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19th May 2020 | 432 views
Game: Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight
Genre: Role Play.
With the passage of time, videogames became more and more complex: Bigger levels, more deep systems, intricate storylines, better and easier to use tools… This is something desirable for the most part, searching for the advancement of the media allows us to create new experiences that weren’t possible before. However, all of this constant evolution can make the player take things for granted, and thus going back to the ways of the past becomes something many people look for. Not only retro gaming has been a growing side of the industry in recent years, but retro throwbacks and retooling of old school ideas are abound. And sometimes, the removal of a given for granted mechanic can actually create a lot of new opportunities. This is the case with the Etrian Odyssey series. I remember discovering the first title back in the DS day by pure chance, and falling in love with the premise. A dungeon-crawler RPG where you are the one who needs to explore the levels, manually crafting the maps of each dungeon. While exploration has been very heavily emphasized in recent years, with rogue-likes such as the Mystery Dungeon or The Binding of Isaac series focusing on randomized maps that need exploring every time, or JRPGs that create very detailed and intricate but easy to explore dungeons like the Persona series, the main drive of every Etrian Odyssey game focuses on building your knowledge of the lairs by exploring, crafting your own maps and keeping tags on the many dangers and resources on each level. I find the mere act of drawing my own map really satisfying, it really gives each visit to the levels its own reward by advancing further and further into the mazes. DS and 3DS saw many iterations of this franchise, including a spinoff series based on the aforementioned Mystery Dungeon mechanics (as well as the Persona Q crossover), and a lineup of remakes of the DS originals, the Etrian Odyssey Untold games, which add a more complex storyline and many improvements to the original games. Of these, the latest as of the time of this article is Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is a dungeon-crawler JRPG made and published by Atlus for the Nintendo 3DS and released between 2014 and 2016 depending on the region. It’s also a remake of the DS title Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard, released back in 2008. The plot of the game is simple. You and your party of adventurers must explore the ancient temple Ginnungagap to fulfill a ritual that must be performed every century. However, the temple is in disrepair, and you’ll need to explore a labyrinth to unlock more and more of the temple, all the while discovering its dark history and how can it mean the end of the world. The story in itself is admittedly generic, although that was inevitable in a way, since it has to offer the two modes of gameplay a chance to shine on their own without really overstepping each other. Etrian games usually have a very basic story, with the characters of your party never really having a personality other than the occasional dialogue choice. The story is enforced through the supporting cast and the twists and turns they come across while exploring. The Untold remakes, gives you the option for an actual story mode, which makes a lot of emphasis on expanding the story and the world, and as such, the characters are not just blank slates anymore, they are proper individuals with their backstories, likes and wants. As a side effect, however, this mode limits the amount of adventurers you can have access to. Both modes have their merits and problems, though I feel neither one could be expanded too much without making it the superior experience, and as such, it’s left to the player to choose which aspects of the game is going to prioritize. The story mode will offer you a more complex campaign and will go deeper into the inner workings of the world, plus you’ll have access to certain abilities and powers not found in the classic mode. However, the lack of character choice will limit your enjoyment of your playthrough if you like to experience each and every class (you can change some of the character’s classes, but the game is built to accommodate their original classes). The classic mode will allow you to access to the myriad of different classes the game has to offer, as well as allow you to recruit dozens of different adventurers. It also allows you to create your own story of sorts, which works well enough on its own since it reinforces the “make your own adventure” feel of the game. This has the drawback of cutting down in story, as it has to adapt to the lack of written characters. No mode is completely perfect, so it’s the player’s prerogative to choose one of them.
The gameplay itself is pretty much identical in both modes, with a couple of differences here and there. You start creating your guild and going around the town of High Lagaard, your base of operations, and from there you can explore the labyrinths and the town. The labyrinth exploration will be the most substantial part of the gameplay, along with the combat. Exploration centers around going through a series of corridors, finding resources, enemies and the occasional trap. It also forces you to use the lower screen of the 3DS to craft your own maps, drawing the corridors and marking the important spots appropriately. This aspect of the game is what makes the Etrian games great in my eyes, and it’s probably one of the most clever takes on the touchscreen any DS-3DS game has ever had. On the upper screen you can see your movements throughout the maze, and it also allows you to move the camera around so that you can map each room without wasting valuable steps. Like most JRPGs, Etrian Odyssey games have a random enemy encounter mechanic, but in here you’re allowed to notice the enemy getting closer and closer, which can allow you to prepare before the fight. There’s also another of the more iconic elements of the series, the FOEs. Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens are basically mini-bosses that roam around certain parts of the labyrinth. They are considerably stronger than your party, so it’s best to avoid them until you’ve grinded a lot of levels above theirs. Many levels will also give you the chance of setting up traps against them, like making them fall into pits or getting blown up by other FOEs, so many of this rooms become puzzles you need to overcome without getting into combat with those monsters. That’s important, since many of this enemies react differently to your presence. For the most part, once they see you they will follow you around, but some will attack at a distance, or jump across obstacles to get you, or just ignore you while following their predetermined path, only really engaging you if you meet them in combat. Etrian games also have an aspect of resource management to them, both in terms of items and loot taken from the monsters and in terms of HP/MP management. Enemies will drop certain elements when they are defeated, from materials to sell and craft newer gear, to ingredients to use in the cooking mechanic (the cooking aspect of the game is a ton of fun, and can allow you to rack enough money if selling materials is not enough to afford the more expensive gear), to grimmoires, which allows you to add certain abilities to your characters, covering their weaknesses or enhancing their strenghts. Once your inventory is full, you go back to the town and sell it all, which will give you money and the option to buy better gear, which will allow you to explore further into the labyrinth, which will allow you to find stronger enemies with better loot, and so it creates a very satisfying loop. The combat works on a very similar fashion to other JRPGs. Turn-based combat, your units are organized in two lines, the front line having more reach but being more exposed and the back line being more protected but having less damage potential. Knowing this, organizing your 5 man team should be self-explanatory: support and archers in the back, attackers on the front. In general the combat can become quite repetitive, especially if you are trying to explore every nook and cranny of the floor, but you keep finding enemies, though there are ways to decrease the enemy encounter rate. Leveling up will allow you to unlock new abilities, both for combat and for exploring. The survivalist’s “Owl-Eye” is particularly useful, since it will mark on your map points of interest before actually reaching them (it won’t tell you what they are, it just tells you that there’s something there worth investigating), very useful for finding details you may overlook at first.
Each class has its strengths, weaknesses and unique abilities. There are fifteen classes in the game in total, though after the re-worked balance from the original, some of them are considerably better than others. The Fafnir class is unique to the story mode, and can use its special power to transform into a beast, which can deal massive damage for a couple of turns, while also boosting all of his stats while he stays in fafnir mode. The War Mage in particular seems quite overpowered (even if it’s quite lackluster in combat), because it combines the best parts of the medic, the hexer and possibly the alchemist if you give it the proper grimmoires. On the other hand, the trouvador and the sovereign are pretty much the same class, with only minor differences in the way their buffs affect the party. Medics are also less important in this game, since so many other classes can take healing abilities as well (hell, sovereign buffs heal as a side-effect). Alchemist are also less important, since other units can dish out as much damage as them once they get the appropriate buffs. Grimmoires in general can make some units quite irrelevant, though actually finding the abilities you want is completely random, so it’s going to take a long time until you really minmax your party.
Outside of the labyrinth, you can make a number of activities, though not that much. The most important of this is the tavern, which gives you side-quests, though you can’t accept more than five at the same time. This is the best method of leveling up in the game, since it keeps you searching for enemies and treasures while also rewarding you handsomely with experience after you complete the missions. I wish the game had more side-quests like that, though, since there’s only a limited number of those, and at certain points the game can be quite grindy. It also has the cooking mini-game, which allows you to take ingredients from gathering and fallen enemies and turn them into dishes, which you can sell for quite the pretty penny if the conditions are right. You can also invest in the city with this money, which allows you to make the crowds wanting your food even bigger (with the extra profits that entails) and attracts more people willing to trade grimmoires with you. There’s also the inn, which heals you for a fee. This is important, since every time you use it, the inn’s prices go up, so if you’re careless during the early levels, healing yourself may become too expensive. As such, it’s important to find the healing points in the labyrinth, which spawn daily and can heal HP and MP. Also, develop revival skills as soon as possible, as to not depend of revival items too much. This, once again, incentivizes exploration, since you really want to wait for the bosses or emergencies to use the inn, and keep the infield healing for regular exploration.
The replay value is quite low, sadly. While it does have a pretty decent post game, replay value in itself suffers because you'll be retreading the same maps and labyrinths in a game based on exploring the unknown.
The presentation is quite good. In line with the rest of the Etrian games, Etrian Odyssey II Untold has a very animesque style combined with 3D environments, though this are limited by the 3DS capabilities. The colour palette is quite good, and makes every strata unique. The music is also a great highlight of the title, elevating the title and alleviating some of the more monotonous parts of the game.
You may have notice that I’ve been talking about general Etrian Odyssey elements more than those of Etrian Odyssey II Untold in particular, and that’s no accident. For better or worse, the Etrian formula changes very little from title to title, which makes for a difficult discussion of the game in general, since it shares so much in the way of looks and mechanics with its predecessors and its successors. This can admittedly cause many players to feel that playing one Etrian game you’ve played them all, though if you enjoy the game look the series offers you won’t see that as a bad thing.
And I suppose that’s what can be said of Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight. The game is an enjoyable JRPG with a strong gameplay loop and mechanics that suffers from a repetitive combat and lack of innovation from the base formula. I do wish the series continues forward on modern consoles, but with the Switch abandoning the dualscreen setup in favor of a single screen, I am worried about the way it’s going to take.