ATLUS have produced many different kinds of games over the years, from surgery-based visual novels, to ethical simulators involving sheep. They are also famous for retreading their footsteps, by releasing expanded versions of their older software. This is exactly the case with Etrian Odyssey Untold, as it invites you to look back at the first game in the series, albeit with a graphical overhaul and a few extra titbits.
Where you choose to play through the Classic Mode, or the Story Mode, which is subtilted The Millenium Child, Etrian Odyssey Untold takes place in the land of Etria, where groups of people known as adventurers take on the task of mapping out vast labyrinths across the world, and discover the secrets of the mystery Yggdrasil Tree that is treated as a holy grail. An extra goal in the The Millenium Child is to uncover the secrets of an amnesiac woman named Frederica, who seems to have some importance to Etrian society.
Etrian Odyssey Untold is, first and foremost, a dungeon crawler, but it takes elements from visual novels and adventure games to provide an experience that is rarely attempted in the genre. An interesting point to mention is that for the entirety of the game, you only glimpse your main or supporting characters on the menu screen or during cut-scenes as manga styled illustrations. The scenery and monsters in the dungeons and outside of the villages are rendered as three dimensional models, whereas all the characters, internal locations and items are drawn in manga style illustrations.
This may have been due to the lack of budget of development time, but the way that the two styles are combined here doesn’t impact the game so much that it feels out of place, as 3D backgrounds in the villages would be entirely unnecessary as you only navigate via a text driven menu system. The village areas are complete with a number of shops to buy new items and weapons, places to rest your head or converse with the locals and various locations where you can receive new missions to complete. One of the major quests in the game is to venture into several dungeons named labyrinths, and using a cartography system, mark out the layout of the vast wildernesses.
Once you enter the labyrinth, you are locked into a first person view, and it is only possible to walk in four directions. The control stick is used to alter the field of view, whilst the map-marking is done entirely on the touch screen. Random encounters form most of the fights, with only a few monsters occupying in event driven battles or having a corporeal presence inside the dungeons. The latter enemies are far more dangerous, as they are significantly more powerful than those found by chance. This mechanic is a brilliant way of forcing players to move carefully through unknown places, because the danger they might face could prove to be more dangerous than they realise. These powerful enemies will drop rarer items and give the players a large amount of experience, but it is not recommend that you face them unless you have a lot of healing items, or you are returning to the dungeon for some other purpose.
For the gamers who want a more narrative focused experience, an exclusive Story Mode has been created for the remake, with specially produced animé style cut scenes scattered throughout the adventure. Instead of designing companions for yourself, a group of high level NPC characters will help you get through any enemy encounter that you come across with ease. If you would prefer to create your own personal experience, the developer have included a scenario is designed for your needs. In the Classic Mode, all of your party begins at lower experience levels, and you are able to create as many heroes as you like, with whichever class you feel best suits their skillset. The cut-scenes with voice acting are absent in this section, allowing you to excavate dungeons in a similar fashion to the original game. I feel that having two distinct gameplay modes is an excellent addition on ATLUS’s part, as it allows players that aren’t creatively inclined or strategically minded to experience a similar adventure to those that choose the traditional quest.
As well the storyline, a whole new feature has been introduced to the 3DS version, such as the Grimoire Stones, which allow you to create new skills for your characters. They also can also copy your enemy’s attacks and transfer them to your players, in a similar fashion to Kihmari’s Lancet ability in Final Fantasy X. This is an intriguing idea that works in a similar fashion to the Skill Card mechanic in Persona 4 Golden, and allows greater customisation than the original game offered as a result.
The music tracks used in the game are vibrant, and while they can be predictable, they are not any less enjoyable as a result. There is also the option to switch between an orchestrated soundtrack, as used in the latest version of the series, and a FM synthesised version, which is closer in style to what video games originally had in their background. This is a great option to consider for newer players, especially those that fondly remember the chip tune tracks from the game’s first release.
If I had to make a couple of criticisms, they would be that the difficulty level between the labyrinths can sometimes be quite steep, or fall to a point where you can pass through them with a small amount of effort. It also feels very similar to the previous release on the 3DS, Etrian Odyssey IV, as it is seemingly built on the same engine. While this is not a negative point from a design perspective, it doesn’t seem to include many features that differentiate it from its older brother. If this port of the game had been released first, then it would be seen as a logical step to use a previous engine for the sequel. but as it stands, it doesn’t feel like as if they wanted to celebrate the original game itself, and only the tools that were used to create it.
Overall, Etrian Odyssey Untold is a very competent RPG that offers unique gameplay mechanics, a vibrant world to explore and a soundtrack that will leave you humming the tunes for hours after they have passed. Etrian Odyssey may not be the brightest star in the gaming market sky, but the light it does shine is one that should be followed. It will lead to a fulfilling experience that will last for many hours, and be remembered for years to come.