious to the say the least.
In the interest of saving time and money, I chose not to place down a fort at the first floor because the majority of the game had been a cakewalk. I figured “hey, I can do this.” Due to my carelessness, hours of upgrading shops, acquiring money, and forging gear went down the drain. Regardless of my initial frustration, Etrian Mystery Dungeon served as a wake-up call for difficulty and consequence in gaming. Not every experience needs to be punishing, but I’m glad a game like this exists and let me suffer such a consequence over a glaring oversight on my part. Even though I quit Etrian Mystery Dungeon to spare my sanity, I haven’t given up for good. My tried and true party of landsknecht, protector, medic, and gunner haven’t retired. They’re simply on vacation and will one day return to finish what they started.
Etrian Mystery Dungeon reinforces why difficulty is so integral to rpg’s as a whole. The lack thereof is why games like the Project X Zone series won’t be revered years down the line as essential strategy/tactical rpg’s while games like the mainline Etrian Odyssey franchise have that staying power. This isn’t about elitism or the whole “git gud” the industry is infamous for. This is about player engagement relative to a genre and difficulty is an essential element to an engaging turn-based RPG.