It was the third night of the excursion in the harsh environment of the Azure Rainforest.
Our supplies had all but run out, replaced with valuable materials gathered from fallen foes and the bountiful forest alike. With our stamina at its limits, it was time to use our trusty Ariadne Thread to return to Etria for a well-deserved rest.
However, it occurred to us that we made the crucial mistake of not purchasing a thread before heading deep into the labyrinth.
Now, we were left with two choices.
#1 Give up and pretend this is all just some bad dream.
#2 Fight on and crawl our way out of the labyrinth with everything we’ve got.
Suffice to say, there was truly only one option.
Two days later, battered and broken- we managed to reach the gates of Etria carrying the unconscious bodies of two of our allies.
That was the first and last time I would make the mistake of heading into the labyrinth unprepared.
I realized once more that the lessons that you learn the hard way always tend to stick the best, and that’s what Etrian Odyssey is all about.
For those unfamiliar, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is a 3DS remake of the very first EO title that appeared on the DS. While it shares many similarities, there are a great deal of refinements and added content to make this feel like an entirely new entry to the series.
The immediately noticeable upgrades are those of the graphical and sound variety. The artwork of the backgrounds and animation of the monsters have been reworked to make it look like a proper 3DS game. The soundtrack was redone from its chiptune variety to a more orchestral arrangement and it’s all the better for it as the OST is well composed and put together to set the mood for each passing moment of the game.
The biggest addition is the inclusion of a story mode that follows the tale of a select few characters with distinct personalities while also delving into their past history to give greater meaning to the events to come.
In a glance, a story mode seems like a basic thing to have in a game in this day and age but Etrian Odyssey titles have stressed the importance of pure customization over the need for a set character base so till now this had never been included in a EO title.
In an odd sense, it’s a bold move and it pays off in spades as the characters make the world they inhibit feel more fleshed out and interesting, all the while making me want to know just what will happen next.
There is still a classic mode for the EO purist (customize party from scratch like previous titles), but I urge everyone to at least try the story mode for themselves before they write it off as blasphemy to the EO legacy.
The characters assembled in EOU are equal parts charming and lovable, as it didn’t take long for me to take to their various quirks.
Raquna, a (Canadian) woman from Ontario who loves Maple Syrup and drinking ale at the local pub all the while has the duty of keeping the party safe, brandishing her large shield and heavy armor in defense of the back line.
Arthur, a talented alchemist with a troubled past holds the back line using powerful magic attacks to exploit the enemy’s weakness, but in truth, he’d rather sleep in than fight monsters first thing in the morning.
Those two and many others interact with each other, often resulting in great little moments that build character and in turn make the world they inhabit feel richer as well.
With various twists and turns in the story, I was thoroughly engrossed in the exploits of the five unlikely heroes that would brave the deep labyrinth.
As for the game play of EOU, it’s not unlike the previous titles in the series.
For those that have never played or heard of Etrian Odyssey, well… what rock have they been living in? This series is really good!
Anyhow, I’ll forgive their crimes (for now) but read very carefully as everyone should at least be prepared to some degree lest they’re shocked into submission from the brutality that is Etrian Odyssey.
First, one must forget everything they know about modern RPGs.
Imagine a level design so meticulous and varied that it tests not only one’s wits but their patience as well. Now, imagine a series of monsters of both normal and boss variety that wish nothing but to see you die a terrible, almost seemingly unfair death.
Then, wrap that knowledge with the fact that here is no map to guide the player except for the one they make for themselves. The more accurate and detailed it is, the better it will serve them as creating a map of a floor in good detail will allow for a much important floor jump ability.
Luckily, the great ability to customize one’s characters to suit the player’s play style along with a variety of tools and items such as the Ariadne Thread facilitate a smoother experience.
The all-important skill points that will define how a character is built can be reassigned with the sacrifice of two levels, which sounds a lot worse than it actually is. A character can change into a different class while attaining some bonus skill points as well at a significant cost to levels, bringing down a level seventy character to a measly thirty to be reshaped anew but it opens the door for some inspiring party builds.
The headquarter for the guild allows for the synthesis and equipping of unique skill granting gems that are used as a replacement for the cross-class system found in EO 4 and while it’s a nice addition, I did miss the ability to create multi-class characters for even greater customization.
The trusty caretaker of the HQ also offers various buffs that last through the duration of an excursion which become essential to the party’s ability to survive within the more difficult areas of the Labyrinth with effects like restoring TP at the end of each turn.
Apart from the variety of customization and helpful tools available, there are quests to take on from the towns folk which grant bonus experience and items along with some insight into the characters as they ranged from predictable fetch quest to “this should be a part of the main quest”.
The actual exploration and mapping of the areas themselves are always enjoyable and sometimes, incredibly tense with dangers lurking at every corner. Drawing the lines to a wall and marking every little discovery with its own unique icon that would only make sense to me has a certain charm that feels equal parts rewarding and engaging.
Luckily, each major area present in EOU feels entirely different from a previous area, filled with new perils and a certain “gimmick” to change up the pace, and throughout my dive into over twenty five floors of the Labyrinth, it never felt like a chore, but rather as a challenge to be overcome.
It’s a testament to the superb level design as that statement is not something I can make about any other modern RPG of recent memory.
Those expecting vehicle travel and exploration like the one found in EO 4 will be disappointed as no such thing exists, but in its stead is a journey through a futuristic installment that has a different feel compared to the Labyrinth.
Unfortunately, I felt that while the level design remains excellent from beginning to end, the difficulty level of the combat became rather trivial in normal mode once I acquired a few key skills. From the three EO games I’ve played thus far (only two to completion, however) I would say this is the easiest one so far.
Fortunately for those looking for a great challenge can go with the Hard mode for what I believe to be the true Etrian Odyssey experience.
Taking around thirty to forty hours to finish the story mode, a new game + unlocks that allows the player to carry over as much or as little of what they earned in the first play through.
There is also an end game as an entirely new area opens after the completion of the story filled with devilishly difficult enemies and a new boss that will test the strength and strategy of even the most hardcore EO veteran.
While I wouldn’t consider the game play to top the one present in the excellent EO 4, the addition of the Story Mode with some streamlining of the mapping process in the form of floor jumps makes this the most accessible, easily recommendable EO game release thus far.
It’s never been a better time to check out your first EO game and if you’re already a fan of the series, well… you don’t need me to tell you twice that you will love this game.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.