I haven't talked about Etrian Odyssey III for a while, but I'm still playing. I've been putting in a few hours each night while in bed, and if nothing else, this game delivers an extremely healthy amount of content. I thought for sure I'd have polished it off by now, but I'm still chipping away. I'm not complaining though, the game is quite entertaining.
While I'm quite glad to have secured an early copy, one of the downsides of reviewing games before release is that there is often little or no information available online . After all, how can someone write an FAQ before the game's even released? It's true that there are some walkthroughs out that are based on the Japanese version, but sometimes things change, or it can be hard to figure out the finer details with differences in translation.
Anyway, my point in bringing this up is that now that I'm more than halfway and have finally figured out most of the tricks up the game's sleeve, I'm sorely tempted to go back to the beginning and rebuild my characters from scratch.
*** Spoiler Alert!
For those of you who intend to play and buy the game (which should be all of you, really) know that there comes a point at which your characters are able to add a sub-class. For example, a starting party might be Gladiator, Monk, Hoplite, Arbalist, Zodiac. After the choice is available, some of those classes might be more attractive as a sub-class instead. The Gladiator can become a Gladiator/Hoplite, and the Monk can become a Monk/Zodiac, for example. I did not know this at the beginning of the game, and if I had, I believe it would have changed which characters I picked.
This is important to know because characters only gain one skill point per level, and earning a level is serious business in Etrian. It takes a long time, and every little bit counts. It's certainly possible to re-configure a character (and the game goes out of its way to provide the player options) but it's infinitely better to start off properly and craft them the way you want from the get-go. I'm somewhere in the ballpark of 30-ish hours last I checked, and that's too much time to just call a wash. I'm pressing on, but the perfectionist inside me is screaming.
One other thing to know—there are two special classes available only after a certain plot point. Things may change if I get a little further, but as of right now, it appears that only one is accessible per playthrough. The Yggdroid can be selected if you choose to protect, and the Samurai (pretty sure it's a Samurai, though I may be getting the name wrong) opens up if you choose to attack. You'll know what I mean when you get there.
I've only had the Yggdroid on my team, but so far it seems extremely similar to a Hexer from Etrian Odyssey II. This certainly isn't a bad thing, but I'm noticing that it takes a heck of a lot of experience points in order to get all of its systems running properly.
My advice to anyone would be to retire a high-level character (at least 40 or so) before having the ‘droid join your team. I took one on too early, and it was extremely rough going since it was both fragile and weak at the start. It's becoming a killing machine now, but it took quite a bit of effort and patience. I would do it differently next time around.
*** End Spoiler Alert!
Our recent podcast featured a new segment where one of the critics suggest a game they like, and then the rest of the crew plays it to see what they think. The two games selected were Too Human (Tim's pick) and any of the Dynasty Warriors games (Chi's pick).
As I mentioned earlier, I did actually complete Too Human and even went so far as to write a full review. It hasn't gone live yet, but it will shortly. As far as Dynasty Warriors, I ended up going with Dynasty Warriors 6 on the 360. Not to spoil the podcast or anything, but let's just say that... I didn't finish it.
After doing my due diligence for the show (and noticing that there's a much-needed lull in current releases) I went to my "play this later" stack and selected Dante's Inferno. An infamous title for several reasons, I think it's fair to say that I didn't expect anything more than a poorly-conceived God of War clone, but the reality is that it's a much better game than I could have guessed.
To be certain, it draws heavy inspiration from Kratos. That is not in dispute. However, in an odd turn of events, God of War III actually sucked a fat one (yes, that's a scientific term) so my recent hack-and-slash jones went unsatisfied. By comparison, Dante's knows exactly what it's trying to do and does it in very polished fashion.
Aside from the smooth mechanics, one of the things I appreciate most about it is the attention to detail and the imagination on display in each of the hellish realms. The imagery is fantastic, with many interesting interpretations of the underworld and plenty of classic iconography.
In terms of its treatment of the source material, I certainly admit that I was highly dubious (to say the least) of developers appropriating a literary classic, but after having seen the way it was used, I think it was done very smartly.
To start with, I'd be willing to bet that out of everyone who's played the game, only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction have actually read The Inferno. I certainly haven't. I haven't even talked to or heard of anyone who has. However, I don't think the pertinent question is how faithful the game is to literature, as so many in the press seemed to insist.
To me, inspiration can be drawn from any source, so for the developers to say that their muse was Aligheri's work is certainly fair enough. The real litmus test in my mind is whether or not the game holds up on its own, and it certainly does. The story of Dante's personal failings and his quest to rescue Beatrice would be more than satisfactory for any random brand-new IP, so I don't see much need to compare it 1-to-1 to the book. It's perfectly obvious that the developers aren't being slavishly faithful, so why all the consternation?
Another thing I appreciate is that there's almost no dead space or fat that needs trimming. I've long been a fan of any game that knows what it's about, gets to it, and then ends with dignity. I'm estimating that this playthrough will take me between 5 and 6 hours, and that strikes me as being perfect for something so action-heavy. Anything more would be needless repetition, and that's never welcome.
Finally (and I admit it's really odd to call out) but I'm totally in love with a particular animation sequence. When Dante charges up his crucifix for a power blast, there's just something visually powerful—almost arresting—about it. He crouches back, winds up, and a giant explosion of photons slams into whatever's approaching. I've seen the animation a thousand times, but it never gets old. I don't subscribe to any particular religion so I don't have a special reverence for all of the Christian elements, but seeing this character charge through the gates of hell and blast everything in sight with pure, holy light has a certain potency about it… in terms of pure visuals, it really works. He's kicking ass for the Lord.
... and on that note, I should probably be getting back to it. Beatrice still needs saving, after all.