If you haven't heard of Etrian Odyssey or played a game in the series, I don't blame you. While nearly everybody owned a DS back in the day, only a small chunk of them were fond of dungeon crawlers.
The first few games of the series were released on the original DS with later installments and remakes releasing on the 3DS. There hasn't been word of a Switch release yet, but I don't blame them. I don't see how the game would even work without the previous handeheld's second screen.
While there have been first person dungeon crawlers before Etrian Odyssey, like Wizardry or Ultima, Etrian Odyssey does a lot of things differently and in my opinion, does them better.
When you start the game, you create your party members completely from scratch. You have a maximum of 5 party members: 3 in the front row and 2 in the back row. The front row will be targeted more often so they'll want to be tanky or have high evasion and the back row is your squishier spellcasters and healers. You'll choose from different classes, character portraits pertaining to those classes, and in newer games you can choose their hair color, name, eye color, voice, and much more. The newest in the series, Etrian Odyssey Nexus, lets you customize so much of your characters and if you're like me, you'll create a whole personality for each character as you go through the game.
One of the main things that sets Etrian Odyssey apart from other dungeon crawlers is how different the classes are. Where games like Might and Magic or The Bard's Tale would have you choose from a wizard, warrior, or thief, Etrian Odyssey has you choosing from classes like survivalist, pugilist, or landsknecht. Instead of a simple cleric, you have healing classes like the sovereign who applies buffs to a whole row of allies while also healing them. Instead of the typical barbarian, you have the highlander, who wields an enormous lance and infuses their strikes using their HP for various effects. Don't want to use a normal sorcerer? The arcanist casts circles around enemies with various effects like blinding enemies or binding their legs or arms.
The second great thing about Etrian Odyssey is how the map works. When you're in a dungeon, or "maze" as they're usually referred to, the entire bottom screen on the DS or 3DS is used to draw the map by hand. There is an option to have the game automatically draw the map as you go, but c'mon. You've got the touch screen for a reason! If you're cool and manually draw the map, you'll be using your stylus to draw walls and mark where doors, shortcuts, ladders, or other things are. Filling out the map for an entire floor is one of the most satisfying things in any video game I've ever played.
The third great thing about Etrian Odyssey is the gameplay loop. If you've played Monster Hunter, this is right up your alley. When you defeat enemies in combat, they'll drop materials. Each enemy can drop different materials depending on what you hit them with. You'll then take those materials back to the shop in town, sell the materials, and unlock new gear; weapons, armor, and accessories. Each Maze floor has new enemies to fight, which then helps you unlock better gear. Enemies can sometimes have secret materials that drop after meeting secret conditions that unlock even more powerful gear. Using an Ariadne Thread, you can warp instantly out of a dungeon, back to town, sell your gear, and go right back in.
It's a shame that the series is basically stuck on the DS and 3DS. They could be brought to other platforms and skip the map drawing, but that's one of the best parts of the game. Unfortunately the games have been increasing in price due to the eShop closure, so the games are pretty difficult to get your hands on.
If you are able to get a copy of any of these games, absolutely play them. There are some games similar to them on Switch and other platforms, but they just aren't the same.
Hey Atlus, FIGURE THIS OUT FOR US.