Time: 7/21/10 2PM
People who know me know that I'm sensitive to gameplay spoilers. I'd much rather hear about how a lame plot ends then have someone tell me which job combination pwns in the last third of an RPG. A big draw to strategic games and games with a lot of freedom and customization for me is trying different things out, seeing what works, and patting myself on the back for finding a class and skillset that I personally enjoy using and can crush my enemies with.
But for this review blog, I'll be writing about what classes I'm using, why I like them, etc, so if you're like me and don't want that type of exploration spoiled for you, don't read this thread. I won't be spoiling the plot though -- which is rather interesting right now -- so don't worry about that.
To kick things off with my current party, here's what I use 90% of the time.
The Fool -- Prince sub. Monk -- lvl 44
Cujo -- Hoplite sub. Prince -- lvl 37
Callisto --Gladiator sub. Ninja -- lvl 45
Nu -- Monk sub. Hoplite -- lvl 45
Stryder -- Arbalist sub. Farmer -- lvl 41
And the benchwamers:
Butcher -- Farmer -- lvl 36
Phage -- Zodiac -- lvl 25
Rapture -- *secret class* -- lvl 11
A quick word on subclassing -- each class has 1 class skill that is a powerful passive ability that really makes the class distinctive. The Farmer's class skill increases the experience gained in combat. The Ninja's lets him deal damage from the back row as though he is in the front. When you assign a character a subclass (which is done once and seems to be permanent), he can put skill points in any skill of that class except for the class skill. So if you want to make a Gladiator/Ninja who can deal massive damage from the back row, she needs to be a Ninja sub. Gladiator. If you make a Gladiator and subclass her as a Ninja, she'll have access to all the Ninja's knife, evasion, status ailment, and shadow skills, but not the ability to deal front row damage from the back row. At first this annoyed me, since I originally dreamed of all these invincible fighters I could make if they got access to two class skills, but after subclassing some dudes and using them for a while, I prefer it this way. It keeps the original class distinct and gives you more options on party planning, which I love. A Glad sub Ninja is not the same as a Ninja sub Glad, and when you take this across the many classes in the game, you have a LOT of options for character and party building.
So for a rundown of my main party, the Prince has all the stat boosting skills, and also debuffs and ailment protection. Because he has TP regen I subbed him as a Monk for Fullheal in the case of an emergency. He also uses the Monk's passive ailment protection ability, since next to the healer, he's the 2nd most important person on the team to keep alive and not messed up from ailments.
The Hoplite is the crummiest person in my main party. I subbed him as a Prince for the TP regen skill, and because the Prince has so many darn useful abilities. I figure sometime in the future I'll teach the Hoplite some of the ones the Prince couldn't get to, like those which add elemental damage to attacks, which currently the Prince has no points in.
The Gladiator sub Ninja is my massive damage dealer. She uses Ninja just for the evasion skills so she's harder to kill. Ninja evasion also restores a tiny bit of TP, although I haven't leveled it enough to matter yet.
The Monk is the healer. Sadly, you gotta have a main class Monk in your party because no one else can heal worth a crap. His class skill makes his healing skills better, so a sub Monk isn't good enough at healing to keep you alive in FOE battles. I subbed him as a Hoplite so he can use shields (the healer is now the toughest guy to kill in my party) and to power up his spear attacks from the back row.
Last is the Arbalist, whose class skill increases the damage he does to FOEs. He was initially a benchwarmer I brought in just for FOE and boss battles, but he ended up being more useful than my Zodiac, so he replaced her. The Zodiac runs out of TP too fast, but the Arbalist's arrows last forever. He's subbed as a Farmer so I don't have to use a Farmer.
Time: 7/23/10 Noon
Finished off the stratum last night. For now, I've bumped Cujo, the not-so-great Hoplite/Prince out of the party and replaced him with Rapture, the [secret unlockable class]/Buccaneer. To talk too much about Rapture's class would be a plot spoiler, hence the secretness. It looks like he has the highest strength and vitality of all the classes, so I made him for his stats and passive skills and then subbed him as a Buccaneer to use the Buccaneer's attack skills. The Buccaneer's good attacks are all follow-up skills, so he works best if you intentionally plan your party around him. I chose to go with the ice element follow-up, so I forged the ice element onto my attacker's weapons, and the Gladiator and Arbalist already have ice attack skills. When I need Rapture to do max damage, I set him to follow up ice attacks, then he potentially can get several attacks that turn by shooting every enemy hit with an ice attack. It's pretty cool, and thanks to his high strength he does a lot of damage even though he's at about half the level of everyone else.
About that -- In EO3, a character's equipment is much more important than his stats when it comes to how well he does in battle. Yes, Rapture is way behind everyone else's level, but when he was at level 20 I bought him the best equipment available, put him in the front line, and he held his own against the toughest enemies in the stratum. Against FOEs and the stratum boss, he wasn't as hardy as the others, but considering how far behind he is I'm glad EO3 is balanced so that a lvl 20 fighter can be useful and survive in a party full of lvl 50 fighters. I'm sure he'll be amazing when he finally does catch up, considering how high his strength and vitality already are.
In the impression I posted the other day I mentioned that the plot is interesting and looked like it was building up to the player making a decision in the game. This did happen. You have an important choice to make about 1/3 of the way through EO3, and it determines where the plot will go and also affects your party. Without much knowledge you have to choose between two mysterious and deceitful people, so I didn't think there was a clear "correct" decision.
The pacing is still great. I always feel like I'm making progress and discovering new things. There was a creative floor in the last stratum where a series of iron gates shut automatically when you walk through them, and levers scattered throughout the floor open all the gates when pulled. The trick comes in FOEs who are trapped behind the gates, so when you open them it unleashes the FOEs and they will run at you. There are several places where you have to re-trap the FOE behind a gate in such a way that you can still run through a path. It was fun and creative. I like it when crawlers like Class of Heroes and Etrian Odyssey find ways to take very simple mechanics and turn them into something so inventive and evil/enjoyable. I clinched my stomach and held my breath, praying for no random encounters while leading FOEs through a gate to trap them again. It's tense moments like that which give the strata personality and a more real feeling to me, like I'm in the game.
Side note for today -- What the Hell Atlus USA? Why did you choose to name the pirate class Buccaneer? Buccaneer? Really!? You have a class that uses guns and rapiers, and the character art is all men and women with eye patches, earrings, loud clothing, and triangle hats, and you went with Buccaneer instead of Pirate? I finally have a game where I can make a Ninja/Pirate character, but noooooo, it's a Ninja/Buccaneer. If I saw the class name "Pirate" on the status screen under the guy I subbed as a Buccaneer, it would totally make me break out in giggles at the thought of it every time I saw it. But no. No giggling for me. He's a buccaneer. That's -1 point on EO3's overall score. MINUS ONE POINT!
Time: 7/30/10 5pm
Floor: 3rd (New Game+)
So I just beat the game and saw the credits scroll. By RPGamer review rules I can pop out the cartridge, ship it back to Atlus USA, and move on to StarCraft 2 (which is sitting NIB right next to me). But the ending I got was depressing and bad, and it let me restart a New Game+ where I got to keep everything -- maps, money, items, shop inventory, and party members -- so I'm going to keep playing and see if I can figure out how to get a happy ending without a FAQ. All that resets in a NG+ is your main quest progress and, unfortunately, the shortcuts you unlocked in the dungeon. It'll probably only take me a couple hours to get back to the floor I was at when I got the bad ending, which isn't much of a punishment. Plus, I'll be slaughtering FOEs, bosses, and regular baddies along the way and might get some rare drops that eluded me before.
Final Party for Bad Ending:
The Fool -- Prince sub. Monk -- lvl 61 -- Uses stat-boosting skills, backup healer
Callisto --Gladiator sub. Ninja -- lvl 63 -- Attacker with high evasion
Rapture -- *secret* sub. Buccaneer -- lvl 50 -- Follow up damage to every ice attack
Nu -- Monk sub. Hoplite -- lvl 62 -- Healer
Stryder -- Arbalist sub. Farmer -- lvl 60 -- Attacker with attack-all skills and boosts accuracy of party
None of those guys are close to max level (75 in EO1 and EO2) so I'd wager the good ending brings with it some extra strata and lots more gameplay. Also, the bad ending came before floor 25, the final floor of the main quest in EO1 and EO2.
The party I've been using works great in all situations. It's much more of a brute force approach than I tend to create in RPGs with open character creation systems. As I said in the initial impression, I tend to make a squishy support guy, a squishy mage, a squishy healer, a defender, and an attacker. Thanks to subclasses, the fact that the Prince is a front row support class, and my quick abandonment of EO3's mage class, I ended up with 3 heavy attackers, 1 not-squishy healer who also deals decent damage, and a not-squishy support guy who has the highest defense in my party and sorta doubles as a defender.
Tweaking my party to maximize the Buccaneer's follow-up skill worked wonders, and now my party can kill a FOE with lots of HP in around 10 turns. Even the final boss I killed in the bad ending was never much of a threat, and I only had to use 1 TP restorative during the entire (not very long) fight. It's fun, because this party style is so different from what I used in EO1 and EO2 that it feels like a completely new game to me, and I can again pat myself on the back for building such an awesome party.
Not that that takes a genious level IQ. I'm still a big fan of the freedom subclassing gives you in EO3, and how it lets you redefine everyone in your party 1/3 of the way through the game so you don't have to make new dudes from scratch. The experience point curve for gaining levels is unusually flat compared to other RPGs, so a new character made late in the game won't catch up to everyone else like he would in other games. Case in point: I made Rapture when my party was around level 43. Right now he's still 10 levels behind the closest guy to him. EO1 and EO2 were also like this, so it's not a shock to me, but it might annoy someone new to the series who isn't used to it. Again, at least subclassing gives you a way to add crucial skills to your party without making you train new people, so it's not as big of a deal as it was in 1 and 2.
This is about the point in the game where EO1 started to drag and EO2 turned the difficulty from Very Hard to Only Crazy People Will Beat This Game. Assuming that I get on the good ending path this time and delve into deeper floors, this is something I'll definitely be keeping an eye on. At this moment, I would say EO3 is better than EO1 and EO2. It's a good game for entry level folks who want to try out an old school crawler. For veterans like me, it's more fun than the first two, and a much deeper, more interesting game all-around in its classes and some of the tricks it pulls in the labyrinth. Now I need to see how it handles the final main quest stratum and the postgame content.
Time: 8/5/10 8PM
I was being a bit of a dummy in the last post. I was absolutely convinced EO3 must have the same number of floors as EO1 and 2 even when I had just beaten the game and seen that was not the case. So to answer the question I've posed a couple of times, "Does EO3 drag and get boring in floors 21-25 like EO1 and EO2 did?" No. It doesn't. Because there are no floors 21-25 in the main quest. Problem solved!
I approve of this solution. By the time I hit the 21st floor in EO1 and 2, my party was set and the only way the game could challenge me in combat was with super-overly-invincibly-strong, mandatory bosses (see also: Colossus), and I wasn't enjoying the game anymore. Although my party didn't change any during the 5th (final main quest) stratum in EO3, the quicker pace and fair balance combined with an interesting dungeon layout kept me from getting bored.
As for my progress, I got the True Ending today, which you can only get on a NG+. EO3 has 3 endings then -- 2 possible Not-True Endings the first time through, then the True Ending in a NG+. Even better was that the story provided a good reason to keep playing into the bonus 6th stratum. In EO1, it was like "you've won and there's no reason to keep playing. Also, theres a tough bonus stratum" and I only went through it because I enjoyed the bumped up difficulty after the boring 5th stratum. EO2 also didn't give you any motivation to keep exploring after the main quest ended. EO3 segues the game's ending into a good reason to delve into the toughest floors and trickiest labyrinths in the game, which is a needed improvement.
Already I've seen that the first floor in the postgame stratum isn't shortcut friendly at all, and the maze is evil with lots of dead ends. The enemies aren't too difficult, relying more on annoying tactics than dealing out major punishment. This easing into the brutal difficulty of the bonus floors was also missing in EO1 and EO2.
So it's been a dry blog, but I haven't had much creative to say -- it's an old-school first-person crawler, and aside from praising the ways Atlus made it a deeper experience than EO1 and EO2, I haven't had anything entertaining to say. I don't know if I'll keep playing long enough to finish off the bonus dungeon, but I'll add some final comments here before the review goes up. Might just be more dry, dull thoughts on the game though.