Maze of Death

♪♪ Maze of Death ♪♪

Etrian Odyssey III has begun fighting back as of late, to the point where it’s sapping my will to continue. I gather this is the primary appeal of the series. (The first part, I mean. Not so much… the second part.) The actual exploration and mapping elements have been as compelling as advertised, but the battles have started kicking my ass. Last night I ran afoul of the third stratum’s boss and was vaporized. I didn’t just lose — I didn’t stand a chance. It was a complete and utter asshammering. The asshammering to end all asshammerings. Do you understand me?

Federal penitentiaries.

Prison movies.

Shadowy rest stops.

Declare, if thou hast understanding.

But okay, that’s a boss. Grind for experience, forage for items, buy some better armor… no problem, right? Wrong. Just getting to the boss is an ordeal in and of itself. Bugs who can summon whole swarms of enemies. Elephants who can trample my party into paste. Dragon whelps who can call for their mommies, which I can’t defeat without dreadful cost. It’s more than a little discouraging to get five steps from my target destination only to have a goddamn mammoth get the jump on me and end my incursion before it really gets going.

The problem, I think, is that EO has a different kind of difficulty than the one I prefer. In my mind, the ideal level of difficulty is one in which an experienced, skilled player, playing blind, could conceivably win on the first try. You probably won’t, but it’s within the realm of possibility. EO is the kind of game where you’re supposed to throw yourself into the meat grinder several times just to get a handle on how the mechanics of the fight work, before you can even consider formulating a strategy and trying to actually win. I don’t really have the patience for that kind of difficulty. People say games are easier nowadays, and maybe they are, but if so I think it’s because games have gotten better at conveying relevant information to the player. Old school games were hard partially because they were inscrutable — you had to figure everything out yourself. These days, designers are more willing to give you a nudge.

As I said, I’m really enjoying the other aspects of the game. The exploration aspects are superb — there’s a really great “just a few more squares” vibe to be had here. And I’m always a sucker for polished, versatile class systems — you’re talking to a guy who put in a few hundred hours into the portable Final Fantasy Tactics games, and they’re not nearly as deep as this game. It’s just hard to work up the will to continue when a wrong step or an out-of-depth encounter can wipe out a whole floor’s worth of work. I guess I’m not really cut out for that kind of tense challenge.

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