Finding Balance in Etrian Mystery Dungeon

Finding Balance in Etrian Mystery Dungeon

We speak to director Yukari Yoroko on the workings of Atlus and Spike Chunsoft's upcoming dungeon crawler.

Sure, everyone's RPG brain bandwidth is dominated today by Final Fantasy Type 0 and the Final Fantasy XV demo, but we in the press have to stay a step ahead of the rest of the world. While you're savoring Square's latest, we're already rushing through the more modest (but nevertheless thoroughly satisfying) Etrian Mystery Dungeon for 3DS, which launches early next month in the U.S.

As I mentioned in my preview a few weeks ago, the entire concept behind EMD seems fraught with challenges; the game combines two wildly different takes on the RPG concept. Still, from what I've played so far, the game somehow pulls it off. Director Yukari Yokoro of Spike Chunsoft was kind enough to answer a few questions about the making of EMD. How do you combine two very different RPGs into one? Who's responsible for this game? And what's with those guys who look like Shiren the Wanderer?

USgamer: The fundamental concepts behind Etrian Odyssey and Mystery Dungeon feel rather at odds with one another — one is about slowly tracking permanence, the other is about overcoming constant, unpredictable, short-term change. How do you reconcile such contradictory ideas in a single game?

Yukari Yokoro: The Mystery Dungeon games have the dungeon layout, enemies, and item positions change each time you enter, so you get a fresh experience every time you explore a dungeon. The Etrian Odyssey series is strategically engaging since you create a party, develop your characters, and explore the dungeons with the team you designed. We took these main concepts as the foundation of the game, and brought those aspects from each game to build upon it. We think these two franchises are a great match for each other due to their synergistic nature.

It’s true that the Etrian Odyssey series is known for its map-drawing feature, but considering this game’s controls and overall pace, we’ve reduced the use of the touch screen. So we weren’t able to include the hand-drawn map system, but in exchange, we introduced a type of healing resource called Amber Tiles to preserve the idea of drawing a map as you walk. As your party adventures through the dungeon, they’ll feel like they’re drawing a map on the screen.

USG: In terms of the development team, roughly how does it break down between ATLUS/Etrian Odyssey staff and Spike Chunsoft/Mystery Dungeon staff?

YY: Most of the game development was handled by the Spike Chunsoft team, with supervision from Atlus. We provided Spike Chunsoft with information on Etrian Odyssey and asked them to blend it with the Mystery Dungeon gameplay.

During development, both companies shared their most recent data on the development server, stayed in close touch using a chat program that connects the two companies to pay attention to fine details, and held weekly meetings to make further arrangements. Spike Chunsoft provided test builds for us to check each month, and Atlus checked carefully the direction the game was heading. There was a good deal of cooperation throughout the process.

USG: How has the team brought its respective expertise to play in creating this game?

YY: Spike Chunsoft’s know-how and technical strength, built from 20 years of Mystery Dungeon, was combined with Atlus’ enchanting characters and Etrian Odyssey setting, which sparked the revival of 3D dungeon RPGs. From this, we believe that we produced an easy-to-play, yet advanced, dungeon RPG.

USG: How did you settle on the specific mix of available classes for EMD? For instance, why Gunners as the ranged class and not Survivalists or Arbalists?

YY: We chose classes one by one, carefully considering each of their unique skills, and making sure to fill the roles of front-liners, ranged attackers, tanks, buffers, and debuffers.

We picked Gunners to be our ranged attacker because Survivalists have a lot of skills that assist with dungeon exploration, so we were worried their role would overlap with the Wanderer class.

As for Arbalists, because their damage output with the catapults is so high, if they were included in Mystery Dungeon it would have been very difficult to balance as a class.

The best fit for Mystery Dungeon, in terms of skills and movement, was the Gunner. They’re also very popular class in the Etrian Odyssey franchise, and have been made into figurines in Japan. That was another factor in including them in Etrian Mystery Dungeon.

USG: Speaking of the Wanderer, what challenges did you experience adapting the Shiren character into a class who fit effectively into the Etrian Odyssey universe?

YY: We wanted to include a new class in the game, to kindle players’ interest even if they haven’t played an Etrian Odyssey series before. At the same time, we wanted to have it be a class representative of the Mystery Dungeon games. We asked the developers to come up with a character who could be a “master of the mystery dungeons,” and the Wanderer class was born. There weren’t too many real challenges in creating it, since it was a new class tailor-made for this universe.

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