|Release: October 1, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Tobacco Reference, Use of Alcohol|
by Becky Cunningham
It's only been half a year since Etrian Odyssey IV hit our shores, but here comes Etrian Odyssey Untold: Millennium Girl to tempt dungeon delvers to make maps and fight field-on enemies (FOEs) once again. This time, Atlus has reimagined the very first Etrian Odyssey game, which established the basic formula of the series but is considerably less-than user-friendly. Not only has the company added a ton of improvements to the game, it has completely altered the layout of its labyrinth and added a “Story Mode” that includes a pre-made party with personalities all their own.
The original Etrian Odyssey game laid the groundwork for the series, challenging a party of player-made characters to survive a giant labyrinth that must be mapped using tools on the bottom screen of the Nintendo DS. All the games are turn based, both when moving through the dungeons and battling with their denizens. The original game's labyrinth is divided into unique strata of five levels each, and each stratum had its own vibrant natural habitat. While the basic habitat themes have been kept in this remake, the entire layout of the labyrinth has been changed in order to reflect the improved dungeon design skills of the Etrian team.
These skills are shown off very well in the new Etrian labyrinth, in which each level has its own particular challenge. Whether it's taking on a special kind of FOE (tough boss monsters that appear and move around on the map), navigating a teleport-filled maze, or being dragged about by shifting sands, players will rarely feel bored at the prospect of mapping a new level. Many of the FOEs have been given more interesting placements in order to contribute to a particular level's puzzles rather than be simple wandering death machines. There are even some new and interesting FOEs to encounter as well as twists on old challenges, such as stealing the egg from the wyvern in Stratum 2. It's a great, new take on the Etrian labyrinth that makes exploring more interesting for players old and new. Only the fifth and final required stratum (there's a bonus stratum after the game is completed) abandons that pattern, and it drags somewhat as a result.
Even with the redone labyrinth, the biggest change that has been made in this remake is the addition of Story Mode. Traditionally in Etrian Odyssey, players create a custom party of characters who display no particular personalities and express no individual opinions. Story Mode gives the player a party of characters whose classes are fixed, but who have their own names and personalities. It also gives the game a more elaborate storyline, complete with a mediocre bonus dungeon and the occasional attractive anime cutscene.
It's unfortunate that if you've ever consumed any form of fantasy or sci-fi themed entertainment from Japan before, the story and characters found in Millennium Girl will be extremely familiar. It's all been lifted from the standard book of anime tropes, with a standard post-apocalyptic plot and characters such as the levelheaded scientist, the over-enthusiastic kid, and the mysterious, amnesiac girl. Although I didn't expect anything incredibly deep out of the story, it would have been nice for the creators to have used a bit more originality. Luckily, that lack of creativity is overcome somewhat by the characters being quite likeable and the fact that the party actively assists the player in the exploration of the labyrinth.
The way this is done is quite refreshing. Instead of having generic battle cries, the Story Mode makes comments about the battle as it progresses. Most helpful amongst these are reminders of the weaknesses that monsters possess, giving the player hints about which kind of attacks to use and reducing the number of times a review of the status screen is necessary. In addition, subtle exclamations while exploring bring the player's attention to important things, such as hidden passages, and warn the player when a monster attack is imminent. Even some side-quests have been enhanced by discussions with the Story Mode party members. It really feels like going on an adventure with a group of friends, adding a delightful, personal touch to the game that most dungeon crawlers lack.
Etrian Odyssey veterans may feel constrained by the set character classes in the party, and may prefer to play in Classic Mode, which skips the expanded story and allows for a classic Etrian party of custom-made characters. The new Highlander and Gunner classes found in Story Mode cannot be given to player-created Classic Mode characters, however. That's unfortunate in the case of Gunner, which is a powerful and versatile class. In general, I recommend that all players try a Story Mode playthrough before launching into Classic Mode, as the party interactions are enjoyable, and despite its clichés, it's a fresher experience than playing through on Classic.
In both modes, a suite of convenience-features really makes the difference when it comes to exploring the labyrinth. Early on, the player gains access to a guild hall, with guild keepers who can prepare a variety of helpful droughts. There are two droughts the are by far the most useful among these: the one that automatically restores some hit points to the entire party between combat rounds and the one that restores hit points and technical points (used for spells and special attacks) every time a character does damage to a foe. These not only make combat easier, but also they allow the player to explore the labyrinth for a longer period of time before having to return to town to rest. Many other changes accompany this one, including a much-improved character customization interface, Grimoire Stones that allow characters to use abilities from other classes, and item storage.
The best new feature, however, is Floor Jump. Once a certain percentage of a floor has been mapped, taking any set of stairs attached to that floor activates Floor Jump, which allows the player to teleport to those stairs at any time. I can't sing the praises of Floor Jump enough. No longer does the party need to make a lengthy trudge between staircases while exploring the lower levels of a stratum. The only problem with Floor Jump is that the fifth stratum, which is the final major stratum in Story Mode, removes the player's ability to use Floor Jump to reach its later areas. After having convenient travel through the entire rest of the game, it was a real drag to have to walk so much while mapping the last floors and preparing to fight the final boss, though the ability to draw an auto-walk path onto the map helps somewhat.