Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight Review (3DS)

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Developer: ATLUS
Publisher: ATLUS USA

Main Review

Review Context: Although I’ve played many RPGs in my lifetime, first-person dungeon crawler RPGs is the one genre that I have managed to somehow avoid. This is my first Etrian Odyssey experience.
Date of Playthrough: July 2015
Disclosure: This review was based off of a review copy provided by ATLUS.

Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight for Nintendo 3DS is a remake of Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard for the Nintendo DS. Fortunately for me, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold was a brand new experience, since I had never played Etrian Odyssey II, or any other Etrian Odyssey game for that matter. How did this first-person dungeon crawling experience treat a new player to the Etrian Odyssey series?

When starting new game, players can choose between story mode or classic mode. Classic mode is just like the original Etrian Odyssey ( I never played), where players can create their entire party, have a guild roster of up to 25 explorers, choose their own classes of each explorer, and even choose the character portraits. I wanted to experience the story first before classic mode in case there were unlockables to carry over in a new game plus. The game also has three difficulty settings; picnic, normal, and expert. I chose to start my story mode playthrough on normal difficulty.

When you start story mode, you (The Fafnir Knight) are sent with Princess Arianna of Caledonia to explore the Yggdrasil Labyrinth. Princess Arianna soon reveals that she needs to perform a ritual, setting up the rest of the story for the game. Throughout the story you meet more explorers to join your party/guild, but it never exceeds a constant five total members. Due to the interesting characters, it took quite a while for me to start feeling like I was character restricted and wanted a change. Although the story of the Fafnir Knight features a mish mash of different story tropes I’ve seen or experienced before in games, the interesting and sometimes funny character dialogue helped me look past that. One issue I have with the story mode is the sporadic character voice acting that rotates between no voice acting at all, one word of a sentence voice acted, or a complete response voice acted. Something more consistent would be a better experience. The story ending made sense, and I was really moved by the usage of both Nintendo 3DS screens during the ending credits. This game does have a lot of dialogue that could be trimmed down; midway through the game dialogue is forced at the Inn when resting, which I did not care for during the times when all I wanted to do was make a quick stop to heal, only to be met with a long string of dialogue.

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During the course of playing through Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold, various modes will unlock like cooking (cafe), town development, and the ability to use grimoire stones on characters. The cooking in Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold  is a feature that caught me by surprise in a good way. Once the cafe is unlocked players can mix ingredients that were found while exploring the Yggdrasil labyrinth to create different foods from recipes found throughout the game. The recipes don’t come with an exact explicit guideline of what ingredients to use because that’s up to the player to figure out in the cafe’s “Develop Dishes” mode. However, the way it’s designed is player friendly, giving players a road map of a selection of ingredients to choose from, with a little description of what the food has to give a hint of what to try mixing. Unlike other games you may have experienced with ingredient mixing mechanics, this game tells you if you even get one ingredient right. This helps lessen the frustration in cooking mode, making it a more enjoyable experience. Once a food is initially ‘developed’ (discovered) it will immediately enhance (fortify) your character with the given effect until you make another food, unless you are dealing with a rare food. As a new player to the Etrian Odyssey series I found the cooking to be very user friendly.

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A new feature included in Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold is advertising within the town development mode. In this mode players can pay money to construct parts of the town, which unlocks access to different kinds of people within the town, which can be targeted with an advertising campaign to sell food from the cafe. The various parts of town that need to be unlocked and upgraded with money will have descriptions of types of food the people within those districts like. The player has to then target certain districts with specific types of foods in an ad campaign in order to make sales. If you advertise the wrong food to a district not interested in that food then expect no sales at all! I found town development and advertising to be a low priority in the beginning because I would prioritize spending currency on item upgrades and resting at the inn over town development and advertising, leaving not much currency left (at least in the beginning). My big issue with advertising campaigns is that it takes a bit of time for an ad campaign to end, and players can only run one campaign at a time (Note: I did not max my town development yet, so it is conceivably possible that the max number of campaigns is higher than one).

Grimoire stones are another cool feature in Etrian Odyssey. These are stones that are randomly acquired in battle that have character or enemy abilities attached to them with a level. Every character can attach more than one grimoire stone (number of grimoire stones depending on character level), thereby enhancing the character and adding a great deal of customization. Each grimoire stone can be stacked onto a character’s existing ability. For example, a character with level 10 Natural Instinct through the skill tree can attach a lvl 10 Natural Instinct grimoire stone, giving the character a lvl 20 Natural Instinct. The limitation is a character can’t have more than one of the same grimoire stone ability. The other cool thing about grimoire stones is that a character can gain weapon proficiency with grimoires. For example, a staff character can attach a sword grimoire stone and be allowed to use swords. The only catch is that the given weapon will still require a given stat in order to be effective. Characters can also use grimoire stones to give access to abilities of other classes. The other cool thing about grimoire stones is they can have random additional effects, like for example, higher hp, higher tp, elemental damage, and the list goes randomly on…This new random effect addition to grimoire stones in the Etrian Odyssey series adds an even greater level of customization to an already greatly customizable grimoire system. During your playthrough, the ability to recycle grimoire stones will become available, which allows you to select grimoire stones you have no desire to use, to send for a random trade back with the Cafe NPC, in which the NPC takes a few days to try to make a random trade for you. Multiple grimoire stones can be selected or just one.

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Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold does have some level of multiplayer functionality; players can create their own guild cards to share through a QR code or StreetPass, who can then trade for grimoire stones that are attached to the guild card they receive. I tried the QR Code system out with no problem; all players have to do is use their 3DS camera to line up the QR code and voila! Players can either grimoire trade with randomly generated characters within the game that refresh, or with guild cards acquired through multiplayer. The grimoire trading system doesn’t come without its faults; the top screen of the 3DS has a list of all your grimoire stones, while the bottom 3DS screen has a scale that measures the trade offer until the sides are even. Once the scale is even the trade can be accepted. The problem with the grimoire trade system UI is that there is no side-by-side view of all the grimoires being offered in a trade like you would see in a sports game, which may cause a player to accidentally trade away a grimoire stone due to a misclick in the selection process.

As a new player to the series, the cartography element of the game was something that I found myself attracted to and was really looking forward to try. During my playthrough I found myself using large chunks of time just making sure my cartography skills were good enough to finish a map to access fast travel. However, I did find that the cartography allure started to fade away in favor of moving through the game just a little bit quicker, so I activated automapping. Although automapping draws walls automatically, the actual icons still need to be dragged and dropped onto the map. One of the cool things about cartography in Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold is the selection of icons to use. For example, there is a cool treasure chest icon that can be used for chests that is shown as an open chest once that chest has been opened. When I carried over my maps from story mode into classic mode, all those previously opened chests were now marked closed. There are other icons that were obviously designed for specific purposes and will change color/look when used a certain way, but it is generally up to the player to come up with a system of their own.

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My experience as a new player started on normal difficulty in story mode, but halfway through I switched to picnic mode due to a boss that I could not defeat because RNG (Random Number Generation) was required to be successful, and it was not on my side for the countless number of attempts I made. I also made the rookie mistake of not building characters the best way to take advantage of the game’s head/arm/legs bind mechanics. As a fan of RPGs. I found the character building element of allocating skill points to be very fun and sometimes overwhelming, due to the amount of choices and directions to go with each character. While exploring the Yggdrasil labrynth, players will see various different FOEs (tough mini-bosses) that are throughout the various maps. Each stratum features a different set of FOEs, and they move or attack in patterns that a player has to figure out in order to avoid and advance through the map. FOEs are beatable, but probably not in your initial encounter with them. I found this particular puzzle element of figuring out enemy patterns in movement to be refreshing, enjoyable, and especially satisfying when finally figuring out how to pass a tough FOE unscathed. The game’s battle system did not feel overbearing to me because I have played plenty of RPGs before, but there are a lot of menus to manage in a battle, especially against bosses. Sometimes half the battle is spent switching menus to check buffs or debuffs on a given target, making the game feel very micro-intensive.

The music in Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold is very good, but can be annoying and repetitive if you spend too much time in any particular stratum. The best music in the game is in boss fights and using force skills, which sounds like metal. One of the cool features in this game is that the BGM (BackGround Music) style can be changed back to the old BGM music of Etrian Odyssey II. I found both the current and old BGM styles enjoyable. The controls are very easy, relying mostly on the d-pad, rather than the analog stick of the 3DS. The act of dragging and dropping icons on the map with the stylus becomes second nature after some experience, making it a less cumbersome process by the time you reach the end. From a graphics point of view, I found a few of the stratums to be very delightful and pleasing.

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After finishing story mode on picnic difficulty, I had clocked in over sixty hours of play, that would most likely be reduced if I was an Etrian Odyssey veteran, but would probably even out in the end, due to the picnic mode difficulty being very easy, as a means to fly through the story mode to get to classic. There are a lot of side quests in the game, but I only tackled a small percentage of them, because a lot of them required backtracking when I wanted to move forward. I also thought a lot of the weapon item rewards for the side quests seemed too weak or out of date, as I would always upgrade my equipment in the shop as soon as I could. After finishing story mode, I started a new game plus in classic mode, which allowed me to choose whatever I wanted to carry over; maps, items, money, grimoires, party members, or nothing at all (even more choices than that). All of that is up to the player. I was disappointed to find out that the Fafnir class can’t be unlocked in classic mode, unless the party characters are carried over from story mode. I am now winding my way through classic mode with classes of my own choosing, and I am just totally enjoying this experience of creating a party from scratch. What is also nice about character building in Etrian Odyssey is the game’s generosity in allowing players to respec their abilities. Although I did make a lot of rookie mistakes in building my story mode characters, I highly recommend choosing story mode first for new players to get the hang of the game, because it was a great learning experience for me.

Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is a first-person dungeon crawling experience that should not be overlooked by any RPG character building fan, due to the endless replay value of classic mode and a great customizable experience.

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