After two Excave titles were released in quick succession early last year, the series disappeared just as quickly as it had sprung up, going on a year-long hiatus. It's back now with a third entry, bringing with it a whole slew of changes, but are they for the best, or are you better off sticking with the previous titles?
The basic premise of Excave III: Tower of Destiny is just as simple as its predecessors - explore dungeons, get loot, repeat. Almost all of the fine details have changed significantly, however. Perhaps most curiously, the dual protagonists of the previous games have been done away with in favour of a single heroine, however she can use all of the weapons the previous two could, each giving her different movesets.
The inventory system is the same as that of the second game, with a big storage box that holds 18 items, as well as three accessory and two weapon slots. This is where the kicker comes in, however, as anything you collect this time won't be sticking around for long - in the previous games you could save items for later dungeons, picking exactly what you wanted to take with you before each adventure. There was even a shop to visit if you wanted to buy stuff, but all of this has been done away with.
This time, you start off every single dungeon practically powerless, with reset stats and not a single item in your inventory. Enemies will still drop a ton of goodies, including weapons, money and stat-boosting items, but every time you clear a dungeon (or teleport out because you're low on health) all of your items will automatically be sold, with the resulting money acting as your highscore for that dungeon; your stats once again dropping to rock bottom. You also get ranked based on your performance, but in the grand scheme of things this doesn't really do anything.
To offset things a little, dungeons this time all have some randomly generated elements to them, with most rooms and floor layouts being completely randomized every time you enter. The only things that seem to be exempt from this are aspects like the very first floor with your starting equipment and boss rooms.
It's a neat idea, but in practice floors will more often than not consist of two or three small rooms linked together by a single, very tight, lengthy corridor, naturally making the best strategy to just stand in the doorway and mash the attack button until everything in the room is dead. That is, of course, if the game doesn't decide to warp you right into the centre of a tiny, packed room where you instantly get ganged up on.
A minor but annoying fault is that the camera is awkwardly positioned in just such a way that should one of the aforementioned tight corridors be horizontally aligned and contain a very small enemy, it's almost impossible to see it until your movement is suddenly blocked and you get hit - that's a bit cheap. All the levels in the game take place in these similarly angular dungeons, which is quite unfortunate, as the other games at least offered some variety with locales like forests.
Perhaps more interesting is the alternate "Fantasy Tower" mode, which lets you climb a seemingly endless tower to once more get a high score. In this case the high score aspect is a lot more interesting, however, because unlike the game's main stages the high score here can actually be uploaded to an online leaderboard so you can see how you stack up against others. There are also 144 "titles" to unlock, which are essentially achievements for accomplishing a variety of things in the tower.
The audiovisual presentation is essentially the same as before, with practically identical graphics and similar sound effects and music. The music's still fairly catchy, but also not really anything to write home about.
While Excave II made some nice quality of life improvements to the original formula, it inexplicably seems like most of Excave III's changes are for the worse. All of the different weapons have now been united under one character, which can be a good or bad change depending on how you look at it, but losing everything you worked for after each dungeon makes the experience significantly less gratifying, especially when coupled with the bland, samey environments and near identical dungeon layouts. Perhaps appropriately, Excave III is priced a little cheaper than its predecessor, but if you desperately want to check the series out we'd advice plonking down that little bit of extra eShop credit for the second game instead.