When I started Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City, I figured I would begin with the standard Glenn dungeon party — a mage, a healer, a fighter, a defender, and a supporter — and then tweak it as necessary throughout the game. I was surprised, then, when I had trouble picking out which classes in EO3 would best work in my desired roles. The support class is a front row fighter. The defender's best attack skill is used from the back row. A few different classes fit the "fighter" role, and each has unique strengths: one is evasive, one deals more damage, and the third can attack multiple times per turn. There is also a summoning class, which is new to the series. I read every skill for every class, and was happy that Atlus addressed my main qualm with Etrian Odyssey II. The classes in EO3 are remade from scratch and creative, and it gave me a great first impression of the game.
|"The classes in EO3 are remade from scratch and creative, and it gave me a great first impression of the game."
While I do enjoy a solid, old-school, first-person crawler, the gameplay in the genre can be mind-numbingly simple, so it's a big deal to me when the classes are so deep and unique. Unlike EO2, which watered down the classes to the extent that none of them were very specialized, the classes in EO3 are all distinct and, more importantly, useful. Even the Farmer, which has the supportiest non-combat abilities, learns cheap status ailment attacks and can use some strong weapons, so you won't be carrying dead weight in battle just to take advantage of her scavenging and experience boosting skills.
My favorite class right now is the Prince. I always try to shoehorn a pure support character into my party, and the Prince has all the party stat-boosting abilities. He's no sissy troubador, though. He can use heavy armor, shields, and swords, making him a durable front line attacker when he isn't increasing the party's stats. Atlus didn't stop at troubador skills + paladin equipment = Prince; the class also has significant TP regenerative abilities, rewarding him every time he uses a support skill. This small addition has a profound impact on gameplay. Rather than hoarding TP and saving his skills for FOEs, it encourages the player to use stat boosters even in regular battles. So now you have a TP regenerating, tough as nails, attacking, frontline stat-booster in your party.
And while most of the new classes are like the Prince, taking ideas from past EOs and adding a completely new ability or two which significantly shake things up, a couple of them come from outside the box. The Wildling can summon animals to join the party and help out in battle. Again, in an attempt to empower the gamer and keep party members from being weak and deadweight-y, the Wildling can use powerful spears to deal damage from the back row. The Buccaneer is a fighter whose skills follow up party member's attacks. A party planned and built around a Buccaneer could get off several extra attacks per turn. If there is a downside to the new classes, it's that there is still only one healer, and you will absolutely need one in your party if you don't want to spend a fortune on restoratives.
As for the dungeon crawling, so far it feels well-balanced and has a good pace. There are four floors in each stratum this time around with warp points at each stratum's entrance. Between the shortcuts in the maze and the smaller number of floors between warps, you don't feel like you're wasting too much time running back through sections you've already explored, which allows progress to be made each time the labyrinth is entered. New to the map is an autopilot function where you can set a path for your party, tap the autopilot button, and the game will walk you along the path automatically. You still have to fight battles and whatnot, but it's a smart addition that makes running through old areas quicker and less tedious.
I've cleared the first two strata already, and discovered some new, intriguing additions that make themselves known after that point. Characters can be assigned one subclass, enabling them to put points in any skill of another class. You can subclass your healer as a defender, giving him access to Shield Mastery and anti-element skills. You can subclass someone as a Farmer so you have access to scavenging skills without having to keep a Farmer in your party all the time. In short, it allows you, the player, to mix and match classes as you want whereas EO2 did it for you. Also noteworthy is EO3's plot, which is already much more interesting than EO1 or EO2. Right now there are two "good" factions and one "evil" faction in the world, and the story seems to be building up to allowing the player to align with one of them. The text and storytelling is minimal, but the setting and characters have so much mystery and intrigue that I want to know what happens next, which is more than I can say for the stories in the first two games.