Let's get one thing straight: I didn't love Etrian Odyssey from the start. I thought the battle visuals were too static and any animated effects too rare. I wasn't even attached to the first five silent characters I had just created at first. Even the robust skill allocation system and the wonderful option of charting my exploration felt like an excuse for the game's assumed lack of plot. Pick any minor detail and I probably would have scrutinized it just because I had a slow start. Also, that inn keeper got on my nerves.
My initial skepticism probably would have impeded any further progress had I not already spent several hours on both character creation and cartography of the first floor. Obviously I had to adjust to the style of gameplay (which I would later applaud) by that point, otherwise that time would go to waste. I also didn't notice that I was spending more time simply considering which abilities my preciously few skill points would be placed, foreshadowing an oncoming obsession with proper point placement. So on the topic of points
, at what point did I finally embrace this game for what it was? You would assume that very turning point stood out and shook the reins of what I had believed to be an ideal RPG. But it didn't. It is simply the turnover that would encompass my experience with Etrian Odyssey as a whole, and thankfully that moment repeats itself several times to both my pleasure and ire.
When I play RPGs, I follow the paranoid route of over-leveling to avoid a dreaded "Game Over" screen. This is particularly easy with those of the Japanese variety. Once I can eliminate a group of enemies in a given area without a scratch, I safely move on to the next. What I wasn't expecting was that this method of play was going to fail me so soon after I had begun. Etrian Odyssey (hereafter shortened to EO) also has a boss system where bosses, charmingly named F.O.E.s (Foedus Obrepit Errabundus), show up on your map as an arrow similar to yourself. They may move for every step or battle-turn you take. The F.O.E.s are also ranked by colour: Warning-I'm-Orange, Alarmingly-Red, and my favourite, You-Are-Soon-To-Be-Significantly-Depressed-Black.
So our scenario is set: my warrior team is in the process of endangering a species of deer on the second floor as I descend to the third, whereupon I meet my first red F.O.E. One move forward and its navigating icon also turns red. In video games, where action is involved, I tend to associate the colour red with terror. However in RPGs, the colour red signifies an enemy's palette change. Likewise I didn't give the red ball too much thought until I finally stepped into it and action game theory began to apply. Now I didn't lose and get my first game over, but I wasn't expecting the difficulty of that fight to be high given my current level. Nor did I expect to have only two of my five characters left "alive" without a warp wire to take me back to town. Also, even at this point in the game it isn't easy to gather 2000en to revive dead characters (500en each; 2000en as my survivalist died on the way back), especially
with only an alchemist on call.
Due to this setback I couldn't play the game with my former cocky mindset. Of course I would over-level, only this time I felt I really needed to so as to avoid surprises
. A game over I can handle as it's just a matter of pride, but being scared of my surroundings in an RPG is a feeling I was not used to. High levels weren't enough as I now had to move around difficult F.O.E.s and spend even more time reconsidering my skill sets. This was the point where I realized that all the simplicity that had annoyed me earlier was just a facade meant to lure me into a false sense of security. Where I thought I was being given a cake walk I was given a prompt fist to the face.
That's not to say that encounter ruined my play through EO making it an experience of frustration alone. Yet due to that very frustration I could actually feel a sense of accomplishment when I reached a goal or beat any given boss encounter. Before I could begin to think there was no challenge left, a new stratum would open up where I would happily have trouble handling random encounters. If I were to personify Etrian Odyssey and put it in a relationship with myself, EO would be my loyal loving husband who routinely beats me in a drunken rage. And I, being the 1950's housewife, would just work harder so EO will still love me and give me presents. Suffice to say I am an in-game masochist, and I'm glad that at least one modern RPG isn't going to hold my hand through it.