Amateur cartography for the masses.
Over the years, videogames have pushed aside many of my previous interests. Board games are well represented in the videogame world, should I feel in the mood for counters and dice, and strategy games have all but replaced my love of tabletop battling. Of course, RPGs on computer or console have long since offered an alternative to the pen and paper role-playing of my youth, and none evoke that pen and paper feeling more than the Etrian Odyssey series.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight on 3DS is the latest entry in Atlus’ dungeon-crawling RPG series, and is a re-imagining of the second game in the series with improved visuals and functions, and a much more inviting nature for the newcomers. The thing that really stands out in this latest title, as with all the previous titles, is that as the player explores the huge dungeons in the game, they are encouraged to draw their own map as they go along on the lower screen. This is the stand out feature, and the one which will divide the players most. While for many, halting the turn based progress to fill in a couple more squares on the grid map below will enhance their connection with the game and provide a nice nostalgic feeling on pen and paper RPG of the past, for others it simply slows the game down and proves too much like hard work.
There is an option to have the players progress mapped automatically, but the tools are really easy to use and surprisingly varied, and it is incredibly satisfying to rely on your own map to solve puzzles or find an escape route when the group is in danger. Still, the auto-map option is there for those who really don’t want to get their hands dirty, and is another option to make the series more welcoming to the newcomers.
Speaking of newcomers, varied difficulty levels also ensure that The Fafnir Knight can be played by almost anyone, with a Picnic difficulty taking out almost all of the challenge and making the game suitable for children of a surprisingly young age. Then there is the Story Mode.
Aside from the cartography, the other big feature of the Etrian Odyssey games has always been the amount of customization that players can employ to form the perfect team of characters. The options are quite often staggering, with a mass of different classes and impressively full skill trees which quite often compliment each other, and players could easily lose hours perfecting their group and making them a well oiled dungeon-crawling machine. Grimoire stones, which can imbue the character with out of class skills, are plentiful to further tweak the team dynamics. In all, there is a hell of a lot to think about, and plenty of ways for a new player to put themselves at a disadvantage. All of this complex fun is still available in Classic mode.
But now there is also a Story mode which focuses on a well rounded group of characters which will be perfectly suitable for new players to make their way through the game. There are still customization options to be had, but it just lowers the level of complexity to make the game more inviting. The Story mode also gives access to a new dungeon to explore, one which is tied into the enjoyable story itself.
The main character, who is named by the player, and their friend Flavio find themselves joining up with Princess Arianna as she ventures to the ruins of Ginnungagap for some kind of ritual. These three are joined by the Protector Bertrand and the War Mage Chloe to make up a team of five. The massive amount of dialogue moves the story forward and is quite enjoyable, with the personalities of the characters being built upon as the game progresses. While the story and personalities may not stray from the usual JRPG tropes, the characters are likable enough to carry any repetitive themes.
The dungeons themselves are also filled with personality, and look gorgeous. There is a nice variety of environments as the player maps their way through the different levels, either following the main story or completing the many side quests that pop up. Random encounters are the main providers of the turn-based battle sequences, which are both an exercise in preparation and strategic thinking. Even more troublesome are the frequent FOEs which can be seen wandering the dungeons. These high risk/high reward enemies can generally be avoided by observing the pattern of their movement.
Outside of the dungeons, there are still things to do. Aside from assigning Grimoire stones, selling loot and preparing for the next expedition, cooking is now an important use of time. Players can use ingredients gathered through their adventuring to create dishes for the local restaurant. These dishes can provide various buffs for the player, but also can be marketed for the general populace of Lagaard in order to raise extra income. It’s a nice little addition that fleshes out the core gameplay.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight wraps everything up with lovely visuals, an excellent soundtrack and very well done voice acting. While the slower pace may not appeal to all dungeon-crawling fans out there, the high level of accessibility ensures the game is well suited to the largest range of players. An improvement over the game on which this re-imagining is based, and one of the best Etrian Odyssey games so far, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight should at least be tried by all dungeon-crawling 3DS owners.