Etrian Odyssey games aren’t supposed to be about simple narratives, they’re meant to be about getting lost. Etrian Odyssey games are titles formed on the premise that human error can screw a player as much as game design, and that poking your way around a maze, ferreting out its secrets, and working out how to survive its trials with your rag tag group of stats is all the incentive you need to enjoy yourself.
I say all this because Etrian Odyssey Untold’s big “thing” is that it’s got a story mode. This is a remake of the original DS Etrian Odyssey title, yes, but it’s a complete overhaul. New systems, new visuals, new areas and a “proper” story. This is much less a re-make and more a complete re-imagining.
Etrian Odyssey games of the past have contained narratives, but they often happened around you rather than directly to you. You are an agent of progressing the world’s tale, and there is a cast of characters there that your guild chats to, but your mute force of custom faces is a personal creation that works under a personal banner, simply doing whatever is asked by the people dishing out the quests. The narrative that blossoms around your dungeon plundering is just icing on the maze-probing gameplay.
Because that’s where Etrian Odyssey’s focus lies, in the dungeons. As you plod around the mazes of any Etrian Odyssey title, Untold included, you have to make annotations on the touch screen. Walls here, healing zone there, trap in that corner. The mix of exploration and cartography is both unique and intoxicating; it’s unquestionably satisfying to slowly unearth a zone and leave your own information around as you discover secrets, and that gameplay, mixed with smart turn-based JRPG combat, has always been a far bigger concern for the Etrian Odyssey titles than the stories they tell.
So when I say that Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl has a “proper” story, what I mean is that your party is a group of pre-determined characters who have revelations and are generally intertwined with all that’s happening around you. There’s still your silent protagonist, in this case a “highlander” that you name yourself, but the other members of your party are named and voice-acted personalities, including a beer-swigging defender and an amnesiac girl with a gun. It’s more like a traditional JRPG in that respect.
The characters and associated plot are perfectly enjoyable, if not groundbreaking, and as an experimentation in traditional JRPG storytelling within the Etrian Odyssey gameplay foundations, Untold is wholly successful, and this will certainly be the necessary hook to encourage some previously wary onlookers to finally pluck up the courage and delve into franchise.
Of course, you can always play Etrian Odyssey Untold in the classic way, with a personal troupe of vagabonds, and this “classic” mode will cut out the extra cutscenes and personal plot stuff, leaving you with the fat-free Etrian Odyssey feel that fans are used to. In fact you can carry save data from Story mode over to Classic post completion, and doing so will unlock some extra toys to play with. There’s certainly an incentive to try the game in both forms. Combine this with a few different difficulty options, and you’ve got an Etrian Odyssey that tries, and succeeds, to appeal to a rather large JRPG demographic.
That’s not to say that the game is the perfect compromise, however. Coming off the back of last year’s Etrian Odyssey IV: Legend of the Titans, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl can occasionally feel somewhat lacking in its sense of scale. This is a remake, though, so you’ll almost feel obliged to let it off for the sudden reduction in scope, but it can be slightly jarring nonetheless.
Etrian Odyssey Untold is all about delving into one huge dungeon, and exploring a new side dungeon, like some JRPG Diablo, whereas Etrian Odyssey IV was a sprawling world in which you flew an airship, encountered great dragons, conquered huge individual dungeons, and were finding side dungeons with unique gimmicks all the time. It’s a different overall feel and while the game isn’t really worse for it, it does feel smaller. The combat is still as smart, and the art and music are still gorgeous, but it all feels a bit more reserved.
This isn’t helped by a few new assists that speed the gameplay up, but reduce the danger. Being able to run in dungeons is a fine new feature, and very welcome, but the floor skip is more contentious. Map the majority of a floor and you’ll be able to instantly warp to the entrance or exit of a floor with a tap on the touch screen, avoiding all danger. This does dull the fear of spelunking somewhat, considering the point at which you’re safe comes much sooner. That said, it also helps alleviate some of the cruelty of the Etrian Odyssey template, and makes resource trips to and from the city much less of a grind. My ultimate opinion? It ultimately dulls the beast’s fangs somewhat and, overall, I found this to be a misjudged concession to the series’ unique design. It might help more people get into the title, mind…
And that’s his game’s ultimate success: it’s a great introduction to the series. Even with these “lacking” facets, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is still a unique and compelling dungeon crawl. Many improvements are actually most welcome, such as your character’s making noises as you pass an interesting spot in the dungeon, or the new Grimoire stones that allow you to augment character classes to use moves outside their remit. Despite the reigning-in of the game’s overall scale there’s still a huge amount to enjoy in Untold, and it’s still got some of the smartest turn-based combat on any system.
VERDICT: Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is a welcome experiment within the series’ unique framework of JRPG combat, dungeon skulduggery and careful cartography. The new Story Mode and reduction in scale may confuse long-term fans but are exactly what the series needs to attract new blood, and even with these new attractions the classic mode and rock solid core gameplay will be enough to keep old hands happy. Is Etrian Odyssey Untold a better game than Etrian Odyssey IV: Legend of the Titans? No, but it’s a far better introduction to the peculiar designs of this superb cult series.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.