The original Etrian Odyssey was released way back in 2008, that’s right 8 years ago! Europe itself has not seen its fare share of this series, having missed out on the sequel Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard, which was released only in Japan and America. We finally we get our chance to resume our dungeon crawling actions in this remastered and revamped adventure, but will heroes old and new be able to safely reach the end of their quest? Read on to find out!
Game: Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight
Publisher: NIS America
Reviewed on: 3DS (Review code provided by publisher)
The Etrian Odyssey series features complex JRPG, dungeon crawling gameplay where you must traverse perilous labyrinths, mapping your footsteps on your quest for fame and fortune. The Fanfir Knight is the second in the Untold series which takes all the classic gameplay features we love but with a brand new, focused storyline complete with original characters that bring more depth and meaning into the world.
Players are presented two options when initialising the game, Classic Mode and the new Story Mode. Traditionally, Etrian Odyssey has been more focused on its dungeon crawling, map marking mechanics; rich with customisation options and turn-based, tactical gameplay it is a well loved genre for those that love challenging and puzzling exploration. To those who wish to stick close to the original roots and are more about ultimate customisation, endless map making and freedom then this is the mode for you. There still remains the lose classic story, where you are the latest guild to challenge the various labyrinths in search of a mythical, mysterious castle in the sky, hoping to find fame and fortune. This mode retains most of the 2008 original concepts along with revamped graphics and mechanics. There are 13 classes to chose from to create your perfect guild, some familiar including protectors, medics, gunners. New classes include the new Sovereign class. Each has their own unique skills, allowing you to build the perfect balanced team to tackle the plethora of challenges to suit your own individual, tactical style. Each class has 2 male and female portraits to further define your style, where up to 25 unique members can be registered and swapped out as your combat needs rotate and evolve.
The new Story Mode is perfect for those who still wish to experience all the classical elements whilst enjoying a thrilling tale filled with unique, pre-built, stylised and entertaining characters with special bonds and their very own quest that can only be discovered here. As a lover of JRPG’s and a solid narrative I personally opted for the Story Mode in order provide myself with a more focused goal. You assume the role of the protagonist, an orphan raised at the Midgard Library. As part of the Investigation Team, you and your childhood friend Flavio are sent on an important mission to escort the daughter of the Duchy of Caledonia, Lady Arianna, as she sets out to perform an ancient centennial ritual, filled with many perils in order to restore vitality to the heart of the land. As you traverse the Yggdrasil Labyrinth and new Ginnungagap Ruins you discover your quest is not an easy one, growing more complex as you advance. New allies and many hidden secrets await you, along with uncovering the mystery behind your own inhuman transformation and title of The Fanfir Knight.
As far as my history with dungeon crawlers goes, this is certainly one of the most beautiful I have ever experienced. The orchestral arrangements are solemnly soothing at times, whilst upping the tempo when trouble ensues tranquil walks is a sure sign that things are about to get hard. If the new orchestral arrangements do not suit your tastes then you do have the option to revert to the classic FM Synth BGM if you wish to relive the more traditional experience. Personally I love new new score; it mellowed my often troubled heart after a panic attack whilst the Explorers guild reminded me somewhat of a Pokémon Gym. As for the graphics themselves, I am always a fan of Japanese illustrated characters and the overall style of the Etrian Odyssey series has always been among my favourite. The backgrounds, locations and characters are filled with incredible detail and the colour pallet is vividly eye popping! The way everything sparkles and glistens as the sun breaks through the labyrinths clearings to the way the lights twinkle at night is magical. As complex as the mechanics can be, the menu layouts are clear, fresh and easy to navigate, making management a pleasant experience. At times I often find 3D effects on the Nintendo 3DS to be a hindrance or poorly executed but I am surprised to say that Atlus have nailed the design here. The depth is much more realistic than I have seen before and it really pulls you into the changing landscapes.
Those familiar with JRPG’s and dungeon crawlers should find nothing out of the ordinary here; it is a long established system that does not stray too far from the path. Character customisation in Classic Mode allows you to pick from a variety of classes to create a team of your choosing, whilst Story Mode consists of a pre-selected team of 5. Regardless of which mode you choose the overall system more or less works the same way but with Story Mode only ever allowing the same 5 members. Classes can be switched at any point at the Explorers Guild in either mode however doing so will set your character back five levels which can be a very time consuming, grinding setback. For those who want the story but more freedom with classes then this is your only option to mix it up; Classic Mode players will have the obvious advantage of having a selection of 25 custom built characters. Beyond class, characters can be further customised utilising their skill trees. These consist of various masteries, with each having multiple branching sub skills. Assigning skill points to advance your characters abilities is where most tough decisions will have to be made; with only 1 skill point gained per level you much choose wisely in order to achieve a balanced team that can surpass the many challenges that face you. Go too far down one path and you may find yourself at a loose end.
This being said, if you do find yourself in dire need then you can reset your skill point allocations at the cost of dropping down 2 levels. There is however a saving grace, the Grimoire System. You can equip Grimoire Stones to either boost current abilities or learn a new skill that otherwise your character could not learn, effectively allowing your characters to have multiple classes. These stones can be gained through a Grimoire Chance in battle, where your current stone can spilt and create a new ability or even learn a new one from the enemy. Each character also has a unique Force which is essentially their overdrive. This comes in the form of a Force Boost, which serves as support/defence and a Force Break, which can sometimes be supportive but primarily a more offensive attack. Force abilities require you to fill up a gauge which will be depleted upon use and refilled during the course of battle. Your protagonist is an exception here; your ability to transform can only be used once and only last for 3 turns. After this you will need to recover in town to use it again.
The biggest feature of the game is the plethora of battles and mapping the vast stratums. The mapping system has been greatly improved, with more useful icons to help pinpoint specifics points of interest such as doorways and foraging spots. As you traverse you will need to complete the map on the bottom screen square by square. This can be automated but the most fun I had was painstakingly crafting the most precise map I could (for which there is a bonus if you do!). These labyrinths are complex, with many dead ends and hidden pathways so it is imperative that you mark down as much as you can! Battles will often occur randomly as you explore. Your characters are sorted into 2 rows of 3, with the front primarily offensive and support out of harms way at the back. Combat is turn-based, with enemies attacking alone or in multiple rows. This system is well etched but one element had me shaking in my boots! Yes my nail biting intensified thanks to FOEs. These big guys are clearly visible; striking fear on eye contact these are more powerful than your average encounter! Unless you fancy your chances early on it is best to avoid them as much as possible. They move in set patterns which you must ascertain as you move. This is a game I like to call Duck Duck DINO! I tried to manoeuvre in circles around them, hoping not to be pounced; sadly this was often unsuccessful leaving me to shout explicits as I died moments later. There were a few instances of victory as I lured them into traps, just taking a moment to watch their little arms flap about helplessly. These are not the only perils you face, where you are often presented with options that trick you out. You see a small hedgehog stuck in a bush. You are presented with options through dialogue, leave him or save him? Well I like to be a good samaritan so I choose to help… resulting in a bite and loss of HP. You will face many options, choosing the right or wrong option may have its consequences.
If you need some time off exploring, there are various places to visit. Flaus Inn allows you to rest and heal your party; it is also here where the story will often advance through various conversations and dreams. Most importantly however it is the only place you are able to save. Sitoth Trading allows you to sell items foraged from mining and chopping. Selling items here will also lead to new items becoming available to buy, including new weapons and equipment to protect you in battle and items vital for survival. Stickleback Bar and the Duke’s Palace allow you to gather new information and tips and these are also where you can accept main missions and various side quests. There is a café where you can decode and craft new recipes that will give you useful boosts on your travels, such as recovering HP on the move. You can also upgrade and invest in the town, enticing new customers to earn some extra cash. This is not vital but proves to be a great distraction from wandering the winding labyrinths.
With a very tough road ahead, newcomers may want to start on Picnic mode, the easiest road of all. Standard mode is for those who want a moderate experience with a bit of a challenge and for masochists…well there is Expert mode! I have played a few dungeon crawlers in my time and with way over 50 hours to invest in, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight will not disappoint. It offers both old and new players the best of both worlds, a classic dungeon crawling experience for veteran fans and a fresh narrative led experience for a more fulfilling experience. The system is one of the most friendly user experiences I have encountered with this genre but by no means does that make it an easier game. With the ability to customise your gameplay there is something here for all levels of players, resulting in a perfectly crafted remake. Now go play Duck Duck Dino!