I have heard of Etrian Odyssey and its dungeon-crawling goodness for some time now. It’s been through several iterations on the DS now. Wikipedia tells me that this is the fifth game in the series, and the second for the 3DS, although apparently Etrian Odyssey Untold is sort of a remake of the first game.
I say “sort of” because the developers added a story this time around. This is the first Etrian Odyssey that has any kind of story. When you start a new game, you are presented with the option to play either “Classic Mode” or “Story Mode.” Classic Mode lets you create a party of characters and explore the vast Yggdrasil Labyrinth. Story Mode, however, has cut scenes! And characters! A STORY!
I actually didn’t know this when I downloaded the demo. I just figured out where the demos are located in the Nintendo eShop last night, so I went on a demo binge. I hesitated over this one briefly, because I kind of thought it would be boring, but then threw it in the queue with the others. Because it’s free! Free downloadable demos are one of my favorite things about an internet-enabled console.
I haven’t bothered with any of the Etrian Odyssey games prior to this precisely for their lack of story. Story is a big reason for me to keep playing a game, and a hack n’ slash RPG needs to give me some motivation other than “Explore this dungeon! Get some treasure! Upgrade your items! Repeat ad nauseam!” So even though I love me some Atlus, I hadn’t had a reason to pick one up.
You play as a nameless Highlander.
The game starts out with a really nice anime cutscene, showing said nameless Highlander arriving in Etria. The animation is smooth and very detailed, quite beautiful for a handheld. I still haven’t gotten over how nice the video quality is on the 3DS XL. You see some shots of a burned village, probably the Nameless Hero’s tragic past, and then his grizzled old mentor, sending him to Etria, where he is immediately tasked with the heroic task of…drawing a map?
Yes, apparently a huge part of Etrian Odyssey is cartography, something I never really considered wanting out of a game. Nameless Hero is tasked with drawing a map of the first floor of the Labyrinth, accompanied on this first mission by two level 30-somethings. But first, into the town to stock up on supplies and save at the inn!
You don’t actually get to walk around the town, but instead select places to visit from a list. Selecting “Shilleka’s Goods” takes you to a still, 3D image of an item store, where you are waited on by a black girl dressed kind of like a Disney Native American who speaks in an outrageously bad Jamaican accent. For some reason.
I suspect that reason is “because Japan.”
Even though I appreciate having an actual town to actually explore rather than a static menu of destinations to choose from, the three dimensional images of the locations are really very beautiful and the hand-drawn character portraits stand out like a pop-up book. It’s really pretty cool looking.
After gearing up, it’s off to the forest to draw a map!
The top screen shows a first-person view of the forest labyrinth that you are to navigate. It’s gorgeous, this forest, vividly green, and the 3D effects are very successful at making you feel like you are actually wandering through forest paths. The bottom screen is your map, which you are expect to actually draw with your stylus. This was completely unexpected to me, and kind of an amazing use of the DS touch screen.
Each square you traverse is automatically filled in with green, but it’s up to you to drawn the walls in with your stylus. The lines auto correct to utter straightness, so even though you are actually drawing, your finished product looks very nice and neat. The map making tools are very detailed, with little icons you can drop in and a tool to make notes about features of the area. For instance, I found a spring of water at the end of one path that healed my party, so I marked it on my map and made a little note: “Healy water here.”
Every ten squares or so, you’ll be beset by monsters, which drop items you can sell to the shop that they will make equipment out of. Clawed moles drop soft hides, for example. Beetles drop beetle whiskers. Which Shilleka the Jamaican will make into swords. The battle system is a very simple turn-based affair, which will probably be more exciting once I’m not adventuring with two outrageously over-leveled party members. Each character has a simple skill tree that they can feed their skill points into, points earned one at a time for leveling up.
It looks pretty basic at the outset, but maybe it expands more after I level up a lot. The demo only lets you level up to ten. This first adventure into the woods got me to level five. I was surprised how much I enjoyed making my little map, but I don’t know that I’ll buy the whole game. So far, it feels like the most elementary kind of Dungeons and Dragons campaign, where some generic Adventurers get sent into a Dungeon at the behest of a King, Mayor, Grand Vizier or, in this case, Radha to explore and loot and destroy whatever monsters are lurking about. So while there IS a plot here, it looks pretty boring. And I don’t think I’m going to want to draw maps for the sake of drawing maps for upwards of 30 hours.
For someone who loves dungeon crawlers, though, this is an exceptionally polished example. I’m definitely going to at least play the demo to the level cap. Maybe some more exciting story will pop up in the next five levels. If not, I do get to draw another map!
Man, I never thought I’d enjoy drawing maps.