It's pretty obvious that by even coming this far into the preview those reading this already know what they're getting into but let's do a quick bit of history for the newbies. Etrian Odyssey is a throwback to the good old days of adventure gaming. You create a party of new meat, explore a dungeon (complete with making your own map using the touch screen) and get killed. A lot. While the random encounters will kick your teeth in if you don't level grind the mid-bosses, known as F.O.E.'s in the game lingo, enemies can still tear up a well equipped party.
Now we enter a new realm that no Etrian Odyssey has explored before the sea. That's right ladies and gents, we're getting ourselves onto a ship and exploring the high seas for this one. Dungeons still exist but seem to be broken up into a variety of ruins instead of one continuous location. Each type of area has its own type of maps with various markers for the numerous hazards you can encounter.
Crafting your party is done by picking five characters from any ten classes. These are different from the previous games but they still hit upon all the classic archetypes such as offensive fighter, defensive fighter, healer and so on. The most interesting class is the Farmer, a class dedicated to all of the non-combat skills like mining. Depending on the skills it possesses this may end up being one of those terrible characters you keep around because of what they do for you outside of battle, changing the party dynamic in a pretty interesting way. But most will probably stick with the Ninja who can make clones of himself, breaking the five party member limit.
One of the cooler changes to the game is local co-op. By joining up with a host's game you will be able to play as one big party, battling enemies together. The host controls things like party formation so you'd best not give him any issues or you'll find your Farmer on the front lines, but it's fun to see a battle unfold through the cooperative actions of you and your friends.
But let's be honest here; if you're a fan of the previous games then you're going to want to pick this up. Etrian Odyssey III looks like it will significantly expand on what's come in the past, making this fantastic game series all the better. Look for it to hit stores on September 21st.