When one thinks of a mash-up game in the last couple years, generally it's either made up of one of its parts more than the other or a deviation from both that doesn't cater to either pieces of its source material. So when Atlus and Spike Chunsoft announced their own mashup of the Etrian Odyssey and Mysterious Dungeon series it seemed like a match made in heaven, combining the party-building and story lore of the Etrian series and the hard but rewarding dungeon crawling aspects of the Mysterious Dungeon series. That alone isn't a surefire recipe for success, but both sides managed to meet that lofty goal with Etrian Mystery Dungeon.
For those who haven't played a Mysterious Dungeon title before, they're at their core a classic roguelike --- and not the watered-down "permadeath" variation used as of late but the real old-school variant. The general idea is for your party to trek inside randomly generated dungeons in an effort to defeat the monsters that are in your way of the treasure inside and to gain experience.
This all plays into a feedback loop where you defeat enemies to gain better equipment and items via drops or funds to buy them, which are used to delve further into the dungeon where you can get more items and equipment. Inside these dungeons everything is based around a turn-based system where nothing happens until you move, including the enemies inside.
Unlike the Etrian series, which favors exploration over all else, Etrian Mystery Dungeon rewards tactical planning. Every step depletes Food Points (FP) from the current party leader. You can use certain items to replenish FP, but there's only so many items that can be taken into a dungeon alongside your healing items, traps and other various item types.
This is compounded by the fact that you have to successfully finish the dungeon by getting to the lowermost floor or escape the dungeon to take back any of your loot, so there's a careful balance between having enough item space for the items you obtain inside the dungeons but still having enough to actually successfully return alive. And in typical Mysterious Dungeon fashion, when you die in a dungeon you lose all of your loot and the game is automatically saved, returning you to the town empty-handed.
Going back to the party composition, Etrian Mystery Dungeon lets you make up a four-member party, one member down from the recent Etrian games. The difference is that you only control the active party leader, although you can switch party leaders at will to best tackle the current situation, while the other three are controlled automatically. Generally you'll use your attacking and defensive classes at the lead, though, as enemies can and will one-shot your healers and mages if they get the chance.
The other three party members are controlled by a basic gambit-like system. Medics (healers) heal party members with the lowest HP, Runemasters (mages) attack enemies with magic that the enemy is weak to and Defenders (tanks) draw attacks towards them to protect your party's weakest members, to name a few examples. Generally the system works well enough to let you focus on traversing the dungeon, but there were times when playing I wish I could have had complete control when necessary or at the very least some sort of a "if this and this occurs, then do this" gambit mechanic.
Thankfully this is the exact implementation when getting to the lowermost floor where the bosses tend to make their home. These areas play like an overhead version of a Etrian Odyssey fight where each member is controlled by the player. And this ends up being a necessary mechanic as bosses can and will take you down quickly if you don't get good use out of the abilities obtained by assigning ability points gain by levelling up. Abilities generally work like they do in a Etrian Odyssey game, although there's some modifications to the more well-known ones to work in the Mystery Dungeon framework and some new ones to the Etrian series entirely.
Since the setup of your party members inside the dungeon is so paramount to succeeding in the game, one might think that the game would require over-excessive dungeon crawling to level them all up evenly. Etrian Mystery Dungeon helps out in this regard by letting you create "forts" inside a floor in the dungeon by spending money, which can be used to send your reserve forces to guard and train to gain experience at a higher rate than normal, making the grind much less more taxing.
These also have the bonus effect of locking in certain floor levels if you like the drops there, but the primary use outside of the prior two mentioned uses is to keep out the extremely powerful DOEs --- a name which will sound very familiar to long-time Etrian Odyssey veterans. Just like their Etrian Odyssey FOE-deviated namesakes, the DOEs make the entrance after the first couple dungeons and make their way up to the top floor of the dungeon as you're making your way down the dungeon.
The forts come into play by acting as a deterrent to the DOEs --- they'll either have your reserve party members fight it off to keep it from escaping and attacking the neighboring town, or if nobody is stationed there it'll destroy the fort and retreat. This further plays into the preparation aspect mentioned earlier as you need to either have your party powerful enough to take on the DOE or spend enough gold to create a fort to force them to retreat. And if the DOE makes its way to the surface, you are immediately ejected from the dungeon (as if you had died) losing all of your obtained loot. Further compounding things is that at least one facility in the town will be ruined and unless you have the gold to pay to fix it, you'll need to wait until the repairs are done.
One flaw I found with these encounters, though, is that it almost requires a status inducing party member like the Hexer to inflict debilitating status effects on the DOE, otherwise it'll easily overtake you. Considering the focus on creating your perfect party, forcing players into a specific party member seems at odds with the game's design.
Even with all of the hardcore aspects and the difficulty penalties for failing, I still had fun playing through the story as it's similar to other games like From Software's Souls series in that you can and will fail occasionally, but your failures are due to your own mistakes and the penalties serve the purpose of making sure you don't make the same mistake again a second time. It's very much a game that rewards players that put in the effort to learn the game's ins-and-outs.
Another aspect to note is that you can also level up the various shops inside the towns. This can range from more space to store your items or open up more reserve spots in your party. The shops themselves are pretty basic menu-based affairs but they work well in letting the player get their stuff and get back to the dungeon quickly. Narratively, it's very similar to an Etrian Odyssey game in the sense that there's a basic narrative to guide the player, but the gameplay and exploration is paramount above all else.
Graphically, it's a mixed bag depending on what area you're comparing them in. The town backdrops and townspeople are wonderfully drawn like one would expect from a Etrian game with lavishly drawn set pieces, but the dungeons are a bit more of a basic affair. That isn't to say they lackluster, though, as they have enough design to give the player the feeling of the area they're in but don't get in the way of the dungeon trekking. The music felt well done and to the same standard one would expect in a standard Etrian Odyssey game.
Most crossovers lately have felt a bit lacking, but Atlus and Spike Chunsoft feels natural in the sense that you feel like you are playing a new variation of an Etrian game instead of a Mysterious Dungeon game with a superficial Etrian skin placed over it. It isn't perfect and there are some flaws that could be remedied in a sequel, but what exists here is a game that both Etrian Odyssey and Mysterious Dungeon fans can both enjoy, as well as newcomers who put in the effort to learn the game's mechanics. It's no mystery --- this is a crossover done right.
|Fans of both the Etrian Odyssey and Mysterious Dungeon series will enjoy this game.|
|There's ways to level up your reserve party members easily which reduces the need to overly grind.|
|The town improvement aspects are a nice addition.|
|DOEs tend to require a Hexer or another similar class to survive without over-levelling.|
|Fans of the overly detailed backdrops in the Etrian Odyssey dungeons might be initially disappointed by the simpler backdrops in this game.|
|Would have liked to seen more technically tweaking available with the game's gambit system.|