Out in Japan for over a year, Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth has finally released in North America. It’s the latest installment in a series that has received good critical acclaim, but not nearly as good sales numbers – especially considering the install bases of the Nintendo DS and 3DS. I don’t think part V really reflects a strong interest in recruiting new fans to the series, but Atlus has jumped in with both feet for existing ones.

The intro lays out a story of ancient fable, archaic myth, mystery, folklore, fairy tale, and legends. But as you might now, the core Etrian Odyssey games are driven by their gameplay, not plot. This first-person RPG is focused on exploring the Yggdrasil Tree labyrinth. In dungeon crawler fashion, you slowly work your way towards the top while mapping out your progress. Map creation is a key element that the series is known for. By now, the novelty has no doubt worn off for some, but it’s still appealing to many. Tinkering with the automap feature in the options helps facilitate the process to varying degrees, and I’m grateful for the inclusion.

You’ll be exploring with a party of up to five characters, from ten classes. There’s a good amount of customization available when creating your team. It’s not just adding a name to an existing design, as you can alter the appearances. The color of their eyes, hair, and skin are all adjustable, and sliders let you get as specific as you desire. Dozens of voices are available as well. How much you crave experimenting with your party – teaming up different race combinations and the like – can add considerably to an already long playtime.

The Explorer’s Guild lets you adjust your party and create new characters. Beyond the Myth is tough, so you might find yourself trying different combinations early on. Once you settle on a winning group, you can build your way up to a Legendary Title, which lets you master specific skills for battle. As I mentioned, the game is tough (even with two difficulties), so be sure to make wise use of the Inn, where your HP and TP gets restored. You can also store items here if your inventory is full. Word of warning – Jenetta is friendly, but she likes to raise her price at a steady clip.

Also in the city are the Council Hall, the Marketplace, and Twilight Tavern. The Council is where you get your main missions from Ramus, and also fill up the Compendium with completed maps, and discovered items and monsters. The Shop lets you purchase or sell (which makes new items available) plus forge weapons if you have the right materials to make them stronger. The Bar allows you to tackle optional side quests for some much needed money. It adds some variety to a grind-heavy game.

Grinding is a must due to the presence of the Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens – FOEs. Unlike other enemies, these FOEs are visible on the map, so recognizing their movement patterns is key to facing them when you are ready. Having a high enough level, enough cash for suitable weapons and armor, and having the right formation are all necessary. Expect some lengthy battles, but with sizable rewards, and satisfying victories.

Etrian Odyssey offers downloadable content, which I have mixed feelings about. There are several outfits and a couple of quests for $1.99. But there’s also a music player, that costs $4.99. That’s claptrap. The music is great, don’t get me wrong, but seeing BGM Play grayed out on the main menu rubs me the wrong way. Why pay for what so many titles offer in-game for free? A 6-track cd comes with the launch edition.

Classic almost to a fault, Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth will satisfy series fans. But the grind-heavy nature isn’t likely to change the minds of those who’ve already decided the series wasn’t for them. However, the game has grown on me over the 30 plus hours I’ve sunk into it these past few weeks. So I’d suggest checking out the demo if you’re intrigued. This 3DS game could carry you through the rest of the year and even beyond.