Designer: Kazuya Niinou
Released: May 15, 2007
Platform: Nintendo DS
Etrian Odyssey can best be described as an old school, hardcore, dungeon crawler. The game takes place on a series of floors and each floor is literally a maze that can take hours to get through. Nothing comes quickly in the game; you can spend hours farming for drops from bosses or trying to raise your characters to the next level. With the huge investment in times comes a great sense of reward when you finally do get to the last floor and beat the crap out of the final boss.
The storyline is fairly weak. The plot, initially, can be summed up as “Explore the labyrinth and see what you find!” You’ll spend huge stretches of the game really having no direction other then “Keep going deeper into the labyrinth.” There are a few twists, but don’t go into this thinking you’re going to find a deep and intriguing storyline, it’s just not there.
You begin the game by creating your party of five characters. You can create any party you wish, nothing is preset, though not balancing your party at all will make it nearly impossible to get past the first floor. You first name your character, select how they look (choice of four images), and their class. You’ll want a Medic (healer), Protector (someone to soak up the damage), an Alchemist (mage), and a physical damage dealer (Landsknecht which is a warrior, Survivalist is your ranger class, etc). The fifth party slot is pretty open for whatever other class you choose, and the deeper you go into the labyrinth, the more classes that open up.
To further specialize your characters, you select all of their skills. Two Landsknechts could be totally different from one another, one specializing in single target damage using axes, while the other could specialize in swords and multi-target damage. The range of options is nice, but you’ll soon find that certain skills are completely useless, while others are nearly needed to make the party member viable. The wrong skill build on a character can mean the difference between losing a fight and winning it easily. Also, if you accidentally choose the wrong skill and want to change it, the only way to do that is go to town and talk to an NPC who will reset the character’s skills in exchange for that character losing 10 levels! It’s too big a price to pay (especially considering how long it takes to regain those 10 levels later in the game), and really discourages trying new builds.
Once you’ve decided on your initial team (you can make other characters to experiment later) you’ll head into the labyrinth. The first five levels are the most difficult in the game. Your characters just won’t have the mana/hp to last long, so you’ll be required to take short trips into the dungeon and grind away as much experience as possible before heading back to town to restock.
You’ll also be mapping out the floors as you go, using the touch screen to draw in walls, doors, and other landmarks. I found this feature to be a pretty cool, it was fun creating the maps and I enjoyed it all the way through the game. It’s not an option to not create the maps, either. If you don’t do it, you will get helplessly lost. The floors are designed like mazes, seemingly created to frustrate players. There are warps, one-way short-cuts through walls, one-way moving floors, and any other mechanic you can possibly think of to make it harder to find your way around. I can remember vividly one of the later floors that took many, many hours to get through simply because of one-way shortcuts that, if you choose the wrong one (and there were like 20 choices), warped you back to the beginning of the level.
As you are exploring the different floors you’ll find various treasures, springs to restore your parties health, or, more often then not, a F.O.E. (short for Foedus Obrepit Errabundus…yeah…I don’t know), which are mini bosses scattered throughout the floors. Some floors have no F.O.E.’s but most have one or more. The first F.O.E. I ran across destroyed my party. It was like a deer or something, it didn’t even look evil. Early on the F.O.E.’s can be deadly, but further into the game they aren’t really much of a problem.
Every five floors you’ll face off against a boss. Again, early in the game the bosses are far worse then the later bosses when you’re higher level and have more skills to deal out more damage or buff your party. The first few bosses require you to walk around and grind levels. Even if you walked around and mapped everything on the first five levels, the boss will destroy your party, you need to grind levels (and have a good party with the right skills). I kind of enjoy spending time gaining levels, so I didn’t mind, but again it’s not for everyone.
The item system in the game is interesting, as well. Going along with the theme of “time consuming”, certain equipment can take hours and hours to get. Equipment (and money) is gained by selling items dropped by enemies or collected from resource points within the labyrinth (there are spots to mine, for example). Once the proper amount and combination of items have been sold to the vendor, equipment becomes unlocked and you can buy it. For example, to open up the Rapier sword, you need to turn in one Iron Shell and ten pieces of Light Wood. Once it’s unlocked, you can buy the equipment as many times as you want. There are some exceptions to this, such as when you get an item dropped from a boss; you may only be able to buy the equipment from the store once. If you want to buy the equipment again, you have to wait for the boss to respawn and hope it drops the item again (sometime when you kill a boss it doesn’t drop an item, sometimes they have two drops and you get the wrong one).
Graphically, the game isn’t very exceptional. You move around the labyrinth in first-person view, moving forward one space at a time. Enemy encounters are random (except for F.O.E.’s and bosses, you can see them on the map). Once your party has engaged an enemy, you go into a 2D scene where the battle takes place. You do not see you characters on the screen (you can view your character images in the menu, though), only health and mana bars. The enemy is shown as a single image, with no real animations. Effects are applied to the enemy when they attack, or you attack them, such as their image shaking, or a sword slash across their body. Though it isn’t too impressive, and there is a lot of sprite re-coloring (you fight a purple mole on floors one through five, then orange moles on later levels, for example), the original sprites are well done.
The music in Etrian Odyssey is decent, though after spending hours and hours on one floor, it gets old. Every five floors the music changes as you walk around the labyrinth, and there is different fighting music as you go along. Also, boss battles have different music to spice things up a bit.
Overall I found Etrian Odyssey to be a very enjoyable experience. The game is not for everyone, and if you don’t have a lot of time to invest, it might not be right for you. Everything about the game is time consuming. However, if you have the time to invest, it’s a rewarding experience. The game has an old school feel to it that reminded me of playing RPG’s on the SNES.