When Atlus and Spike Chunsoft got together to mash up dungeon crawler franchises Etrian Odyssey and Mystery Dungeon, the companies cleverly combined the best aspects of each series to make a crossover so well done that it should become a new franchise on its own. But the resulting game, the 3DS’s Etrian Mystery Dungeon (read our review here), also blended in every devious tactic and torturous turn they could come up with. It’s as hard as it is good.
Etrian Mystery Dungeon fully embraces the roguelike roots of either of both of its parents. This means that players should expect turn-by-turn, tile-based movement through procedurally generated (aka random) labyrinths packed full of powerful monsters and hidden traps, all while balancing limited resources and a steadily decreasing hunger meter. And death in the dungeon means losing everything.
Yet somehow I’ve managed to live to tell the tale.
This guide provides the tools and knowledge to go boldly into Etrian Mystery Dungeon’s dark and seemingly endless dungeons with a plan to make it back out. It covers preparation, party formation, dungeon-crawling, and even some tips on how to rebuild after you’ve lost it all. Good luck!
Etrian Mystery Dungeon has only one way to (try to) cheat, but it doesn’t work. Unfortunately, I speak from experience.
It used to be that you could exploit the harsh penalties of player death in earlier roguelikes by shutting off the game before dying, allowing a player to access a previous save file to start over. In a moment of weakness during a particularly difficult boss battle about halfway through the game, I shut off the game just before dying, hoping for the best. But when I started back up, I was chastised for an improper dungeon exit. I found that I was warped back to town, and that most of my funds, half of my equipment, and all of my items were taken away.
It would have been better for me to stay into the battle, even if I died.
Eat before you go
The Amber Restaurant in town lets you take on new quests, but a submenu there lets you order special meals that give you perks in battle. While the effects are only good for the next dungeon visit, a little extra push in the hit points or magic points department could make a big difference. An inexpensive dinner is just as good as another gained level in many cases.
Don’t be afraid to go solo
While I don’t recommended conquering a dungeon with only one character, you do have some good reasons to take a solo spin. For quick leveling, take a new character into one of the earlier, easier dungeons. Instead of having the experience divided among four party members, that solo fighter will get it all. And for scoping out a new dungeon, the ninja and wanderer classes are great for a quick solo exploration mission; their high mobility and special perks (a ninja can walk on water through one skill) can make quick work of it.
Build up a runemaster
You have plenty of options when it comes to brute strength for party members, but you don’t when it comes to elemental damage and area-of-attack spells. Be sure to take care to level up at least one runemaster for your guild as they become invaluable near the end of the game. You’ll be glad you have a full-powered magic user when you find yourself in a surprise Monster House, as the higher-level lightning elemental spells can both damage and stun a whole lot of baddies.
Ready to recruit
Random potential allies also roam the dungeons, and you’re able to recruit them into your guild for later use. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a recruit of a high level, saving you the trouble of grinding. Also, pay attention to a recruit’s loadout, as there might be a valuable item you can take from them. You can then send them on their way if they don’t meet your needs as a guild member.
Take these items with you
You’ll die without food in Etrian Mystery Dungeon. It’s too bad that real life doesn’t feature this game’s real-time hunger counter, which decreases with each step. Once your team goes hungry, they’ll begin to take damage with each step. Bread is cheap — always have at least one loaf on you.
It’s obvious that you’d want at least one of these town-returning magical items in your inventory at all times, but it’s not as clear on where to find them — and you can’t buy them at the item shop. Early on, hunting around the first two dungeons has you finding the rare one among the floor’s loot. When you do find them, be sure to store them at the town’s inn for safekeeping.
Later on, a quest opens up that has you hunting a couple of monster parts to make an Ariadne’s Thread. The monsters are easily found in the earliest dungeons, making this a relatively simple fetch task. What’s great is that you can repeat this quest infinitely.
This expensive item is worth the trouble as it serves as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card for boss battles. Should you die, you’ll be returned to town with loot intact. The very bottom floor restricts the use of Ariadne’s Thread, so this is the only alternative.
Being able to return from death immediately is quite handy in Etrian Mystery Dungeon. This item will automatically trigger when one of your party members die, letting you get right back into battle.
As an alternative strategy for one particularly difficult boss, I came into battle with more than dozen Yggdrasil Leaves, letting the auto-recover action take over for the use of a healer and allowing me to attack on all fronts to take the boss down fast.
You have two good reasons to take money into a dungeon.
First, random item shops pop up in the lower depths, letting you pick up an extra bread loaf or heal potion without having to leave. Having a few extra gold may save your life.
More important, Etrian Mystery Dungeon lets you build forts to keep monsters inside the dungeons and away from town. The stronger the fort, the more it costs. Be sure to take at least the minimum amount needed to build a basic fort, just in case.
Follow the leader
While you can only control one character at a time in Etrian Mystery Dungeon, you’re free to switch between any of the four party members at any time, which enables some new opportunities for strategy. A simple example would have a player switching from a tank-type character to one of the magic users to capitalize on the elemental weaknesses of an enemy.
But you have other good reasons to switch leaders up, especially when it comes to loot. One particular type of treasure chest features a countdown timer, requiring a character to be on it before its number of turns is up. Switching to a ninja as a leader will let you use one of its fast-travel skills to get the box while the getting is good.
Random hotspots on dungeon floors are colored amber, and passing over them provides some healing benefits. Some refill a point of your character’s food points, letting it go on for additional steps. Others will trigger a slight refill to health or skill points.
It’s a good idea to not march over these points if you don’t immediately need them, especially if you’ve just begun exploring a floor. Save them for when resources get a bit low. I found myself making a mental note of a cluster of amber tiles and then saving them for right before I exited onto the next floor.
Most role-playing games have you working toward the end of the dungeon to fight a final boss. Imagine if additional bosses also roamed around the dungeon. Or worse: Imagine if they could chase you down. That’s what Etrian Mystery Dungeon’s D.O.E.s are.
Don’t take these lightly. If you don’t have enough resources to recover your health, magic, and recovery items during a dungeon crawl, you should run away. Note that heading to a stairway to get to another floor sometimes isn’t enough as the monster can follow you. Sometimes using an Ariadne’s Thread to warp back to home base is all you can do.
Some optional quests ask you to take down a specific D.O.E. Expect to go in at least once for research’s sake, knowing that you’ll die. For that trip, take only the minimum equipment, items, and money. Learn what you can and then return fully armed.
You need to build forts inside dungeons to keep monsters and D.O.E.s at bay. Lower-cost forts are only temporary barriers that you will need to rebuild once an attacker takes it down. Later, after paying to upgrade town facilities, an option opens up to build bigger forts that cover more floors or include direct-to-town warp points. Smart building will allow repeat visits while holding back the enemy. It’s a good idea to defend one of the more expensive forts with a lower cost one, especially if you see that a D.O.E. is lurking on a nearby floor.
Monsters are lurking around just about every corner in every dungeon, but sometimes an unexpected surprise awaits in a few mystery rooms — hordes of monsters. A Monster House will have your party instantly overwhelmed with a room full of enemies, and outside of the use of a back-to-town warp item, you’re stuck fighting.
Start by eliminating the enemies that can cause status damage, as the last thing you’ll want is one or more of your party members incapacitated by poison or confusion spells. Next, use any area-of-effect attacks or spells to start to thin out the crowd, and look for advantageous positioning for some of the special skills that allow attacks across two or more grid spaces. It’s also helpful to throw some status damage-type items out if you have them. Finally, make sure your healer is constantly tending to the group.
While there’s plenty of time to do what you need to do in dungeons, you shouldn’t take too long as fog will eventually roll in and kill you. Keep moving!
Dealing with death
Revisit the easy dungeons
Having lost your equipment, you won’t be able to return to the dungeon you just died in. But it’s less of a problem to go bare-handed into the first couple of dungeons, where the enemies are of a lower level and items are easier to come by. Even by the fourth or fifth dungeon, your attack power should be high enough that going in naked should be OK.
A side bonus is that the first couple of dungeons have higher occurrences of some of the best items, like the Ariadne’s Thread, as well as higher counts of equipment chests. Use this to stock up while rebuilding.
It only takes a couple of deaths to learn that it’s not worth returning your inventory and characters to their former level of equipment and item riches. Yes, you lost a lot. But you likely lost some stuff you’ll never use, too. Going in lean makes it hurt less when you’ve lost it all.
Dont’ hoard. You should sell everything you think you won’t use for extra cash. I found that there were several non-equippable items I held onto that I never used. I would have been better off selling them to earn funds to buy better weapons and armor.
Tailor your skills
While you’re marching through low-level dungeons in an effort to rebuild and stock up, you’ll have plenty of time to think about why you died. The levels gained during this time will likely net each character a few more skill points. Use those wisely’ dumping the points into skills that will let you specifically address whatever weaknesses had you dying in the first place.
Let the town be
If a D.O.E. makes it out of the dungeon and into town, it will destroy one or more of the facilities you use to prep for battle. You’ll find that the cost to rebuild is so high that it’s basically impossible — one attack had a cost of almost 90,000 gold assigned to the town’s inn.
Forget about trying to gather the funds. Just start the process of rebuilding your equipment and party and the town will recover on its own.
Don’t get discouraged
It’s understandable that having to start all over after being kicked out of a dungeon following a 20-floor trek would be frustrating, especially when you find that most of the money, weapons, and items you’ve collected are now gone. Calm down — don’t snap that 3DS in half. Remember that you’ve learned all about the dungeon’s monster types, and hopefully you’ve built a fort or two to return to. It’s going to feel great when you finally finish that dungeon.
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