Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey series has been around almost seven years if you go by Japan’s release dates, but not too much less here in the states with the first game debuting on the Nintendo DS in May of 2007 in North America. Six years later and we have a total of five games in the series…well, four and a semi-remake of the first game. Still, five games in six years means you must be doing something right to warrant that many sequels, but what is it about the series that keeps gamers coming back? Is it because of its dungeon crawling elements that make it sort of feel like a table top RPG come to life, or is there something more? I plan to find out when I check out that “semi-remake” of the first game I mentioned: Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl.
As the story begins you play as a highlander arriving at Etria to do some exploring and have your skills tested by mapping out the first floor of the forest labyrinth. After venturing into the forest for a bit you’re asked to check out some ruins as well. Upon exploring the ruins you come across three more adventurers known as the Midgard Library as well as discover a girl in a pod guarded by a monster. After defeating the monster and rescuing the girl, named Frederica, you find out that Frederica has lost a lot of her memories and that the Midguard Library was investigating some random anomalies that have been occurring throughout Etria. Together, the five of you set out to explore more of the forest Labyrinth to find out the source of the anomalies, recover more of Frederica’s memories, and see if maybe the two are connected somehow.
Now something to mention is that the game has two modes: Classic and Story. The above description is for Story Mode, but Classic Mode isn’t that different. If you’re playing on Classic Mode you’ll get most of the same, except the story isn’t quite as heavy and you can customize your team of characters or “guild” as you see fit. The game has nine different classes and while the characters are pre-set in Story Mode, Classic Mode lets you pick what classes you want, give them your own names, and select a difficulty for a pure dungeon-crawling experience. Sadly one of the game’s negative points is the lack of multiple save slots. You can only save one game, so you can’t run a Story Mode game and a Classic Mode game at the same time.
If you’re familiar with the Etrian Odyssey series then the mechanics of the game should be familiar to you. As mentioned above one of your first missions is to explore and map out the first floor of the forest labyrinth. Take that time to get used to how to map out the environment and what icons to place where because, believe it or not, cartography is a pretty big part of the game. If you’ve never played a game in the series before you might be wondering if you have
to map out each floor if no one’s requiring you to do so. Well, I suppose you could ignore the mapping, but you’d then miss out on one of the game’s best features: floor hopping. Once you map out at least a majority of a floor and move onto the next, floor hopping will become available for that floor. That means all you have to do is touch a staircase on that floor’s map to be instantly warped to it. While some may say that takes out a lot of the difficulty and tedium of the game as you can avoid repeating floors this way, it’s also good if you just want to play for a few minutes and don’t want to waste time going through previous floors and enemies that give minimal experience when you can hit up a few tougher battles almost instantly. You’ll also occasionally explore parts of some ruins to help advance the story a bit and help shake things up with some puzzle and stealth elements as you avoid some powerful enemies that might be too strong for your party.
While Story Mode does give you pre-defined characters and classes, there is still some customization to your characters. When a character levels up there stats don’t really increase. Instead you gain a skill point that you can put towards one of several skills for that character, most of which are geared for that specific class but each also has a couple generic skills to allocate points to such as ATK Up and TP Up (TP being this game’s version of MP, or Magic Points). When you meet the other four characters in Story Mode early on they already have several skill points allocated to specific skills fitting for their class. Future skill point allocation is up to you, but this serves as kind of a template to what might be best for that character. Leveling up characters can take some time, but you can also visit the pub in Etrian to pick up some quests that the locals might have for you. These range from obtaining some materials to help out the town’s shopkeeper to finding some good mining and gathering spots for a local who can’t do the job himself. Regardless this is a good way to earn some extra money and experience.
If you went the Story Mode route I know what you might be thinking. “But classes like the Alchemist and Medic typically have terrible attack power or weapons”. True, but there’s a mechanic that can change that: Grimoire Stones. Every now and then during a battle you might see the words “Grimoire Chance” appear next to a character. If that happens and you win the battle, that character might create a Grimoire Stone. Equipping these to a character will grant them new skills and maybe even new weapon proficiencies. For instance, I gave my Highlander a stone that gave him a fire spell, which proves just about useless as his stats really don’t cater to magic users. An example of useful Grimoire Stone distribution is when I gave my Medic a stone that gave him the ability to use bow-type weapons. Thanks to this my Medic is no longer relegated to just the healer, but can now do pretty decent damage as well. There’s also an option called Grimoire Synthesis where you can combine three stones to make a new one, but I’m kind of confused on it because the couple times I did it I just wound up with a stone that was similar to one of the three I used in the synthesis, kind of making the ordeal moot. I’m sure there’s some skill with it that I’m just currently lacking.
Something I don’t talk about much in my reviews is the graphics and sound, mostly because for me the gameplay is the most important part of any game. However, the graphics and sound in Etrian Odyssey Untold are really good. The music is nice and calm as you’re walking through the forest and the voice acting is pretty good as well. I do question why the characters only occasionally speak the entire dialogue on the screen and mostly just a few simple lines or sighs, but that’s just minor nitpicking. Your guild members can also alert you to something nearby to check out, such as a shortcut or a gathering spot. They’re also useful in battle when fighting enemies you’ve already fought. While you can check out the stats of enemies you’re previously encountered, letting you see their max HP, strength, defense, and even their weakness regardless of whether or not you actually used it on them yet, your characters might chime in about their weaknesses. For instance, you might go into a battle and one character might say “Hit them with ice!” if they have a weakness to ice-based attacks. It does make things a little easier, as Story Mode tends to do, but it’s still a nice tough.
As much as I like this game, there are a couple quirks. Aside from the aforementioned lack of save slot issue, mapping out each floor can get a bit tedious at times. You can change things in the options for auto-mapping, setting to Off so nothing is auto-mapped, On to auto-map where you walk, or All to also auto-map walls when you come across them. You can still place markers on the map, and it’s actually helpful with the occasional aforementioned request that asks about places to mine or gather materials. As much as mapping helps immerse you more into the experience and fun, I’ve been auto-mapping most of the floors recently because that way I can focus more on the gameplay and less on the cartography.
A couple of other issues I have kind of go hand in hand: earning money and spending it. I’ve always been one to wonder how some random woodland creatures in other RPGs have money or even large weapons on them. However, you don’t have to wonder that here because NOTHING drops money for you. To earn money to buy weapons, armor, and items you have to collect materials found by defeating enemies or searching the occasional gathering spot you’ll come across. Selling these to the town merchant will not only give you money but will allow the merchant to create and sell new items. I have no real issues with that. However, recall that I said your guild members in Story Mode will point out weaknesses in monsters. Also keep in mind that you’ll occasionally encounter very powerful monsters that will go down quicker when you use your skills to inflict more damage to them. Because of that you might go through your TP rather quickly. However, something I’ve found is that early on you have no access to TP recovery items. Strangely, the shop doesn’t sell them, at least not early on. The fact that your TP might not be that high early on and repeatedly using skills deplete your TP early on means you’ll constantly be going back and forth to the town’s inn to heal or recover party members. However, there’s my other slight issue: the prices for staying and recovering party members at the inn actually increases over time. It might not be that bad after you have a steady stream of money coming in, but early on it can get annoying.
Etrian Odyssey Untold is a fun game whether you’re a veteran of the series or if this is your first outing. Similar to Fire Emblem: Awakening there are two modes that you can choose from that offer their own levels of difficulty and character customization. While the early parts of the game can get a bit tedious to the point you might have to grind for money a bit and the cartography can also get a bit tedious if not set to auto-map, this is a game I would recommend to fans of RPGs as there’s something for everyone. While Classic Mode gives you more customization overall, the story elements to Story Mode are really well done and the lower difficulty might draw in more newcomers to the series, again similar to Fire Emblem: Awakening. If you’re still on the fence about it, check out the demo on the 3DS eShop. If you’re a fan of RPGs and dungeon-crawlers, you won’t be disappointed.