USgamer will be celebrating the third anniversary of its launch in a few months, and in that time I've reviewed four Etrian Odyssey games (assuming, that is, we count Persona Q among those numbers—and we should). What I have not reviewed, however, is a true Etrian sequel.
The last proper, numbered-with-an-integer Etrian title, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, launched shortly before USgamer did. Since then, we've seen two remakes (Etrian Odyssey Untold and Untold 2), a mash-up with Atlus' own Persona series, and a hybrid concoction involving the Mystery Dungeon roguelike series. All of these games have been very good, and yet collectively they give the impression that Atlus has been spinning its wheels.
To put it in Etrian terms: They've been grinding out a lot of experience with side quests, but we haven't had a proper dungeon outing in far too long.
Atlus has finally begun making noise about the next numbered Etrian adventure — Sekaiju no Meikyuu V, which will presumably be called Etrian Odyssey V once the company announces its inevitable U.S. localization — and not a moment too soon. As the designated that one guy in the mainstream gaming press who won't shut up about the series, I've played each spinoff avidly, but I'm more than ready for Atlus to take a decisive step forward here. The crossovers have been more about bringing Etrian's discipline to other franchises than about enriching the Etrian series itself, and the Untold titles have been backward-facing by design (being remakes of the first two Etrian games from 2007 and 2009). Compared to Etrian IV, which shook up some of the series' fundamentals and reinvented the entire flow of the adventure, everything since has felt safe and predictable.
At first glance, based on a few tiny screenshots from some Famitsu scans that have been circulating this week, Etrian V doesn't exactly look to reinvent the wheel. As with the previous entries in the franchise, it will be a turn-based dungeon-crawler RPG, with a class-based five-character party system and first-person exploration that demands players map their way through the labyrinth. And, per usual, it looks wonderfully green.
A closer examination, and a read through some translated developer comments that have appeared on various forums, suggest the changes in store for this entry may be more subtle than the ones Etrian IV ushered in. Besides the usual shake-up of character classes, game director Shigeo Komori has expressed his interest in creating greater limitations for players.
The game's new classes (such as Reaper and Necromancer) will likely play a part in this; they sound similar to those of previous games while suggesting enough differences to mean players can't simply rely on party builds from older games. In particular, Komori has reportedly criticized the sub-class and Grimoire systems from Etrian III, IV, and the Untold games for allowing players to create indomitable teams. One of the fundamental concepts that drove the first two games had to do with the idea of restrictions: Etrian I and II's class options and skill trees were designed in such a way as to ensure that a five-member party would always suffer some sort of weakness that would force players to consider each action carefully and change up their team composition to deal with different situations. The series has slowly drifted away from that concept over the years, and Etrian V could see that conceptual pillar restored at last.
The addition of new races to the mix will also likely play a part in this shakeup as well. While non-human races have appeared as playable characters in previous Etrian games (including beast-people and cybernetic Yggdroids), they were always limited to a single class. Etrian V's custom-built parties promise to be the most diverse yet, with four races in total, each tied to various classes (similar to the class/race associations with Moogle, Viera, etc. in the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance games). Furthermore, it seems that while each class comes with its four requisite portrait options, each of these can be customized with different skin tones and hair/eye colors. For those who demand combat voice clips in their games, the Japanese version at least will allow players to assign one of 40 different voices to each of their guild members. And, per usual, one or more of the classes is guaranteed to set tongues clucking with its revealing custom portraits; the primary Necromancer portrait appears to depict a bony, nearly naked elf girl whose private bits are obscured (but only just) by a loose and conveniently placed chain. That's right: It's an Etrian game.
Etrian V also appears likely to continue the trend of breaking the dungeon into several smaller areas spread across a vast world map. This approach hasn't been a slam dunk with series fans; many preferred the single interconnected dungeon of the first few games, as it made possible interesting mechanics such as backtracking through hidden passages from late in the dungeon back to secrets on its earliest floors. On the other hand, the sense of discovery in Etrian IV, with its grand overworld that presented the same sense of danger and exploration as the dungeons themselves, may have been the best part of that game.
No doubt we can expect more firm detail soon. Etrian V arrives in Japan in August, with an American release almost absolutely a lock for this autumn. With Nintendo's mobile and NX strategies waiting in the wings, 2016 will be the last hoorah for 3DS. Between Etrian V, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final, and 7th Dragon III, Atlus seems determined to do its part to help the handheld go out in a blaze of RPG glory.