You’ve got to hand it to Atlus, they’re almost single handedly keeping handheld JRPGs alive on the 3DS. It’s a shame there’s no one to lovingly care about the Vita in the same way, or it might have more than 3 games worth playing by now and maybe it wouldn’t be the Nigel no-mates of handheld gaming. Atlus makes some of the most interesting RPGs I’ve played, so even though I’m a complete newcomer to the Etrian Odyssey series, I knew I’d be in for an interesting experience with this remake.
Resident TIG weeb Clarke tells me that Etrian Odyssey Untold games are remakes of the original Etrian Odyssey series but with added story modes and content, giving players the option of creating their own party in “Classic mode” or giving the player a set party of story characters in “Story mode.” As a newcomer to the series, I decided to see exactly what story mode had to offer to someone with no background knowledge of the original game.
Story mode follows the tale of two orphans raised at the Midgard library, the player character and his childhood friend Flavio, as they embark on an assignment given to them by the powers that be to accompany the Duke’s daughter Arianna on a mysterious ritual that must be performed every 100 years by the princess of Caledonia. While exploring the ruins where the ritual takes place, they come across an older man called Bertrand who is accompanied by a young but incredibly skilled young battle mage called Chloe, who both end up joining the party on their mission to complete Arianna’s ritual. This band of misfits all comes together to form a conveniently synergistic party that compliment each other’s skills nicely.
The party members themselves all have quite a lot of character depth, as established in the numerous dialogue scenes and passing comments that they make both in battle and while exploring. Their interactions are often quite amusing to read and each character has distinct personality traits, which is topped off by some great voice acting in several scenes. It’s easy to become attached to such complex and well thought out characters, however there’s always a fine line between using dialogue to establish character personalities and bombarding the player with redundant and unnecessary chit chat. While I found Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight to lean slightly on the latter side of this line, the excessive chatter is more of a slight annoyance than a deal breaker.
Something I did find kind of disappointing is the lack of dungeons to explore in the game. For the most part players will be going back and forth between the same two dungeons in rather predictable patterns. Granted, both dungeons are substantially large and take a lot of time to fully explore, but having to pass through the same area of the same dungeon several times to progress to the next area does get somewhat repetitive, even with shortcuts and floor jumps present. It also detracts from the first person dungeon crawling as players will find themselves staring at the touch screen most of the time, if not actively drawing the map then at least reading it while trying to navigate the labyrinthian halls of the dungeon.
One of the most unorthodox mechanics is the fact that players have to draw their own map of the dungeon on the touch screen as they explore, a feature I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, it definitely adds to the exploration side of things, and the fact that floor jumping (where you can skip to the next staircase) is only available with a mostly completed map of the current floor adds a lot of incentive to draw a complete map of the area. On the other hand in most games the map is a given, and at most is filled in automatically as you explore, so having to draw it by hand is a bit of a chore at times and something that most players will take for granted until now.
The battle system is fairly reminiscent of the Shin Megami Tensei series, with your party consisting of a front line of big strong tanks and damage dealers while the back line consists of your squishier classes like healers and mages. As well as the normal skills relating to each party member’s class, fighting enemies sometimes causes grimoire stones to drop, which hold the skills of either enemies or party members which can then be equipped to give your characters new abilities or increase the power of existing ones. While I love how Atlus usually includes a way to incorporate enemy abilities into your own party, the grimoire stone system is not without some severe drawbacks. First, you can only equip a maximum of 3 stones to a character at a time, which is little compared to the amount of skills available to a fully upgraded class. Second is that grimoire stones spawn like mating rabbits, leaving your inventory clogged with duplicates upon duplicates of low level abilities that are fairly useless even for trading purposes. I had enough grimoire stones to make a grimoire gravel driveway not long after unlocking the mechanic.
There’s a large variety of monsters to be found in the dungeons, each with it’s own weaknesses and strategies, as well as certain abilities to watch out for. You’ll learn these soon enough, sometimes the hard way. Each monster has certain items that drop upon death or by being defeated by a certain type of attack, some of which can be crafted into recipes at the restaurant in town to provide party buffs, or others that are simply meant to be sold off at the store. Selling specific items at the store is how you unlock new equipment for purchase, which is a good way to put value for the player on the item drops rather than them being simply there to be ignored until they’re sold off for a quick buck. There are also boss fights that will test your fight endurance more than anything, where rationing your mana to make it last the length of the fight while also trying to come up with a working strategy using the abilities available are equally important.
The last and yet probably the biggest problem I have with the game is it’s pacing, which is always something that Atlus can’t seem to get just right in their RPGs. I mentioned before how the characters sometimes talk a lot more than they need to, like an annoying toddler with pointless stories, but there’s more than that. A lot of mechanics and entire parts of the game are held back until players reach a certain point, and I understand that this may be so as not to overwhelm players when they’re just starting, but if you ask me the game moves at a snails pace and it just takes far too long to get access to everything or get to anything or anywhere new. Yes, we’ve just established that we need to go and find some plonker’s house keys on the 7th floor of the dungeon, we don’t need another dialogue scene right after where the characters all reiterate the objective and discuss their feelings about the 7th floor.
A trend I’ve noticed with Atlus games is that they’re usually 90% amazing ideas and 10% wasted potential and dumb decisions, and Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is no exception. While there are a lot of things the game does right such as likable characters, interesting mechanics and a good variety of enemies, there are just those few glaring flaws that hold the game back from being a perfect experience. It’s like getting most of the way through a delicious mince and cheese pie only to find a cat turd before your last mouthful.