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Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City: A Leaky Dungeon Crawl

Company: Atlus

Etrian Odyssey has always been a cool concept for an RPG. It's a classic dungeon crawler in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons, but with the added twist of drawing out maps. As you travel through first-person dungeons on the top screen, you can draw out the labyrinth on the bottom one, marking points of interest, such as treasure, traps and new passageways. In short, you really feel like you're exploring a dungeon.

Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City's story brings players to the ocean city of Armoroad. Though a popular trading hub, the city also plays home to a sunken city, making it a hot spot for adventurers hoping to find fortune and make their name. Of course, in order to find the lost city's treasures, would-be explorers first need to find the city.

It all starts with the party creation system. The list of available classes has been expanded to 10 and differs quite a bit from other RPGs. Rather than toss in the usual warriors, mages and archers, Atlus has cooked up a number of unique classes based on common archetypes. For instance, there's a Farmer, a Prince (or Princess) and a Buccaneer. The concepts may not sound like the most exciting (or viable), but trust me - you'll want to give every class a look when you set out to build your traveling group.

Each has unique abilities that will help in dungeons. For example, your royal companions can buff stats in battle, while the Farmer increases the amount of experience earned. That is, if he's able to survive the battle. That little caveat may sound like a big one, though you can make your Farmer a contender if you plan your stats right. Eventually, you can unlock the option to dual-class characters. A Farmer may not be a great starter class, but pairing it with another combat-based class later on can lead to great things.

Of course, focusing on only one character isn't the quickest path to success. EOIII places a heavy emphasis on party tactics, which become more important the deeper you venture into Armoroad's cavernous underworld. Pairing a Buccaneer with a Princess creates a power-boosted synergy between the two. The Princess can buff the Buccaneer, who then gets a bonus to his special attacks. Toss in a few more sword-based classes (parties are limited to 5 characters), and everyone will earn an additional bonus every time they make a sword attack.

The series' claustrophobic dungeons are still a major part of the entire experience, but Etrian Odyssey III tosses in naval combat as well. At any time, you can set sail from Armoroad's port. Boat-based play is similar to land-based play. Before setting out to sea, you first need to purchase supplies. More supplies mean more turns, allowing you to stay at sea a little longer. While at sea, you can find other treasures and tackle huge bosses.

Our half-hour session with Atlus wasn't nearly enough time to get a full idea of what Etrian Odyssey III has in store for players. What I was able to see has me pretty excited. But, if you're the type that needs just a little added motivation to run out and pre-order, Atlus is also tossing in a 60-page, full color art book, Etrian Odyssey: Forests of Eternity. Though paired with Etrian Odyssey III, the book features artwork from all three games in the series. It's the perfect thing for series fans.

Look for more on Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City, including a full review, closer to the game's September release.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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