It's the week of Thanksgiving here in America. But I think they got the memo over in Japan, too, because Atlus and Spike Chunsoft clearly are putting together a concerted effort to make me thankful.
I woke up this morning to news of a game that couldn't be pointed more directly at my tastes short of throwing in Bionic Commando's grappling hook or Final Fantasy's Job System: Etrian Odyssey X Mystery Dungeon. Developed primarily by Spike Chunsoft with collaborative work and input from Atlus' dungeon crawler team, EOXMD basically has my name written all over it. And probably some other people's, too, but the crossover combines two games that easily stand as my biggest RPG revelations over the past decade — games that pulled me into classic genres I never realized I enjoyed.
It's a reasonable enough match, if a slightly contradictory one. Both franchises represent (in their best moments) keenly designed and balanced RPGs that rely heavily on skill and discovery but include just enough randomness that you always run the risk of something unexpected wrecking your day. Both make many demands of players, and neither seems to prioritize being particularly forgiving of mistakes. At the same time, Etrian Odyssey with its virtual graph paper mapping centers largely around charting the unknown and taming it, learning the ins and outs of the game world. Mystery Dungeon, on the other hand, presents precisely the opposite experience; its labyrinths reconfigure themselves every time you venture forth, so mapping is futile.
From the video that aired during last night's announcement stream — ostensibly an event related to the upcoming Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 remake — it looks very much as though EOXMD takes the opposite tack of this week's Etrian Odyssey crossover, Persona Q. That is, rather than dropping characters from another franchise into Etrian's dungeon-mapping hijinks, it instead takes the character classes and bestiary of the Etrian games and goes roguelike on them.
That's no real surprise given the Mystery Dungeon series' tradition of crossovers, though. The series got its start as a Dragon Quest spin-off, and the vast majority of Mystery Dungeon crossovers that have come to the U.S. have been collaborations; only two of the "real" Mystery Dungeon titles, the ones featuring ronin adventurer Shiren the Wanderer, have made their way to the U.S. In fact, the most recent of the pair came courtesy of Etrian Odyssey publisher Atlus in the form of Shiren the Wanderer for Wii... though rumor has it that one sold so poorly as to seal the fate of Shiren games in the U.S. forever. That could spell bad news for this crossover's chances; though on the other hand, Atlus seems intent on localizing any and everything related to Etrian Odyssey, so I wouldn't abandon all hope just yet.
Besides, plenty of Mystery Dungeon crossovers have made their way to the states in recent years. Most of them have featured the Pokémon franchise, which is what makes EOXMD so intriguing. The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, as befits their target audience, tend to water down or completely change the unforgiving principles of the Mystery Dungeon series and the roguelike genre as a whole, with few consequences for failure outside of specialized post-game dungeons. While Etrian Odyssey has made more concessions to clemency as the series has grown beyond its ball-busting debut in 2007, it's still one of the more merciless role-playing series on the market. I'd love to see the Mystery Dungeon crew working blue again, as it were, unhindered by the need to make their work accessible to the youngest members of the Pokémon audience.
You could make the argument that we're getting a bit tapped out on Etrian Odyssey, which would be a fair complaint; for a niche adventure that international audiences are only just beginning to warm up to, Atlus sure is pushing it pretty heavily. Besides Persona Q and the upcoming Etrian Odyssey Untold 2, there's also Etrian Odyssey V (teased in the same Untold 2 live stream that brought the EOXMD announcement) set for an indeterminate date... but most likely sometime within 2015, at least in Japan:
On the other hand, that's precisely what makes EOXMD so appealing. It's not simply another methodical dungeon crawler to map, but rather a chance to see the characters and creatures of the Etrian universe in a new context. Crossover games have become all the rage in Japan as publishers band together to combine their properties — a much healthier approach than the mergers and acquisitions that defined the previous decade. Here, we're seeing interesting combinations and permutations of fan-favorite properties, something that decidedly failed to materialize from, say, the Square Enix merger or Konami's purchase of Hudson. Seen Star Ocean lately? Bomberman? ActRaiser? Nope.
And while EOXMD admittedly isn't exactly a career reboot for poor forgotten Shiren, I suspect this collaboration will result in a game far closer in spirit to those games than anything else we've seen bearing the Mystery Dungeon name in quite some time. Happy Thanksgiving to me.