I know what you're thinking: Wasn't there just an Etrian Odyssey game a bit ago?
Yes. Etrian Odyssey IV. And it was really good. So why another so soon?
This new one, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl, is both a remake and a re-imagining of the first EO game. It uses EO4's engine and some of the lessons learned from making that game to put a new twist on a title that Atlus fans may have missed. Untold also adds a full-on story mode as a series first, as well as new gameplay features that make it easier to get into.
The end result is the most accessible Etrian Odyssey ever made as well as a perfect introduction to the series.
Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl (3DS)
Released: October 1, 2013
While all Etrian Odyssey games have a proper story, they leave it up to you to create a party. The world's existing characters are the cast, and your party members are just there for the journey as generic heroes. Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl is different in that it has a proper JRPG-style story with a preset cast of heroes. Untold still offers a "classic" mode for those who were fine with how the previous series games played out, but I expect that most will want to jump in to experience the story Atlus has crafted this time out.
In this story you play as a highlander taking his first real assignment. On this first mission you encounter a girl with no memory that seems to come from another time. You end up meeting some unlikely party members and begin journeying together to help this girl recover her memory, and you end up saving the world while you're at it.
It's not the most original story out there, but Atlus does put some production value into telling it. As always, the dialogue writing is fantastic, and they've put in plenty of spoken voice to accent the lines. Key plot points get the full treatment with very high-quality anime sequences. What the story lacks in creativity it makes up for in charm.
That all said, the story does have its high points, and while trope-heavy, is completely inoffensive. It's sufficiently entertaining and does wrap up nicely, so there's that. As with all the other EO titles, the gameplay is the main attraction point.
On the gameplay side for this story mode, instead of characters you've rolled, you get a pre-defined party, complete with a gun user, an alchemist, a healer, and a tank. And your character as a variable. This makes for a nicely matched party that you can jump right into and feel comfortable using. You won't get the weird satisfaction of creating some unique mix of, say, all Nightseekers, but you can always go back to classic mode later and roll your own.
Your party will venture out from the core city of Etria, insta-warping to one of the world's overabundance of complex dungeons to carry out missions. There is nothing in the way of overworlds or towns to explore, so no travel to worry about. It's just Etria and a lot of dungeons divided across several sub-areas called stratum. Fans of the more recent series games may miss the open-world exploration here.
The battle system works out to be almost exactly as it was in Etrian Odyssey IV, though being an earlier game, it lacks some of IV's depth. As with the other games, you'll encounter random enemies during your dungeon crawls and then pulled away to a first-person turn-based battle system where both your party and your enemies fight from two rows. You'll level up and earn points to dump into deep skill trees, letting you customize each character's ability sets to your liking.
A few new additions to the battle system have been added this time around. A boost gauge is filled which each battle, and when full it lets you power up your attacks temporarily. Grimoire Stones gathered from battle can contain enemies' skills or powers. Your party can equip these stones to use this power in battle. There's some fun to be had in combining stones to generate ability sets to benefit your journey. Really digging in can reward with some pretty powerful creations, some so good that they can make the game feel a little easy. You'll have to put in the work, but it's worth it.
One thing that hasn't changed is the level of challenge. Etrian Odyssey games have never been easy, and this new one puts up a fair fight, too. Add a high encounter rate and you'll be working hard to stay alive. Bosses will have you stretching your powers and resources to their very end, and scary field enemies, called FOEs, will have you running for the hills. As with the previous installments, I feel the stiff challenge makes for a more exciting dungeon crawl. But if you're in it for the experience and story and don't want to take all of the heat, the game's casual setting turns down the enemy fight power a bit. But even casual mode will present a pretty solid challenge.
As with the other series games, Etrian Odyssey Untold has you using the 3DS' bottom screen to draw maps of dungeons on a grid. Just as I explained in previous series reviews, there's something to charting out every stage and dungeon. It sounds tedious on paper, but ends up being quite entertaining. I've related getting your maps right to properly equipping your party -- there's a similar kind of planning enjoyment to be had from cartography. This unique type of enjoyment may not speak to everyone, but it should to any RPG fan.
And it's useful! There's nothing like coming back to a dungeon (there's a lot of revisiting in Etrian Odyssey) for another quest and knowing exactly where you're at from your properly graphed maps. You can notate things like secret paths and item wells to your heart's content using the mapping tools, making your journey much easier. Just think of EO's mapping tools as virtual pen and graph paper.
Now, if you were one that tried one of the previous Etrian Odyssey games and decided you didn't like to draw maps, you'll be glad to hear about the new auto-mapping features. Turn these on and you won't have to do much to get your dungeon maps filled out. Walking automatically colors in paths and draws walls. The most you'll have to do is notate key locations, and that's optional. With this feature on, you won't have to stress out about getting your maps drawn. But I still say that there's fun to be had with drawing your own.
Etrian Odyssey Untold also adds in a few more tweaks for accessibility's sake. Floor Jumping lets you revisit stairways you've previously used, saving you from a lot of backtracking after returning to town. Once in the dungeon, simply touch the stairway you'd like to be warped to.
Untold earns high marks in the presentation department. The character and enemy artwork are outstanding, looking a fair bit better than EOIV. Get ready for some of the prettiest bad guys you've ever seen. The previously mentioned fully animated cutscenes, quality localization, and voiced dialogue all go toward making this game one of the best looking 3DS titles from Atlus, right up there with Shin Megami Tensei IV.
Yuzo Koshiro, one of the best composers in the business, is back for Untold. He brings back the pretty tunes, with a move away from EOIV's jazz-tinged tunes and more toward delicate, emotional pieces. These are beautiful songs that stand on their own outside the game -- a treat for the ears. And if you don't dig his new work for Untold, feel free to switch the score to the original Etrian Odyssey music.
I like Etrian Odyssey so much that I've been trying to get JRPG fans into this franchise for years. Obviously, for dungeon crawler fans it's a perfect fit. Those that like a hardcore challenge are also easy to rope in. For everyone else, EO has always been a hard sell. I try to tell them that the mapping, planning, and careful treading through dungeons is incredibly rewarding in the end. I try to tell them that they'll be drawn in very quickly after trying it out. I remind them that RPGs used to be made this way.
It has become easier over the years. Etrian Odyssey IV made some pretty big steps toward accessibility, which helped. I think that Etrian Odyssey Untold is even better for bringing new players in. It's a remake of the first game, it tweaks and improves what works, removes what doesn't, and adds features to make play feel less like a grind.
Again, this game may not have the most interesting story, but it's charming enough to make up for that. It also didn't have the impact that Etrian Odyssey IV did for me, as the battles don't seen as deep. But Untold beats all the others out for presentation and accessibility, which counts for a lot.
Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl is a deep and hugely rewarding 3DS RPG that I'm more than happy to recommend.