Title: Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl
System(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Atlus (Atlus)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Tobacco Reference, Use of Alcohol
Atlus has always been one of those companies I can rely on for releasing smaller, niche titles that stray from the general consensus of what gamers want. Previous games released this year, such as Zeno Clash II and Dragon’s Crown, are the types that triple-A companies are afraid to touch in their constant attempts to “appeal to a wider audience” (i.e. further homogenize games ad infinitum). Perhaps no series in Atlus’ extensive lineup conveys this “rebel spirit” more than Etrian Odyssey.
For those unaware, the Etrian Odyssey games are a series of DS/3DS titles that feature hardcore dungeon-crawling mechanics and the ability to create and customize your characters for use in traditional JRPG battles. Each title in the series has been met with critical acclaim and has managed to sate the cravings of dungeon-crawling fans in both Japan and the west. After four separate entries, the series has now gone back to its roots with the pseudo-remake of the original game, entitled Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl .
While I’ve been aware of the Etrian Odyssey games for a while now, I’ve never actually played one of them before. They’ve always caught my attention with their anime-style graphics, which I’m admittedly a sucker for. I usually play JRPGs for the storyline and characters, and the Etrian Odyssey games have always focused on creating your own narrative with characters of your own design: something I always thought was unique, but nonetheless didn’t appeal to me enough to actually sit down and play one of them.
My interest in the series spiked quite dramatically when I first got wind of the newest addition to the series, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, which features an all-new story mode: a first for the series. Once I cut my teeth on the punishingly-difficult dungeon-crawler and had an unfortunate loss of data due to a poor design choice, I soon learned that Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl may be a little too hardcore for its own good.
The untold story of Etrian Odyssey Untold
Near the town of Etria, there is a mysterious ruin from long ago, buried deep within the earth. Dubbed the “Yggdrasil Labyrinth”, this ruin has attracted the attention of explorers and adventurers from far and wide, all eager to uncover its mysteries and obtain everlasting fame and glory. The Radha, leaders of the town of Etria, realized the importance of the resources that can be found within the labyrinth and as such have contracted explorers to map the many floors and areas of the ruin, observe and catalogue the local wildlife, and obtain valuable resources vital to the town’s survival. In exchange, the Radha and the town of Etria as a whole aid these adventurers with their exploration efforts.
After a series of strange and unexplained earthquakes emanating from deep within the labyrinth, the Radha send word to a tribe of master warriors called the Highlanders asking them to send one of their own to investigate the strange rumblings; they choose to send you. Aside from the labyrinth’s sudden seismic activity, there is a newly discovered ruin called Gladsheim that the Radha wish investigate and learn more about. During your trek through the bizarre halls of Gladsheim, you come across a large piece of machinery that houses a sleeping girl. Just as the girl awakens, three other people arrive pursued by a large monster and without hesitation you and the strange girl rush to their aid.
After a difficult battle, you become acquainted with your new found allies: the amnesiatic gun-slinger, Frederica; the genius researcher and medic, Simon; the shield wielding protector and foreign noble, Raquna; and the young and eager alchemist, Arthur. Together you and your new found companions must work together to uncover the mysteries of the Yggdrasil Labyrinth and Gladsheim, as well as recover Frederica’s lost memory.
A niche game for a niche audience
The previously discussed story only applies to one of the two gameplay modes available in Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl: story mode. As previously mentioned, story mode marks the first time in the history of the series where there is a set narrative to follow. Previous entries had townsfolk and other characters as well as a general setting, but there really wasn’t a narrative beyond that which involved further exploration of dungeons. What’s interesting about this title is that rather than creating an entirely new setting in which to craft a story, Atlus has opted to interlay a narrative within the framework of the first Etrian Odyssey game and remake the title in the process. At first I was worried that either the gameplay or the story would take a hit in quality as the developers tried to weave the two together, but I’m happy to report that Atlus has managed to gracefully pull off this incredible feat.
The writing featured in Etrian Odyssey Untold’s story mode is top notch and polished to a glimmering sheen. Each line of dialogue is eloquently written, displaying an immense talent for the written word that manages to exude the personality and subtleties of each character as they speak. The characters themselves are quite unique, being several steps above the typical archetypes present in most JRPGs and the way in which they interact with one another is believable, interesting, and occasionally amusing. In fact, the writing and character development is so wonderfully crafted that you’d be forgiven for mistaking certain scenes with a best-selling fantasy novel. There is an unfortunate downside to this style of writing though, which is the gameplay and story are largely separate entities in that neither one does much to strengthen the other. However, seeing as the gameplay demands so much of your attention I don’t really see a way around this, so the separation of the gameplay and story is probably for the best.
Like previous titles in the series, Etrian Odyssey Untold features anime-styled characters that occupy a three dimensional world. The actual gameplay sections differ greatly from the character portraits and backdrops of the town of Etria. Since the character portraits and town environments are two dimensional, the 3D functionality of the 3DS seems relatively tacked on and it seems as though you are looking at a series of cardboard cutouts from various distances away. Though I prefer to play the game with the 3D turned off—like most other 3DS games—I actually think this give the game a neat style, as if the cutscenes and the town of Etria take place in a diorama of sorts. The 3D does play a bigger role as you move about the labyrinth, as you get a sense of depth, but overall the 3D is almost certainly present only because Nintendo has dictated it must be. Besides, I think the game looks better in 2D as you are able to more clearly see the intricate details of the unique character and enemy designs.
As previously stated, Etrian Odyssey Untold is both a remake of the original Etrian Odyssey as well as a new game in the series. The graphics have been given a major upgrade and quite a few lines of dialogue are now voiced, usually with the character speaking only the first few words of a sentence or a phrase that leads to the textual dialogue. Enemies are no longer static sprites that jiggle a bit when attacking or being hit, but are now fully animated 3D models. Skill points are still obtained by leveling up, but are now applied to a much more diverse skill tree that unlocks various abilities and perks rather than simply upgrading your stats individually like in the original. The music has been remastered as well but fans of the first game can rest easy knowing that you have the option of switching between the original and remastered versions at any time.
When you first start Etrian Odyssey Untold you are given a choice between two modes of gameplay; story mode or classic mode. Story mode has you following the narrative described above, while classic mode is more or less a straight-up remake of the original Etrian Odyssey with the aforementioned graphical and auditory upgrades included, as well as the addition of new mechanics and skill trees. When I first discovered that the game featured two separate styles of gameplay, I was pretty excited; I’ve often wished to playthrough a game whose story I was familiar with using my own characters, so the thought of being able to do just that was pretty tempting. However, this turned out to be more of a frustration than a welcome endeavor because of an oversight on the part of the developer.
During one play session in which I was near the end of story mode, I decided to take a break and check out classic mode. So I went to the title screen, started a new game and designed my own guild to play with; I ended up playing until my battery died—about four or five hours—saving each time I went back to town. The next day I came back to the game and decided to continue story mode, only to discover there was no option to choose which save to load and the only save I could access was the one in classic mode I had started the day prior. Figuring there must be some mistake, I perused the options on the title screen as well as in game, but to no avail. I then checked the manual only to discover the somewhat vague statement: “you cannot switch between story and classic mode”. So, did I just overwrite my nearly completed playthrough of story mode that I had invested almost 35 hours into? Why yes, yes I did. Never did I receive a warning that switching between the two modes would delete the save of the other; not when I started a new game, not when I went to save the new mode for the first time. Not once: nothing but a vague sentence in a manual that 95% of players won’t even open. Atlus, I love you guys, but seriously? For the love of Odin Sphere how could you make such an oversight? If this was an intentional design choice fine, but at least give the player a warning before you go ahead and overwrite their data.
Save issues aside, Etrian Odyssey Untold brings a lot to the table, leading me to the biggest difference between this title and its predecessors: grimoire stones. These stones are special items that grant various perks and abilities to your characters. Some grimoire stones allow a character to use attacks that could previously only be used by an enemy, while others grant stat bonuses as well as allowing your characters to use abilities and equipment that are not normally unusable by them; this makes your party extremely customizable. For example, say you have a character who, by default, uses swords, but you want them to use guns; simply equip them with a grimoire that grants them gun mastery and viola. You also have the ability to synthesize grimoire stones to make your own. Each stone you create requires the use of three other stones. The task of synthesis takes some getting used to, and isn’t explained very well in the game, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes a very worthwhile endeavor as it allows you to craft very powerful grimoires and supercharge your party.
Fans of the series will be relieved to know that Etrian Odyssey Untold still features the hardcore, borderline-masochistic gameplay the series is known for. Having to draw your own map and plan your steps carefully to avoid the stronger monsters that move about are still staples of the game: as is the crushingly-difficult battle sequences. There is the option of starting the game with the difficulty set at “picnic” if you merely wish to play for the story, or just aren’t any good at these types of games; you can also set the map to draw itself if you don’t like having to create your own. Still, this is very much a title that is aimed at a small niche of hardcore dungeon-crawlers that like the masochistic nature of the game; it reminds me of Demon/Dark Souls in this respect. The downside of this is that at times Etrian Odyssey Untold can become quite repetitive and dull. The labyrinth is broken up into six “stratums”, each of which has five floors. These stratums each have a theme and as such each floor within a stratum looks more or less identical. It takes quite a bit of time to reach the end of a stratum, which means you will be looking at the same scenery over and over again as you travel back and forth between the labyrinth and Etria. Of course, this is probably what the intended audience has come to expect, so I guess I found it to be the exhausting grind it was intended to be.
A pretty good grind
Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is not a game that will appeal to a wide audience and I commend Atlus for continually releasing games that few other companies in this industry dare take a risk on. While at times it can be a little repetitive or frustrating, at the end of the day it’s a niche game for a niche audience through and through. The writing is exceptional and the gameplay addictive and any game that I still have a desire to play after accidentally deleting 35 hours of gameplay must certainly be worth my time. Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is a true stand out of the year for the JRPG genre; one that stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and Tales of Xillia. If you’re a diehard fan of JRPGs and/or dungeon-crawlers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better game to devote your masochistic time to this year.