Five RPGs that Break the Rules: Etrian Odyssey 3

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Etrian Odyssey 3 is really the cop-out on my list. It is the most classic RPG design. When the series was first announced, the lead designer said in an interview that he wanted to bring back classic design, and that he looked at the Wizardry series for inspiration. However, while the game’s design came from the past, it featured several major renovations to the formula that make it stand out.

After the jump, a retro role playing game revival

I chose Etrian Odyssey 3 for several reasons. The first is availability. Like Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, Atlus published a limited number of copies of the first Etrian Odyssey. When it took off, the game quickly became hard to find. By the time the Etrian Odyssey series reached the third game, Atlus printed a lot of copies. It’s the easiest Etrian Odyssey to find. You shouldn’t have to search too long to find it.

The second reason is that the game features the biggest shakeup in terms of class variety, both in terms of the series and the wider genre itself. Anyone who has played a role playing game knows about the “holy trinity” of party composition. You need someone to protect the group, someone to heal/support, and someone to use magic/cause major damage. A group that doesn’t have those three is doomed to fail. The trinity is one of the oldest standards of the genre. It’s the foundation for the majority of western RPG design and balance.

What that also means is that group variety is downplayed in a lot of role playing games. If your party can only have 4 members and three of them have already been decided by the trinity, that doesn’t leave too much room to get creative.

Etrian Odyssey 3 mixes up the standard in several ways. First, your group can have 5 people at any one time. Second, the designers created a variety of classes, with vital skills from the concept of the trinity spread throughout. There isn’t one must-have class in the game.

For instance, healing spells are available to multiple classes. The one that has the most healing spells also does decent damage. Elemental attacks like fire or lightning are split between classes. There is one class that can give another person in your team elemental type damage for several rounds of combat, which can negate the need for a mage class in your party.

One of the hallmarks of old-school design is spending a long time creating your prefect party from the available classes and attribute values. While Etrian Odyssey 3 doesn’t allow players to affect attributes, it does give the player a lot to think about with party composition. Do you decide to take a group that focuses on damage, or provides status boosts, or even one that makes do with a summoned 6th member for your team? Further complicating matters is the option to give each member of your team a second class’s skills after a certain story point, allowing even more customization.

While Etrian Odyssey 3 avoids some staples of older design, it does embrace one: grinding. Expect to spend a lot of time grinding for money, or experience points to be able to stand a chance against troublesome bosses. While the grind does keep the game from being enjoyable in short bursts, it makes the game a perfect time killer on a long trip or rainy day. Etrian Odyssey 3 takes the popular elements of older role playing games and combines them with today’s view of accessibility, which makes it a perfect love letter to old school dungeon crawling.

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Josh Bycer, who posts as jab2565 on the Quarter to Three forums, is a living, breathing game encyclopedia who’s has been playing games since the age of three. As he tries to get his foot into the industry’s door, you can find his writings at his blog, Mind’s Eye, and at Gamasutra.