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Etrian Odyssey Untold review: Building a better dungeon


Etrian Odyssey was a revelation upon its initial release in 2007, scratching a dungeon-crawling itch that many RPG fans never knew they had. While the Wizardry series and other first-person dungeon crawlers are popular among a dedicated set of players, some are put off by their convoluted mechanics and high difficulty. Etrian Odyssey removed many barriers to the genre, presenting an accessible quest that won fans with refined gameplay, tricky dungeon layouts, and abundant character customization options.

Since then, the Etrian Odyssey series has piled new layers of complexity on top of the original structure, ensuring a satisfying sense of progression for series veterans, but also alienating newcomers. Even the most recent sequel, Etrian Odyssey 4, posed a steep challenge for new players; while Casual mode dropped the game's difficulty, its underlying mechanics were obtuse to a first-timer.

With Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, Atlus returns to the original Etrian Odyssey, paring down its mechanics and crafting a quest focused on accessibility. Atlus further enhances the experience with a new Story mode and long-overdue gameplay additions that make dungeon-diving easier than ever. The result is both an ideal starting point for beginners and a significant improvement over the original game, though series veterans may balk at the idea of returning to Etria so soon after the release of the latest sequel.

Gallery: Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl | 8 Photos

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is a 3DS remake of 2007's Etrian Odyssey that introduces several major changes. The original Etrian Odyssey kicked off with players building a party from scratch, choosing classes and assigning skill points among a group of silent protagonists. Etrian Odyssey offered little in the way of narrative or dialogue outside of town sequences, instead focusing squarely on dungeon exploration, combat, and map-making via the DS's touch screen.

In Etrian Odyssey Untold's new Story mode, players are assigned a predefined party at the outset, establishing a character-driven story structure. The playable cast includes the hard-drinking protector Raquna, dimwitted pyromaniac Arthur, and the unflappable medic Simon. Raquna is my personal favorite; she's canonically Canadian, and her mannerisms clash marvelously with the game's fantasy setting, keeping its tone light throughout.

Your preset party members in Story mode are little more than anime archetypes, but their conversations add context to the story line. Untold's dialogue is tightly edited, and party interactions are infrequent and welcome. Your teammates prove especially useful during dungeon crawls – they alert you to the presence of enemies, and they call out nearby hidden passages, meaning that you'll spend less time strafing the forest walls in search of shortcuts.

After completing a stratum within Story mode's labyrinth, your party travels to Gladsheim, an all-new area exclusive to Untold. Here, you'll awaken your party's fifth member from her 1,000-year slumber and learn new details about Etria's history. Contrasting the main labyrinth, the Gladsheim areas focus on stealth and switch-based puzzle-solving, giving the quest some needed variety. New areas within Gladsheim open up after completing each labyrinth stratum, and you can choose to pursue either the labyrinth itself or the Gladsheim ruins at any point during your journey, giving Untold an interesting dual-narrative element.

Story enhancements aside, Etrian Odyssey's core structure is largely untouched. As in the original, dungeon treks are punctuated by encounters with "FOEs," minibosses that wander specific areas. Unlike regular enemy encounters, FOEs are visible during your exploration, and can often be avoided through stealth and careful planning. Fighting these enemies in the original Etrian Odyssey without ample preparation usually meant certain death, but I had a much easier time dealing with the FOEs in Untold. Story mode's default party is balanced to take on the majority of the game's challenges, and many FOEs went down with minimal grinding beforehand.

Untold's default difficulty is less challenging overall than the original Etrian Odyssey. Untold allows players to retry after a defeat in battle, which removes a lot of the tension and risk from dungeon exploration. Expert mode gives no such lenience, and is every bit as brutal as the original game. Untold also offers an optional Picnic mode, which drastically reduces difficulty and makes combat trivially easy. I played on Picnic mode starting in the fourth stratum, and while I questioned its lack of difficulty at first, I began to appreciate it for allowing me to focus less on combat and more on mapping out the more complex areas of the labyrinth.

Etrian Odyssey Untold review Building a better dungeon
A handful of navigation improvements add convenience to your dungeon trips. If cartography isn't your thing, you can enable automapping, which automatically draws nearby dungeon walls on the 3DS's touchscreen. The most welcome new addition is the Floor Jump feature, which allows players to instantly skip to the end of each dungeon floor after mapping out the majority of its layout. Floor Skip removes a ton of tedium from the game, as players no longer need to spend several minutes retracing their steps after every return trip to the labyrinth. This new feature also makes the game more satisfying to play in short bursts; it's easier to start adventures and conclude them quickly, making Untold fit for portable play in a way that earlier Etrian Odyssey games weren't.

Untold refines Etrian Odyssey's character customization features, and now allows class modification via its Grimoire system. During battle, monsters have a chance to drop Grimoire stones, which are imbued with special abilities and stat boosts. These stones can be collected, combined, and equipped by your party members afterward, giving them abilities they wouldn't normally learn through leveling up.

Thanks to Grimoire stones, your support characters are no longer stuck with pitiful weapons that suffer from back-row damage penalties. During my quest, I forged a pair of Grimoire stones for my back-row characters that allowed them to equip guns, which are normally only usable by the Gunner class. Having lost many Medics and Alchemists to the harsh labyrinths of Etrian Odyssey, I took great pleasure in watching my shotgun-wielding magic users mow down once-troublesome enemies in a single turn.

Etrian Odyssey Untold review Building a better dungeon
While these changes are appealing for series newcomers, veteran explorers who recently plumbed Etrian Odyssey 4's dungeons may find that the return trip through Etria comes up short. Despite its improvements, the original Etrian Odyssey is significantly less complex than its sequels. There are no vehicle-navigated overworld sequences, character skill trees are straightforward and limited, and sub-classes aren't an option. Untold's available classes are less interesting overall than the nuanced types found in Etrian Odyssey III and IV. You can't augment Landsknechts with the supplemental linking abilities from Etrian Odyssey 4's Imperial or Runemaster classes, for instance.

The truly hardcore can opt for Etrian Odyssey Untold's Classic mode, which ditches the predefined characters and enhanced narrative of Story mode for an experience more akin to Wizardry. Classic mode retains the Story mode's remixed floor layouts and mechanical improvements, but allows players to take on the dungeon's challenges with a fully customizable party. The mode effectively captures the spirit of the original Etrian Odyssey, maintaining a player-defined experience and offering little in the way of exposition.

Etrian Odyssey Untold review Building a better dungeon
Despite including two distinct gameplay modes, Untold only gives players one save file to work with, which is a tremendous oversight. Classic mode is so vastly different from Story mode that you'll be tempted to try it out at some point during your quest, if just to take a break from the difficult later levels. To make any progress in Classic mode, however, you'll need to erase your Story mode save. Given that you'll sink many hours into customizing your characters and mapping out dungeons, starting over from scratch is simply not an option, and it discourages a second adventure.

Etrian Odyssey Untold's biggest flaw, however, is the timing of its release. The recent launch of the superior Etrian Odyssey 4 diminishes much of Untold's impact, which is a shame, as it remains an enjoyable nostalgia trip for Etrian Odyssey veterans. Etrian Odyssey Untold's tedium-reducing improvements elevate it above the original game, and for first-timers, it's the best entry point in the series.

This review is based on an eShop download ofEtrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl for 3DS, provided by Atlus.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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