Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl 3DS
Somewhere along the line, the 3DS became the premiere console for JRPGs. Whereas the current console generation (as it is currently known before the end of 2013) suffered the absence of major JRPG franchises like Persona, Kingdom Hearts and a Final Fantasy that wasn’t critically divisive, Nintendo’s 3D handheld has been enjoying a solid year of excellent entries like Fire Emblem: Awakening, Shin Megami Tensei IV, Pokemon X and Y, and many more genre-specific releases to look forward to.
The JRPG love is also bringing more attention to series previously overlooked by Western fans, including the Etrian Odyssey series. Originally released on the Nintendo DS in 2007, the RPG series did not break out of its niche notoriety until five years later. This year, Western 3DS owners are able to enjoy back-to-back releases of new EO games beginning with the latest sequel (Etrian Odyssey IV) and now with Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, a remake of the original that retains the addictive gameplay along with several new features.
Chief among those new features is the story mode, a first for the series. Normally, the Etrian Odyssey games forego the typical JRPG narrative by allowing players to set up their own classes and characters as they navigate through the labyrinthine dungeons with a fully customizable party. In Untold, the story mode features a preset cast of characters with their own personalities and voices, as well as expository cutscenes and a full-length storyline involving the hero’s discovery of a mysterious amnesiac girl and a ragtag group of researchers joining the fray to uncover the mysteries of their homeland of Etria. The characters don’t exactly break any new RPG grounds, but they are likable enough to carry on the briskly-paced story. Curiously, the main protagonist is of the silent hero variety, even though his appearance and class is already determined by the story. The game also features spoken dialog, but rarely will the characters act out lines from the actual script, making the bits of spoken text feel random. Still, the voice acting is well done and even features a Canadian accent for the character of Raquna, an amusing and welcome change for the typical RPG voiceover.
For players who prefer the freedom of customizing characters, the original story-less version is also available via classic mode. Regardless of which mode you pick, Etrian Odyssey Untold features the same style of gameplay that has become prevalent throughout the series. Players navigate dungeons in a first-person view, but rather than walk around with analog control like most modern games, EO goes for a more oldschool tile-based control, where players move in one out of four directions at a time with each press of the D-pad. The closest modern approximation would be the PC game Grimrock, which also drew inspiration from similar classic RPGs like King’s Quest.
The modern twist to such an old mechanic is the use of the 3DS’ second screen, which acts solely as a large map that is slowly filled out with each step that players take. Using the stylus, players can also draw lines to indicate where paths reach a dead end, while a host of additional icons can also be used to mark things like locked doors, stairs, harvesting spots, recovery spots or even dangerous hazards like traps and powerful enemies. As Etrian Odyssey requires repeat travel across the same dungeon floors, those who take the time to update their maps will find return visits far easier than those who choose to rush in blindly.
That said, enemy encounters are as unavoidable as any other RPG, regardless of mapped out pathways. Random encounters take place on a separate screen with enemies facing the camera in first person, while your unseen party members take turns inputting the desired actions to fend off the wave of foes. For anyone who has played RPGs like Dragon Quest, the battle mechanics of Etrian Odyssey are easy enough to learn. Too easy, in fact, as many of the normal enemies can be easily dispatched with the “auto attack” command after rising a few levels (which in turn awards party members with a skill point for every level gained, which can be used to unlock additional abilities and/or boosts to strength, defense, HP and other variables).
The real challenge in Etrian Odyssey is not the difficulty of the enemies, but the length of the dungeons that they reside in. Spanning several floors with dozens of twists, turns, and traps, even the most meticulously charted labyrinths can prove daunting to navigate once the party’s recovery items run out. Those with a penchant for checking every nook and cranny may come across parts of the map that offer recuperative events (such as fresh fruit or a kindly NPC offering food), but they can only be used once for each dungeon trek.
And trek you shall, for it is borderline impossible to clear a dungeon on the first try. Checkpoints are eventually unlocked to allow players to skip a few floors, but these are far and few between. Like with many RPGs, the key to advancing in the game is to repeat the same fights and flights over and over until it gets easier. Another important strategy is learning when to deal with (or avoid) on-screen enemies known as FOE (which stands for “field on enemy” in the Japanese version, but translated as”Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens” in the Western release; usually Japan is the one that gets the ludicrous RPG terms). The majority of the time, FOEs are too powerful for players to take on initially, but also follow a specific walking pattern that can be exploited to avoid them. Eventually, bringing down a FOE is encouraged as it yields bonus experience points and crafting parts as well as opening up shortcuts in the dungeon.
Speaking of crafting, much of Etrian Odyssey’s unlockables come from the materials taken from dead monsters and harvested areas. Materials can be sold to the merchant to create new types of weapons and armor for purchase, while quest givers may request the retrieval of a specific item or two in order to reward the party. Once players unlock their own personal headquarters (which they can name whatever they want in addition to their group), an NPC housekeeper can assist with the equipping and synthesizing of Grimroire stones (which act as accessories that can apply additional abilities to party members, including spells and skills outside of their class) and can also create food that offer temporary stat bonuses.
In the end, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl serves as a worthy introduction (or reintroduction for longtime fans) to the hardcore RPG series. Gamers who partake of the genre on a regular basis will eagerly eat up the endless hours mapping dungeons and slaying enemies, even if the constant back-tracking and inventory management may prove a bit too cumbersome for more casual players. That said, this is yet another quality RPG on the 3DS that continues to strengthen the genre’s presence on Nintendo’s handheld.