Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight 3DS Review
The 3DS is a great handheld if you want quality Japanese RPGs. The system has plenty to choose from, no matter if you like traditional RPGs or are more of a fan of strategy or dungeon crawlers. Having already had a remake of the original Etrian Odyssey, the system now gets another RPG in its catalogue with Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight, a remake of the second game in Atlus’ dungeon crawler series, Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of High Lagaard. Atlus has gone about building this remake with the same key goals as Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, which means that it makes improvements over the original by having more accessibility for newcomers and the focus on a story for people who want some defined characters and interesting plot to fill in the gaps between dungeon exploring. The developers have improved on developing remakes, making Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold another great RPG for existing fans to pick up, while also allowing people who want to try the series for the first time a good step to jump into this nine year old franchise.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold offers the chance to begin the game by choosing between playing in classic mode or story mode. Classic is a trademark of the series, where the characters are created by the player, allowing full customisation of their class, portraits and attributes, but is also a harder challenge compared to the story mode. The general gist of the plot is similar to story mode, but you don’t get any of the interactions from the party, since they remain mute throughout the game, absent of any personality. While that might please hardcore fans who want to keep the experience in their hands, I feel not playing the new story mode is missing out a lot of its unique relationships between the characters and its additional presentation – it’s better written than Etrian Odyssey Untold, plus, you can also do a New Game+ in classic mode after beating story mode, as the game includes the ability to switch from story to classic mode if desired.
Playing story mode starts off with predetermined party, similar to what you would normally expect from a Japanese RPG. There isn’t much to modify, as the game wants the characters to be defined through the story and their personality. It helps that story mode brings voice acting to the the cast, mostly decently – there are a couple of characters that come across okay, but above all, they manage to build these characters and manage to display emotion that classic mode could never do with its muted cast of created heroes.
The story begins with the hero, a Fafnir, and his friend, who are about to embark on their first mission to escort Arianna, a young lady who must perform a ancient ritual in the Ginnugagap Ruins to keep something sealed within the temple. The mission doesn’t go quite as planned, as the main character manages to gain a dangerous power, which leads on to an unoriginal plot about his link to the danger that threatens the world, why he gained this power and eventually put a stop to the evil and save the world. You didn’t think they wouldn’t save the world, did you? This is a generic tale and not something you’ll remember in the future, but the journey itself remains fun with characters that begin with anime personality clichés , but eventually grow into a entertaining cast of heroes that you get to know during this 50 hour adventure, even though they might chat a little too much.
Etrian Odyssey has always had a focus on gameplay, so while it’s nice the game has included a fun tale to journey through, it still shines through its grid-based first-person exploration and combat, no matter if in story or classic mode. The only difference between the two modes, gameplay wise, is that story mode is certainly easier to get through than what one would expect from a standard Etrian title, but that is where classic mode comes in, being just as challenging as any of the previous games. Exploring the game’s dungeons hasn’t changed much for this remake. Players still need to use the bottom screen of the 3DS to chart out the map is it unfolds from exploring the huge dungeon, but now it comes with animated icons that will change status depending on the situation (closed chest now show open when found, etc.). Charting is an addiction of mine that has been here since the beginning of the series – I have to map out as much as possible of the floor, all the shortcuts, doors, items, traps, and other key locations I find before moving to the next one. For people who just want to explore without the hassle of tiling, auto-mapping can be set to draw walls and colour in the ground, but you will still need to mark key locations, such as doors.
Having to manual map might put some people off, but in reality, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold is accessible for new people of the genre if they jump into the story mode. There is even a nice picnic difficulty that eases newcomers in, reducing damage from traps and allowing restarts of battles, no matter how many times they die. On the other end of the scale is expert, which will punish any inexperience Etrian Odyssey player.
Battles are random encounters, with the combat remaining first-person and being the usual turn-based fare, but it does require thought and strategy to overcome encounters. It’s not easy to brute force your way through them, especially on the classic setting, so correct equipment and use of skills to pick apart the weaknesses of enemies is vital for success. There are new features to help switch the tide of battle in your favour. Force is one such ability that powers up a hero after taking a certain amount of damage, this is character dependant – one hero gains improved evasion and additional attacks, while another gains better healing. Force lasts for three turns after activation, but can “Break” early if the player desires. Performing a break force is also character dependent, one can extend aliment time on enemies. Another can do a full party heal and revive dead characters. The negative of using break is that force cannot be recharged and used again until fixed with a visit to town.
F.O.E.s remain haunting players who first enter a new area, and will come in various shapes and sizes, even filled with tricks to catch you out if you don’t pay attention to them. If you have never heard of F.O.E.s (foes), these are dangerous and challenging enemies that can be seen on the map and will walk a specific pattern, moving a grid every time the player moves. Defeating a foe takes skill unless you are returning to take them on after grinding a few levels. Foes have been built into mini puzzles in this remake, such as luring them into traps or blocking their routes to be able to avoid them. Every fight with a foe will test young explorers, but defeating them always comes with a sense of accomplishment.
The true challenge in Etrian Odyssey is staying alive, be it from avoiding foes or simply surviving the long dungeons. Some can span several floors with plenty of devious traps and enemies ready to end lives in seconds. People with a eye for seeing secrets hidden in suspicious nooks may come across rewards, such as healing items or NPCs, but they can only be used once per dungeon visit.
Visuals are much improved over the original DS game, moving from sprites to 3D models for enemies and environments, while keeping intact the distinct art design and colourful locations that the series has been using since its birth. It’s also one the few games that works exceptionally well with the 3D on, giving a good sense of depth in the dungeons from its first-person perspective. The soundtrack is a delight to listen to, and while I wouldn’t say it’s as memorable as something like the PSX Final Fantasy games, it still brings a great score that ranges from boss pounding heavy metal to peaceful resting music. A neat feature included is the ability to have either the original soundtrack from the DS intact or use the remastered original soundtrack. Remastered music is quality, but listening to the old music does have its appeal, and it’s still a enjoyable soundtrack no matter which one is on play.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is a better remake than Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl, thanks to the studio using the experience from rebuilding that game and putting it to use in improving the story and featuring a far more developed cast of characters. Once again, it’s the gameplay that shines in Atlus’ dungeon crawler, as they continue to refine, polish and perfect it, keeping this meaty adventure as fun as the series has ever been with its smart dungeon design and mechanics. It might not be as refreshing as when it first jumped on the scene – it is the sixth entry in the Etrian Odyssey series after all – but what is here is a well built remake that allows both hardcore fans and newcomers to enjoy a impressive dungeon crawler on the 3DS.