I’ve made this point before, but while I love a good dungeon crawling RPG, I’ve never quite been able to embrace the Etrian Odyssey series. The Dark Spire, the first person Shin Megami Tensei games and the Wizardry series have always been more my speed, and while the Etrian Odyssey games had some of that challenge, the aesthetics never really worked for the sort of game it is. The franchise has always straddled this line between modern and old-school dungeon crawling in a way that appeals to new players to the genre but holds little appeal for someone with no genre appreciation or a long-standing history with them. The games aren’t bad by any means, but they just never resonated with me (and others on staff) to the extent that Atlus’ other offerings in the genre did, let alone other genre entries in general. Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl seems like it’s further attempting to expand the market for the franchise, however, by reimagining the first game with modern visuals, while also adding in a story mode for those who don’t want to deal with the grinding dungeon crawling aspects of the originals. While the game is essentially a remake of the original in many respects, it’s also modified heavily to try to maximize appeal, and with the right changes in place, even if it doesn’t scratch the dungeon crawling itch, it might have appeal in other areas. I sat down with the demo recently released for the 3DS, and here’s a general idea of what I took away from it.
1.) While the demo makes it apparent that you can play through the game in the classic mode we’ve come to expect from the franchise, that option’s not available in the demo. The only option that’s available here is the Story Mode, which essentially tells the tale of your character, a male Highlander who can be named as you see fit, and how he’s drafted to act as an adventurer in the land of Etria. The plot uses anime cutscenes and some voice acting to get across the plot, and while the idea is weird for an Etrian Odyssey game, it’s not bad taken on its own merits. Giving the player the option to play both ways is a great idea, as the plot-based narrative ties in the characters you can choose and makes the game more narrative heavy, while the normal play style allows you to just screw around in the dungeon as you see fit, and the Story Mode gives players a chance to see what’s new and what’s the same from the prior games.
2.) When you start the demo, you’ll find something else new: a choice of difficulty level. While the prior games generally just stuck you into the game world at a set difficulty, there are three to choose here: Picnic (Easy), Standard (Normal), Expert (Hard). Picnic is meant for enjoyment, allowing you to continue from death and allowing you unlimited uses of some items (though what those are didn’t come up in the demo), and seems to be an easier option for those who felt the Casual difficulty in Etrian Odyssey IV was still a bit much. Normal allows you to continue once if defeated, but is otherwise a standard experience, and is more comparable to the aforementioned Casual mode. Expert is normal Etrian Odyssey difficulty, so if you found the original games to be suitably challenging, this is the difficulty for you. This is also a great idea for expanding the user base; allowing weaker or newer players the chance to ease into the game isn’t a bad idea to expand the market share, and allowing veterans the normal difficulty was a great idea from jump. Offering a more challenging difficulty might have been nice, given that the games weren’t too rough, but we’ll see if that makes the final cut, perhaps.
3.) When you start the demo proper, it notes that the sound quality of the demo is lower and some songs are shorter than in the final game, but what’s here still generally sounds good. The voice work and songs sound very nice on the 3DS, even in their lower fidelity state, and if the final product shows the quality of the demo audio, but with higher volume, it’ll likely have a strong audio presentation overall. Visually, the game cross-breeds the 2D art style of the prior games with the 3D capabilities of the 3DS, as did Etrian Odyssey IV, and the end results come across somewhat better than they did there. The enemies are interesting looking and make the transition to 3D well, and the environments (at least those in the demo) cleaned up nicely in comparison to their DS counterparts. The 2D artwork looks as good as it ever did, and the anime cutscenes look solid enough (though they lack any 3D functionality to speak of), and the 3D looks fine enough that one might want to use it as a novelty. Given the need to frequently look between screens, though, you’d mostly not want to do much with it unless you’d already mapped out a floor, but it has some novelty to it during dungeon navigation and combat.
4.) One thing that’s worth noting about the demo build is that you can only level up the storyline characters to level ten, though as the demo doesn’t go on so long that you’d need to be much higher, this level cap isn’t a big deal. What is nice to note is that whatever progress you make in the demo can be carried over into the main game, so even if you weren’t interested in checking out the demo but intended to play the game at some point, whatever work you put into the demo will be able to be loaded up when you pop the game in. If you aren’t planning to play through the story mode this might be a bit less exciting to you, but for those who are interested, you can get a good feel for the game before it drops, then jump right in and get to work. Personally, I feel like more developers should do this sort of thing with their demos, so I approve of this feature here whole-heartedly.
5.) Once you drop into the game world proper, after going through some basic storyline introductions to yourself and the game world, you head off to the Yggdrasil Labyrinth to take on the starting quest you take in every Etrian Odyssey: map the first floor. In the story mode, however, instead of making a party of characters, you’re paired up with two NPC’s: Ren, a ronin class fighter, and Tlachtga (what), a hexer class caster. For those who appreciate this sort of thing, you can name your Highlander whatever you wish, but everyone else seems to be stuck with whatever name the game gives them. Ren and Blahblahblah aren’t permanent party members, sadly; they act only as high level guests (Ren being level thirty three, while Trafalgar is thirty one) to walk you through the dungeon safely as you play cartographer. As a way to introduce the player to the game world it’s not a bad way to handle things, as it allows you to explore without fear of anything ruining you early on, and it’s a fine enough way to acclimate new players to what the game expects of them, both in drawing their own maps and in experiencing combat without fear of death.
6.) For those who have played the original Etrian Odyssey and are wondering if the town is any different, the answer is “mostly, no.” All of the locations you’d expect (with one exception) are right there, from the Rooster Inn to Shilleka’s Goods (for resting and selling/buying things respectively), and they all more or less serve the same functions as before. The one exception is that of the Clinic, which has been condensed into the Rooster Inn, which shouldn’t be a big deal to anyone aside from those who appreciated the Trauma Center cameo. The space the Clinic occupied is instead occupied, in the beginning, by an empty mansion, though as the game progresses, said mansion becomes your base of operations in the story mode, which features additional functions we’ll get into later.
7.) The Yggdrasil Labyrinth is essentially identical in style and design to the one from the first Etrian Odyssey (at least on the first couple floors), so those who know the same shortcuts and such will find that they work identically, and the harvesting points are in the same places. The core gameplay is functionally identical as well; combat is turn-based, you attack in order based on speed, and you can use various skills, items and such from the menus as needed, and anyone who’s played a turn based RPG ever will be at home here easily. The “draw your own map” mechanic works the same as well, as the FOE system, where stronger enemies stalk the map and attempt to murder you on sight. You can collect leftovers from your enemies and sell them to populate the shop with new goods, the bar offers missions you can take on, all of this is pretty much what fans would expect, and it’s all ported somewhat identically from the original game. The only “new” concept that comes up is that of the rock pig FOEs that show up on the second floor and charge you when they see you, though the game warns you about them in advance so they’re not exactly a surprise or anything.
8.) One new element that pops up, however, is the need to explore a technological ruin for the Etrian government. You’re dumped off in this ruin after completing the map of the first floor, and this is where most of the plot development of the demo takes place. It’s also here that you put together your default party: Frederica (the Millennium Girl of the title), a Gunner, Simon, a Medic, Arthur, an Alchemist, and Raquna, a Protector. It’s kind of disappointing that you don’t get any options early on for party composition, though one suspects, since there is still a guild hall, that this will be an option in the story mode as the game progresses. Either way, the ruin seems like it will play a significant part in the storyline (though what, if anything, it has to do with the classic mode remains to be seen) as exploring the Yggdrasil Labyrinth seems to tie directly into exploring the ruin itself. How this all ties together will likely be the big appeal of the port, as it’s completely beyond anything the original game did, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.
9.) This isn’t to say that the game doesn’t do some additional new things that are worth mentioning. While the game lacks the airship and boat options of the prior releases, it brings some more combat oriented tools to the table. There are Grimoire Stones, which hold some skills from other character classes within them and, when equipped, add those to the character, allowing that character to expand their skillset or weapon compliment a bit. Grimoire Stones can also spawn their own stones in turn in combat under ideal (and not entirely clear) conditions, allowing you to generate and combine stones to build solid, multi-functional characters as needed. Your Mansion also adds all new functionality to the game, allowing you to pass along Grimoire Stones via your Guild Card and through Street Pass and QR Codes, while also offering up additional missions, item storage and more novelties (though why it can’t act as a free inn or guild hall I don’t know). There are other novelties that pop up here and there, like the Floor Jump option that lets you jump to the next floor stairs if you’ve mapped out a floor already and such, though how much more the game will add as you progress remains to be seen.
10.) Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is shaping up to be a pretty solid remake of the original game in the series, and looks like it might be able to bridge the gap between franchise fans and more casual players, if not the hardest of the diehard. The game is looking and sounding pretty solid and includes all of the details that make the franchise a favorite for many on the 3DS, but is adding a bunch of new features to expand the game and appeal to a wider market. A full storyline with animated cutscenes and two easier difficulties should be appealing to those who found the prior games too challenging or too dull in presentation, and should offer new options for those who’ve seen the game before. New gameplay mechanics, FOEs and dungeons to explore should also open up the game to those who have beaten the original game to power, and make the remake an attractive proposition if you’re a fan who’s seen it all. Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl should be dropping into stores on October 1st, and we’ll keep our eyes on it as it comes closer to launch to let you know what we think of the final product.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
Total Voters: 91