|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Atlus||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atlus||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept.21, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-5 (limited)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
Out of all the video game genres out there, dungeon crawlers are arguably one of the most divisive. The appeal of painstakingly wandering through a massive dungeonoften square by squarewith little to start with in the way of equipment, abilities, or cash is limiting enough for most players, but throw in all the stats of a more straightforward RPG with none of the narrative engagement and youve got a niche with some serious boundaries.
Needless to say, if youre a fan of the genre, you almost always know exactly what youre getting into when you play one of these games. The same can be said for Etrian Odyssey III; if you dont like dungeon crawlers, you can stop reading this now, because theres nothing here thats going to change your mind about them. The game features all the finely-tuned mechanics youd expect, and it can be pretty challenging. But Drowned City offers little that could be considered new or innovative.
If youre cool with that, theres a fair bit that the game offers to satiate your dungeon crawling cravings. Playing a group of up to five explorers (well, five per active party) youre tasked with - what else? - exploring the ruins of a mysterious undersea dungeon underneath the city of Armoroad. The town hub has all the usual trappings: a smithy, an inn, a local tavern to take on side quests, a place of law where you get main missions, the dungeon entrance itself, and even a port that allows you to take to the ocean on exploratory expeditions. Gameplay in the dungeon itself works like countless others in the genres, adopting a first-person perspective (think old-school Persona or the DS MegaTen entry Strange Journey) as you make your way through each successive floor. Combat is also similar to Persona or Dragon Quest, and aside from some limited animation placed on top of Drowned Citys well-drawn artwork, has little in the way of visual flair.
However, this doesnt necessarily make Drowned City a bad game, at least depending on your patience level. Far from it, in fact. In spite of the instant familiarity that 95 percent of its design should conjure up with most RPG players, there are some interesting tweaks to the standard gameplay conventions here. First off, Etrian Odyssey thankfully doesnt use randomly generated maps to form its levels, which is key because the game makes you (or at least strongly recommends) painstaking cartography on the part of the player, mapping out each and every inch of each floor of the dungeon, which is admittedly invaluable in remembering shortcuts, traps, and other notable events or locations. Drowned City also offers an interesting lineup of job classes compared to the typical mages, monks, warriors, and the like that typically populate these kinds of games. Instead we get princes/princesses, zodiacs, buccaneers and arbalests (those who specialize in munitions and heavy firearms). It might not seem like a big deal to have some variations on the whole job class theme, but it really does make for more interesting combat scenarios.
Speaking of combat, for a Dragon Quest-style (read: impossibly traditional) battle system, Drowned Citys battles can actually prove somewhat entertaining depending on your partys skills. Finding the right balance of brute force, magic abilities, and defense have been standard for years, but coupling abilities like an instant, limit break-style charge move (that ups the stats of your entire party) with secondary effect-based skills (the ninja class has an awesome shadow decoy that does wonders when trying to draw the proverbial fire from really strong foes) has a simple, addictive quality that I havent come across in an RPG in some time.
The most addictive part of the game doesnt come from rooting around in Armoroads main dungeon, however. The aforementioned exploring at sea, a first for the series, takes that honor. Early in the game, youre given access to a ship that will let you chart the ocean, Wind Waker-style, which can result in additional quests, fishing, trading (both on land and with seafaring merchants), evading or engaging pirates, or discovering treasure. As a distraction from the endless grinding and snails pace exploration offered in Drowned Citys main dungeon, sea adventures are great, but you can also make a boatload of cash and the exploration is pretty engaging. Theres a reason for this: no random battles. Although the sea around Armoroad is essentially just another type of dungeon, taking out the constant battles makes your travels much easier, less stressful and time consuming. The challenge here is that, interestingly, you can only travel as far as your on-board provisions will take you. Starting out with the most meager of vittles, you can only go a max of six turns, with one space on the ocean map per turn. Figuring out a way to aid disparate settlers with their problems often yields new types of supplies for you to load up on between voyages; this in turn allows you to go that much further out, which can lead to more new discoveries. The mechanics of sea travel lend a slight adventure game feel to Drowned Citys otherwise extremely traditional gameplay, and thats definitely a good thing.
Much like an dungeon crawler, youll probably have already decided whether or not youre interested in Drowned City before ever reading any reviews of the game; old-school design like whats seen here is either something you like or you dont, with very little middle ground. Though I personally feel you need an interesting narrative or some other kind of engagement to make a game like this work exceptionally well (the undeniable charm of the Dragon Quest series is a good example of this), Drowned City has enough going for it that most hardcore fans of dungeon crawlers will probably enjoy it, at least if youre willing to accept a lack of serious innovation. For everyone else, I would say approach this one with caution.
CCC Freelance Writer