Etrian Odyssey finally comes into its own with Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold.
Allow me to first point out the ridiculous frequency with which new Etrian Odyssey games are being released. Since February 2013, which saw the release of Etrian Odyssey IV on the Nintendo 3DS, we have had Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, Etrian Mystery Dungeon, and now Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight. Counting Etrian Odyssey IV, that’s four games in two and a half years, all released on the same platform. Counting last year’s Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, which was basically an Etrian Odyssey game anyway, that’s five of these games on the 3DS, all in the span of thirty months.
I would be complaining about it if they weren’t so good, and constantly on a quest to better themselves. I have to admit to having reached a point of burnout with these games- playing Persona Q, Etrian Mystery Dungeon, and now Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 has been absolutely exhausting, and I think I will be taking a break from these games for a while now. But while my personal exhaustion has in many ways prevented me from enjoying Untold 2 as much as I would have otherwise, it has not prevented me from appreciating it objectively for what it is- the best game in the series so far.
"Etrian Odyssey has always had an incredibly strong base built upon a foundation of mechanical perfection."
Etrian Odyssey has always had an incredibly strong base built upon a foundation of mechanical perfection. For those not in the know, the Etrian Odyssey games are classic dungeon crawlers. This entails going into a dungeon, trying to navigate through labyrinthine passages, trying to manage and conserve your resources and supplies, knowing what fights to pick, and avoiding powerful monsters, managing your party, since your party constitution and formation can be the difference between life and death, and, of course, mapping your way.
Yes, the signature feature of the Etrian Odyssey games is mapping- a lot like the old school dungeon crawlers on PCs, where players would make maps of the dungeons as they went along with pen and paper, Etrian Odyssey tasks you with mapping the dungeons you are in. You get a pretty powerful suite of creation and editing tools, and it’s up to you to map the dungeon you are in as you go along accurately on the bottom screen.
Mapping the dungeon is important, because these dungeons really are dizzying labyrinths, and without the map to give you some kind of reference or context, it is easy to get lost, and keep wandering around for hours at end. The mapping is a central mechanic because it ties into Etrian Odyssey’s themes of party survival and exploration.
"The Story Mode for Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold presents the single best narrative the series has had yet. [/custom-quote]
There are other benefits to mapping, too- for instance, once you have an accurate, complete map of any one floor in a dungeon, you gain the ability to teleport straight to the next floor. This is a blessing when you are re-entering the dungeon after having left it, possibly to restock on supplies, or simply to rest your party.
Dungeon mapping is present in Etrian Odyssey 2, and it is pretty much unchanged from previous entries in the series. I mean that literally, because, the best that I can glean, it seems like we got the same suite for editing and mapping that we had in Etrian Odyssey Untold back in 2013. In fact, it seems as though the mapping tools are a regression over the more user friendly offering that we got in Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth last year as well.
Mapping aside, most other mechanics return similarly unchanged, too- you still have to worry about random battles, there are still high leveled F.O.E. opponents in dungeons that provide movement based puzzles, and that are perfectly capable of one shotting your entire party, you still need to worry about what time of the day it is (monster patterns and activities change depending on whether it is day or night), you’ll still be taking on sidequests to earn rare items and valuable money, you still need to gather valuable items for crafting better gear, and you will need to make judgement calls about all your various encounters in the dungeon- should you help that old man asking for help, or is it an ambush, a trap?
Given all this, it may be hard to understand exactly why Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold is the best game in the series- if it plays exactly the same as previous entries in the franchise, why would this one stand out? The answer to that lies in what has always been Etrian Odyssey’s primary failing as a series. You see, while the games are as close to mechanical perfection as is possible, they have had one chief issue that has always held them back- and that issue is the lack of context. The Etrian Odyssey games present player with a terrifyingly challenging and long grind- a grind that most players would be willing to put up with if they knew why. It is the same problem that Capcom’s Monster Hunter series suffered from for the longest time, before this year’s Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate resolved it in style. That is exactly what happens here as well.
[custom-quote]The fact that it provides an almost separate experience from the Story Mode is icing on the cake- essentially, you get two games for the price of one, and each can take upwards of eighty hours to complete."
The Story Mode for Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold presents the single best narrative the series has had yet. This is small praise, because only Etrian Odyssey Untold tried an actual narrative before this, and it was okay, but nothing special. But this game presents a genuinely compelling story that gives players enough incentive to keep pushing through with the game even when the mechanics begin to get tiring or threaten to overwhelm the player- you do want to know what comes next, after all.
The story mode itself sees some more improvements beyond just the quality of the narrative- for instance, while you still have to work with a pre-determined party, instead of a fully custom one like in classic Etrian Odyssey, customization is far better, due to improvements to the impossibly RNG oriented Grimoire Stone system from the first Etrian Odyssey Untold.
That said, Story Mode, while great for people who were always on the cusp of appreciating Etrian Odyssey, will probably come across as inherently limiting to players who appreciated the total freedom that classic Etrian Odyssey provides. Happily, for those players, we still have Classic Mode, which is pretty much straight up a spruced up version of Etrian Odyssey 2 without any story extras, or the limitations that come with those. It can, in fact, be argued that the Classic Mode in Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold is the single best rendition of it yet- you get access to a mind boggling array of classes, and you get bonus content over the original game too.
The fact that it provides an almost separate experience from the Story Mode is icing on the cake- essentially, you get two games for the price of one, and each can take upwards of eighty hours to complete.
When it comes to value for money, very little matches Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold. It is the best game in the series, the best modern take on classic dungeon crawling, and the finest realization yet of Atlus’ stark, uncompromising vision for true, hardcore, dungeon crawling role playing.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.
Pitch perfect mechanics, all present in their best realization yet; the story giving real context and weight to the proceedings; practically two games in one, giving players hundreds of hours of hardcore role playing and dungeon crawling
It can be a grind, the game can be terrifyingly difficult, the map making seems to be a step back from Persona Q's
When it comes to value for money, very little matches Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold. It is the best game in the series, the best modern take on classic dungeon crawling, and the finest realization yet of Atlus' stark, uncompromising vision for true, hardcore, dungeon crawling role playing.