Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight
Publisher: NIS America Europe
Release Date: February 12th 2016
Links: US Site
Reviewed by Oliver Jameson (@MinusWorld)
It’s safe to say that Atlus’s dungeon crawling RPG series Etrian Odyssey has become something of a staple on Nintendo’s portable systems. Starting life on the DS, the entire series is currently playable on the 3DS and its various incarnations, both through backwards compatibility, new releases exclusive to the system such as Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, crossovers with both the Persona and Mystery Dungeon series, and the brand new Untold sub-series. The second title in this branch away from the main series, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight serves as a semi-remake of 2008’s Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard, a DS title which sadly never saw release in Europe, but is now accessible to a worldwide audience with a wide range of improvements and new gameplay features, most prominently an original story mode that provides players with a set story and pre-determined characters to make their way through it with.
Whilst this new story mode goes against the traditional Etrian Odyssey formula, which tasks players to customise their own party of 5 characters, choosing their special abilities and stats from one of 12 unique classes (with an additional one coming as DLC at a later date), it is certainly a welcome addition, much like in the previous Untold title. The option of playing through a ‘Classic’ mode with full party customisation is still present for veteran players and those who want to experience more standard Etrian gameplay, but story mode offers an interesting and highly accessible option for newcomers to the series who want to avoid the often complicated decisions involved in party creation, or who wish for a more traditional RPG experience with a linear story. In a lot of ways there’s merit in playing through both options, as whilst the story is your fairly standard JRPG affair, it’s interesting to experience the relatively flexible gameplay of Etrian Odyssey, which offers the player quite a lot of freedom in terms of approach, accommodating a plot with scripted events.
The Fafnir Knight‘s story mode makes great use of dialogue and character interaction, both through voiced segments such as random discussions that occur whilst exploring the labyrinth and with writing that creates a set of likeable characters you’ll become eager to discover more about; this particularly applies to Bertrand and Chloe, two characters who join your party a few hours into the game to bring the total up to five – initially their personalities appear flat and almost cold, but you’ll quickly take a liking to them as more of their character is revealed through both story and optional events. As a whole, the localisation quality here is high, as expected from an Atlus title, and whilst European fans may have felt slightly alienated by the delay between the game’s release here and in other regions, it’s clear that a lot of care has been put in to preparing it for western audiences.
For those who aren’t familiar with the gameplay style of the Etrian Odyssey series, the premise involves exploring a sprawling labyrinth, home to ferocious monsters and rare treasures alike. The labyrinth is divided into areas called ‘Stratum’, which in turn consist of a series of floors, the top floor of each often housing some kind of boss. As you traverse each floor, you must the touch screen to chart out your progress and draw your own map, marking down points of interest such as the locations where items spawn, shortcuts between passages and treasure chests you may stumble across. Every stratum takes on a different theme, be it a deep and mysterious forest or an eden-like plain consisting of floating islands; the lush environments (which are viewed from a first person perspective on the 3DS’ top screen) look simply gorgeous and navigating the floors whilst marking out your path often becomes an almost relaxing experience. However, exploration isn’t simply a leisurely stroll through Yggdrasil’s corridors, as you’ll have to be on the look out for a wide variety of monsters; the game’s difficulty is punishing and you’ll need to have your wits about you to discover the best strategies for dealing with each enemy (the game offers a ‘picnic’ difficulty for those primarily interested in the game’s story, which as well as being a lot more lenient for mistakes in battle, is highly recommended for those unfamiliar with the series).
Battles play out in a very traditional, turn-based RPG style, with your five party members divided into ‘lines’ that act as a formation of sorts. You’ll want to position your party based on their stats, class and skills, which can be developed either using points gained with each level up, or using the ‘Grimoire’ system which first appeared in the first Untold series game (although the feature has gone through various upgrades between the two games), an item-based feature that lets you equip additional skills, both offensive and defensive, through stones ‘created’ in battle by performing certain feats. As well as standard random RPG battles, various floors of the labyrinth are littered with ‘FOEs’ (standing for ‘Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens’), large, mini-boss like enemies that on first encounter will greatly outmatch your party in terms of strength, but can be avoided due to their unique movement patterns on the field. Some FOEs attack when you enter their line of site, others move in ways that must be closely monitored to avoid a surprise encounter in the labyrinth’s narrowest sections. The use of traps and other overworld elements can be used to inflict damage on FOEs, so strategy extends beyond simply avoiding an encounter; these large beasts often drop rare items that fetch a high price when sold or are required to create high-level gear, so you’ll have to weigh up the risk and reward involved in engaging these enemies in battle.
One particular new feature that encourages exploration and battling within the Labyrinth is the introduction of the café, a business serving up a variety of dishes that’s partially under your management. On top of regular items, certain enemies or collection spots yield ingredients for preparing exotic meals that can be served in the cafe (as well as additional recipes being hidden in treasure chests), with a number of benefits; not only can your party consume created meals, offering unique stat boosts and other effects that last for the duration of your next visit to the labyrinth, advertising campaigns can be set up in different parts of High Lagaard to sell each dish to the residents there, promoting the café and giving you a healthy payout too. The café also serves as something of a base for your guild, allowing you to store, manage and trade collected Grimoires, as well as developing the surrounding town by investing your hard earned ‘Ental’ (the game’s currency) to attract more potential customers to the café. Preparing dishes is almost worth it just for the hilarious conversations that unfold amongst your party members as they try some delicious food of questionable origin and appearance; when you’re fighting enemies in the labyrinth, some of them don’t exactly look appetising, but the head chef Regina can whip up some real delights with your former foes! This is a nice addition to the series that at face serves as nothing more than a distraction in-between labyrinth runs and is hardly essential to the overall gameplay experience, but ultimately leads to some brilliant writing and a creative way of giving you an extra boost in battle.
As with the first Untold game, many visual assets are re-used from 2012’s Etrian Odyssey IV and the previous game in the Untold series, including enemy designs and elements of the in-game interfaces. Whilst this may be disappointing for some when justifying the game’s price, it’s a rather expected decision and the game hardly looks worse for it; enemy animations are full of personality, even if falling back on a few standard fantasy tropes in terms of design. Luckily the environments that make up the labyrinth, obviously adapted from the DS original version of Etrian Odyssey II are particularly appealing in terms of visuals. Yuzo Koshiro has once again hit it out of the park with his brilliant compositions; a mixture of light, almost jazzy tunes which work perfectly at creating a serene and laid-back attitude in the lower stratums of the labyrinth, as well as fast-paced orchestral compositions which create a real sense of tension and drama when fighting bosses and enemies, both help to give the game a unique and appealing atmosphere.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight excels both as a re-visiting of a classic Etrian title and a brand new experience in its own right; it builds on the first Untold game, making considerable improvements over its flaws, whilst bringing many of its own features and gameplay elements that can be appreciated by series veterans and newcomers alike. In fact, with a combination of both story and classic mode, it would be easy to recommend The Fafnir Knight as a great starting point for those looking to get into the series; the lower difficulty settings and story mode in particular are very accommodating to new players by mixing the staples that make Etrian Odyssey so unique and appealing with more traditional RPG elements and linearity that make the whole experience that much less daunting. Regardless of your position as a veteran or newcomer, you’ll more than likely find some real pleasure in sinking a few hours into relaxing dungeon exploration and map creation balanced nicely with strategic turn-based combat.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.