On successfully playing Etrian Odyssey III:
- Be cautious.
That is it in a nutshell. Make sure that you always carry at last 2 Ariadne-Thingamagigs around to scamper out of the labyrinth if necessary. (One to flee and one for those nasty cases were you either forget to buy a new one after fleeing, or one gets stolen deep inside the labyrinth.) Make sure that you always give your dudes and dudettes the best available weapons and armour. Take a few nectars and other assorted stuff with you. Common sense really.
- Don´t overdo it.
See Nr. 1. If you are deep inside the labyrinth, faraway from a resting place or a teleporter you should never overstay your welcome. Your group can turn into monster food pretty fast, or you could have a run-in with a FOE, if you´re really unlucky. As a rule of thumb, if your TP drop to low to heal you up to full health after a fight, forget everything and grab your Ariadne-Thread.
- Don´t be stingy.
Sure, your inventory space is limited, but try to balance loot out with all the stuff (Ariadne Threads, Nectars, etc.) you WILL need inside the labyrinth. And try at least to sail around sometimes. After a short bit of exploration you should find out how to efficiently fish -which will give you money. Which you should immediately spend.
- Upgrade, Upgrade, Upgrade.
As soon as you find new stuff inside the labyrinth, head back as soon as possible and sell it. And if you get new stuff your party could use, buy it immediately!
- Five-Man-Bands don´t last.
Do not ever waste precious skill points on item farming skills for your main party. Never. Instead, build a second team consisting of about four farmers and a dedicated healer. (For me, a monk worked best.) Then give those five new characters points in what I call “the experience point sucking skill” -you know which one. This way, they can get a small percentage of experience even when left back in the city during your “real” exploration. Then go fight a few times, or use a beginning quest to net extra experience, bring the second party to level 3 and use the new points to build farming skills. One of your farmers should instead take a few special skills like “Market something something” which teleports your party instantly back from a farming point to the city. Your healer should of course heal, but don´t forget your monk doesn´t need the capability of continually healing mass amounts of damage like a monk in your exploration party, since you normally won´t stay as long in the labyrinth.
- Take your time.
Don´t grind experience and money like there is no tomorrow. (Except of course, if that is exactly what you want. Then have fun.) Go exploring, and after being beaten back by monsters or if new stuff becomes available at the shop, change to your farming party, go farming a few times, survive a few fights -combined with the little trickle of experience from your normal party, you should level up a few times automatically. After you have accumulated all good skills to survive and/or farm efficiently, it will get easier. And if you get bored by farming, go sailing a few times to explore something else. And of course, as soon as you have enough money for outfitting your exploration party, stop farming and change your party back. Then go back to exploring and mapping.
- Making good skills better.
This bit is a bit more obtuse. You could simply try to invest your skill points until you worked through the entire skill tree, but that is actually suicidal. (Luckily, later on you can retire or rest characters -the first option gives you a new character of a much lower level, but with stat- and skill bonuses attached thanks to being “apprentices” to your old characters. The second option exchanges a few levels for the possibility of readjusting all your skill points. So even if you totally suck at choosing the right skills, Etrian O. III has at least a small modicum of mercy.)
Instead take a good luck at every skill, which skill is needed beforehand and make a plan how you want to play. Then stick to the plan at skill distribution no matter what. Believe me, it will spare you some headaches down the way. Take for example a monk: If you need a good healer, pumping precious skill points into martial arts is actually counter productive -instead a few points in HP for better survivability and TP for more healing goes a long way. And think ahead! Staying at the same example, if you want your monk being able to heal an entire line of characters, you need to pump points into the heal-skill. But if you do that, the skill description of heal warns you every time -not only will you heal more HP, the skill will also cost more TP. So of course, one or two skill points in TP to offset that should be following shortly after you gotten line heal.
- Warning: Skills are binary.
Often shortly before a important fight you will notice something interesting: Either you have the skills necessary to beat the beasts, or you have not. Of course, since you sometimes have to upgrade certain skills to get a skill you actually want, most of the time you will have a level nominally good enough to beat a hated boss or a hated FOE, but you still lack the skills you need. And so you get horribly murdered. At that point, you can either chose to grind until you get mad, rest characters to redistribute your skills (but then you have to grind to get back to your old level) or you simply grind a little bit, take the skills you really think you need the next time you level up instead of sticking to your plan, take the boss on -and after trying a few times, you most likely will again die horribly. But my point is, this way you only have to grind the absolute minimum of time until you win -after all, you could just get lucky on the way up the level chain.
- The Wall of Death.
Sometimes, Etrian Odyssey games will simply wipe your party of the face of the universe, completely ignoring all your efforts at planning, farming, outfitting your party, exploring and killing monsters. At that point -for me it was at dungeon level 10 of Etrian Odyssey II, against the ugly slab of lard and muscles that was the boss stopping me from reaching the third stratum. After even excessive levelling didn´t made me win, I used the final trump card: I retired all my characters (who all had appropriately high levels at that point) and got new, better characters for them. Those characters new skill points were geared to absolutely murder the second boss and after farming the first boss to jump back up a few levels I eradicated that asshole of a second boss handily.
In the third game, retiring is still a viable option. And since it will take a while for a new player until you reach a stopping point as horrible as the second boss of part II, your party will at that point have enough levels to get a bonus attached to their until that point completely unknown apprentices. AND you can additionally redistribute your skill points to power exactly the skills the living stopping point is weak against.
Since you can re-fight all bosses in part II and III (and I guess, in the first game too, but I never played it and don´t know for sure) after a certain amount of time has passed in-game, you can use them to easily (well, at least it is more easy then simply by grinding normal monsters) jump back to former levels.
Since the bonus can get higher after reaching certain level barriers (the internet is full with helpful information, if you don´t want to experiment) it even helps if you reach the breaking point later in the game then when I did.
- Don´t overdo it, the second.
The EO games are meant to played occasionally, over a long period of time. To be honest, I did play quite a few sessions that went on for hours, but you don´t have to do that. In Etrian Odyssey II I build my party first up to level 33, then retired them, started with the more powerful clone party and build them up to around level 58 and reached the last stratum. (That was a lot of climbing, I tell you.) In real life, that took me over a year – I played sometimes at home, half a hour at most, or I would play during my way-to-long commute to work. Or I would, if the weather was right, sit down on a park bench somewhere in the greenery of my city and play a bit. So I did grind a lot -but since I did it in small quantities, it never got boring. (Okay, it helps if you really love mapping.)
- The last, but not least: MAPPING!!!
Even more important then the right skill distribution -make your map as accurate as possible, or you will regret it. And for the love of the everloving god, take or make a certain scheme of symbols and stick to it! After several months of on- and off playing, you can and will get confused if you changed, for example, how you use map symbols to show doorways, teleporters and so on sometimes in the past. EO III gives you even a bit less trouble with mapping then the second game, since the symbols you can use for your map are a bit more cleaner and more visually clear. (E. g. farming symbols -in EO II I was forced to use some kind of arcane symbols who only had slightly different colours to differentiate between them. So of course I could never remember which one I used for what kind of item farming point. And so I was forced to name them all, which forced me to read my notes every time I had to send my farming party into the fray. In the third game the farming symbols are all completely different from each other -I use a hand to indicate a farming point to use the “take” skill, a pickaxe for mining, and so on. Out of habit I still name the points, but after a few months I can safely forget naming them and still find them by simply looking at my map.)
If you make damn sure that all obstacles, secret ways and traps are marked on your map, you can run through explored parts of the dungeon with incredible ease -Etrian O. III has not as many teleportation devices growing throughout the dungeon as EO II, but many, many short cuts you can take to make your life easier. And well, there are more skills helping with obstacles in the labyrinth you can take if all those damage tiles annoy you to much. Skills who are distributed over more classes then in part II, which makes it easier to squeeze out a few skill points for them without feeling that you just shafted your brave fighters in the damage-dealing department.
This list is of course far from complete, it just compiles what helped me cope with Etrian Odyssey III (and II). There is a even a secret 12th point -be creative. Don´t just stumble through EO-like dungeon crawlers taking every thing at face value. EO-games actually expect you to search for ways to break them. My point is, if you want to have fun with those games, you have to be creative. These games really capture the harrowing experience of letting an armed expedition slowly slogging through a long forgotten realm full of extremely dangerous creatures. The thrill lies more in surviving and slowly exploring deeper and deeper -slaughtering monsters left and right is a sometimes fun necessity, but not the primary objective. And as it is with every truly dangerous expedition -sometimes the monsters slaughter YOU.