Etrian Mystery Dungeon  
for Nintendo 3DS, $39.99

Oh, dungeons, how I missed your dank, slimy walls and inherent nature to harbor every angry, evil creature in existence. If you’re like me and prefer the company of digital murderous dungeon-dwelling monsters to their real-life counterparts, and are in need of a fix, look no further than Etrian Mystery Dungeon for the Nintendo 3DS.

Let’s be real: Etrian Mystery Dungeon is work. Monster bashing, spell casting, dungeon trawling work. Work in the way that, perhaps, LeBron James calls a night game work, though, not in the way your brother calls his job of operating phones at the call center work.

Rewarding, hard and honest work, with quite the learning curve is the motto for Etrian.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a melding of developer and publisher Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey series with Dragon Quest developer Spike Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon dungeon-crawling adventures. If you’re not familiar with what a dungeon-crawling adventure is, think good guy goes in and (hopefully) good guy comes out with more experience and items, with a story in there somewhere but not one that plays more than second fiddle to the dungeon-crawling itself.

Etrian is, first of all, a nicely rendered world, though outside of the dungeons you’re not going to see much. A large map of the city you’re there to protect is all you get of daily life for its citizens, and by visiting several predetermined locations (a restaurant, an inn and the Explorer’s Guild, to name a few), you can chat with folk and accept quests, rest and customize your characters, who share a single character base depending on class and gender, save for color scheme.

Customization is the key to enjoying Etrian. Starting out, you’re able to have up to 10 adventurers, whether you create them from level 1 or meet them while exploring the dungeons. Equip them with a wide variety of weaponry and, as you level up, decide which skill set to apply to them.

For instance, my preferred party consisting of a Protector, a Gunner, a Medic and a Ninja, all having varying abilities that benefit the party; and each class can follow a different path to gain those benefits by applying points gained upon leveling to the skill tree. There are 10 unique classes to party-up with and you’ll switch them in and out as the game progresses, depending on need.

Each dungeon is a branch of the Yggdrasil, a mysterious, gargantuan tree that stands sentinel on the horizon. Dungeons are randomly generated upon entering and can range in depth from six or so levels to more than 20. Clearing the levels is optional, but doing so provides the most experience points and the most items, such as potions, manuals and weaponry or armor.

This isn’t a game for everyone. Maybe you picked up Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, Spike Chunsoft’s foray into the world of catching them all, and enjoyed it. If so, by all means, but keep in mind that unlike most role-playing games — and Etrian is an RPG at its core — there’s not much in the way of storytelling or relationship building. In fact, the only building you’ll do outside of trolling for experience points involves building the city to unlock bonuses such as more inventory slots and a larger guild roster.

For the likes of us who enjoy the methodical picking apart of a world constructed especially for the tinkerers, however, Etrian Mystery Dungeon can and will fill that niche —  just try not to get lost in the dungeons.

Chris O’Neal is a dungeon commander. Follow him on Instagram @agentoneal.