Etrian Odyssey is one of those series lost to the Nintendo DS. The portable (and its 3D successor) led to some wonderful, unique, charming ideas — such as drawing your own dungeon maps in real time on the bottom screen while a JRPG party explored up top. That defining feature isn’t even my favorite part of the brutally difficult dungeon crawlers, but it makes translating Etrian Odyssey to, say, the Nintendo Switch extremely difficult.
I finally defeated the ultra-mega-hard, totally secret, not at all fair super-boss of Etrian Odyssey V this week. Those are nothing new to JRPGs (think Ruby and Emerald Weapon in Final Fantasy VII, or Ozma in Final Fantasy IX). But superbosses are a particularly big part of Etrian Odyssey. The games always roll credits after a fun, challenging fight. It’s a sign that folks can clock out and be satisfied with their ending.
Not me, though. Lately, if I’m putting 80-100 hours or more into a JRPG, I’m gonna see it all. Fuck the grind. I’ll sit and cast instant death skills on the same mini-boss for days to get the necessary XP (which I did). I’ll hunt down special foes and kill them in unique ways to get conditional loot drops needed to craft the best armor (did that, too).
None of that helped me beat the true final boss of Etrian Odyssey V, the Star Devourer, though. This guy was an asshole. He’s comprised of five different body parts you need to kill while dealing damage to the main body. Each limb operates on a set pattern — blocking hits, dishing out damage, undoing carefully selected buffs — until they don’t. The boss “enrages” partway through the fight and all the patterns become random. Tracking exactly how it wants to fuck you over is nearly impossible. Not to mention, if you don’t keep its parts from regenerating, it self-destructs and wipes out your whole party.
This was about the closest I’ve gotten to straight-up quitting a game-related challenge out of sheer frustration. Sure, I’ve stopped playing games before. I’ve lost interest and gotten busy. But I’m so easily hyper-fixated that, once I do commit to something, I commit. Not to mention beating games feels good. So many of my obsessions revolve around service games: never-ending affairs. Grinds without a final purpose. It’s so satisfying to shave one tiny splinter off my impossible backlog from time to time. Closure is perfectly good serotonin.
I didn’t quit, though. I kicked that cosmic chicken nugget in the teeth. Almost literally. Rather than sew it up with a series of status ailments and physical binds, the trick was to just punch it so hard and so fast that it didn’t have time to react. I wound up using consumable items I had never touched in the main game. I reset my characters’ classes and brought others entirely out of cold storage. It was a great reminder of what I do love most about Etrian Odyssey: its incredible array of party lineups and combat options.
Like so many abandoned DS (or 3DS) games, ,it was also a blast from the past. Etrian Odyssey is too old and too niche a series to have comprehensive guides on a lot of major game sites. There’s a wiki, but even the strategy section mostly just explains how things work, rather than how to beat them. The best resources I found were GameFAQs forum posts from two, three, or four years ago. Other players had shared my frustration back then. My personal favorite journaled their fight against the Star Devourer — turn by turn — in one reply after another. All with other, more seasoned players cheering them on in what was once real time.
I siphoned off a bit of that encouragement and powered through. I also finally, mercifully found a fun strategy that didn’t involve cheesing the game’s mathematics. I beat the superboss clean at 4:30 a.m. I snapped the clamshell console shut with physical finality. It felt great (waking up for work four hours later did not).
It was also somewhat sad. Now I have one fewer Etrian Odyssey game to play — and no idea if developer Atlus will ever try to make the series work without dual screens. Especially not when it can make far more money on Persona spinoffs and the like. It’s a sad state for a lot of DS and 3DS games (boy would I like a new Hotel Dusk).
At least I have a few more games to play, and no rush to beat them anytime soon. I can take as long as I want to get the full experience.