This is by far my favorite DS RPG; in fact, it is the truest in name of most RPGs created in years. I was initially interested in the game due to the incredible 2D art used for characters and enemies. Then I noticed that battles were handled in a style similar to Dragon Quest. All of this old-school goodness had me spellbound. The 3D graphics in the forest looked decent in screen shots, but I did not fully appreciate the artistry until I saw the game in motion, complete with ambient sounds - the labyrinth truly came to life. The final bit that convinced me to allow myself to be excited for Etrian Odyssey was the developer diary blog. I loved reading the thoughts of the director and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges of localization. Something that Kazuya Niinou wrote really caught my attention. He posed the question: "When your party stays at the Inn overnight, what do they eat?" This made me realize how much of a misnomer RPG was. In most RPG games, you somewhat control the characters but they have defined personalities and a story that has specific beginning and ending points. There is little to no role playing.
This thought made me really think about fitting names for my party. Certain psychological attributes are associated with each characters' name. Giving the player the ability to name a character and define that character's personality is very powerful. I soon found myself somehow attached to characters who should have been no more than stats. I would debate over the most fitting way to spend their ability points; I thought about how the group dynamic would work. These decisions, which seem minor, really forced me to feel that the world in Etrian Odyssey was a living, breathing world - sometimes relaxing and calm, other times dangerous and tense.
Clan Nihil Front line Mamoru, the protector
Mamoru, named after the Japanese word for protect, was the matron of the group. Through the course of the adventure, she specialized in providing defense for weaker characters and healing. Although a decent fighter, her focus was ensuring that everyone survived. Yusuke, the landsknecht
The center of my front line is Yusuke. Named after Yusuke from YuYu Hakusho, he is all offense. He charges in without thinking and gets by on brawn alone. He'll fight anyone and anything without a single thought of whether or not he can survive. Yusuke mostly uses axes as they do intense damage and that's his goal. Despite his rowdy exterior, Yusuke fights to protect the other members of his team. Everyone will be safe once the enemies are defeated.
Kira, the protector
Kira, named after the character from Gundam SEED, is a protector who focuses on offense. He can cast some healing spells, but his sword work and shield attacks are his main focus. Like Yusuke, Kira is driven to protect his friends and he does so by attacking first. Kira falls somewhere between Yusuke and Mamoru; he's not as tough as Yusuke and cannot protect as well as Mamoru but not for lack of trying. I added Kira to the party later in the game, so I see him as a younger brother who has to work twice as hard to pull his own weight.
The rear line Lacus, the survivalist
Lacus, also named after a Gundam SEED character, is the most pragmatic of the bunch. She operates in a methodical manner and her philosophy is one of balance. The survival of the group is her first priority, but she prefers to avoid combat whenever possible. Lacus' bow skills are top notch as is her special attacks; however, she often provides support to the team by hindering enemies through confusing distractions or the binding of an enemy's limbs.
Genki, the medic
Genki, which is Japanese for health, is the most vulnerable of the bunch, but also the most outgoing. She constantly attends to the party's well-being and often sacrifices her own safety to treat the injured. Genki is that girl in school that goes out of her way to be kind to everyone, never expecting anything in return. This has earned her the trust and friendship of the other team members. (I think I watch too much anime.)
The most striking aspect of Etrian Odyssey is the emotion it invokes - the calmness felt while wandering through the quiet forest, the sense of wondering what will happen next, the excitement of finding a short cut, the thrill of defeating an FOE, the sense of accomplishment as the labyrinth is slowly charted and conquered and a real investment in the player-created characters.