Being fond of dungeon-crawling games, I was happy to pick up Etrian Odyssey while I was hanging around at Dick Smith while Dad browsed a nearby store. I had only just started getting into gaming then, so the name “Atlus” was a vaguely familiar one, but still one I had heard good things about. And for only $15, I figured, why not?
Etrian Odyssey starts out by having you create your own characters for your own guild. Seven classes are available at the beginning, with two more classes that can be unlocked over the course of the game. The object of Etrian Odyssey is simply to reach the bottom of the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, which is a feat no guild has managed to do as of yet. The Labyrinth has multiple floors grouped into lots of five, known as “Stratums”. You can enter the Labyrinth directly via the first floor, or use the Geomagnetic Field to warp to the beginning of each new stratum as you unlock it. Whatever can be found in the depths of the Labyrinth remains a mystery, and the plot is given no more depth than this until about halfway through the game. This is fine if you really enjoy the gameplay, but players who don’t will find little motivation to continue.
Situated near the Labyrinth and built by those wishing to explore it is the town of Etria. In Etrian Odyssey, monsters do not drop money, but loot. This loot, as well as items gathered in the Labyrinth using character abilities, can be sold at Shilleka’s Goods for some coin. The more items you sell her, the more wares you will find in her store. Shilleka sells weapons, armour, accessories and other useful items for adventures. The Ceft Apothecary sells everything you’ll need to heal yourself and will also revive dead characters. Like Shilleka’s Goods, the more items you sell to Shilleka, the more the apothecary’s stock will grow.
The Rooster Inn is a place where adventurers can stay and recover their health and their TP, while the Golden Deer Pub has a variety of quests for you to take on. The Guildhouse acts as your guild’s base of operations, allowing you to rest characters to reset skill points for reassignment, have them retire and be replaced by a recruit with more base skill points, or dismiss them completely. Every guild must report to Radha Hall in order to become officially recognised and be permitted to explore the Labyrinth.
When you first sign up your guild, you are given a grid map of the Labyrinth by Radha Hall to aid you in your exploration, which is
done in a first-person view on the top screen. The only problem is, the map is blank. It’s up to you to fill in the map as you journey to the centre of the Labyrinth; it was this mechanic that initially piqued my interest in the game. Mapping the Labyrinth is made easy because of the DS’ touch screen, which displays your map at all times. Simply draw in the floors, walls and landmarks as you travel or whilst you are in battle. There are enough symbols and options to mark almost everything you will find in the labyrinth. There is even an option to place a memo on certain squares to make note of a particular property, remind you to return; anything you feel is required.
My only gripe with this is that in later floors, there may not be a clearly defined symbol for every object. To rectify this, I tried to place memos on each of the squares in question but soon discovered that the number of memos allowed on a single floor was limited. This is something I hope was altered in later games, as being unable to mark my map properly got frustrating in the lower stratums.
Complicating exploration are traps, aggressive creatures found in random encounters and FOEs. FOEs are Etrian Odyssey’s mini-bosses. They’re visible on the map as arrows set inside purple circles and on the top screen as giant fireballs. Most FOEs will take a step for each step that you take and each type behaves differently. Some pursue you, some do not. They’re more powerful than the regular monsters you’ll encounter, but are still always beatable with a good strategy.
Battle in Etrian Odyssey is a turn-based affair, with the fastest warriors and creatures moving first. Each of the nine classes has their own unique array of abilities; a handful of these are shared between multiple classes, but for the most part each ability is available only to one class. There is a regular attack, a “Boost” and some “Skills” at your disposal. Using Skills consumes TP which may be restored by using certain items or by staying at The Rooster Inn. The Boost gauge fills every time you deal damage to a foe. Once it’s full, the Boost option will appear on the battle menu. Selecting it will bolster your character’s powers for a turn. Attacks will become stronger, buffs will have a greater effect, Medics will heal for more, and so on.
Only a handful of abilities are able to be learned at the beginning, but spending skill points in certain areas will unlock more. It can be fun experimenting with different builds for your characters. You can have up to 16 different characters, so you can even have multiple characters from the same class with different skill sets sitting in your Guildhouse. There are 21 abilities, and each one can have up to ten skill points spent on it. Characters start with three and gain one with each level-up, and can go no further than level 70. Retiring characters at max level will give them six extra skill points, meaning there are only 78 in total available for each character but 210 places in which they can be spent. Make sure to spend them wisely!
Etrian Odyssey’s anime-style graphics ensure that it will never appear dated, and it’s just pretty to look at. It’s nice strolling through the labyrinth and seeing all the vibrant colours, accompanied by the soothing music in the background. The soundtrack was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who also composed pieces for Shenmue, the Ys series and, more recently, Toki to Towa. The game was designed to be reminiscent of the JRPGs of old, and the music reflects that. Personally, I didn’t find this soundtrack to be all that great; it did an okay job of setting the right mood, but does not stand on its own all that well.
With a high level of personal customisation and the ability to map your journey as you progress, Etrian Odyssey is a fantastic game for the fan of punishing dungeon-crawlers, such as myself. However, as it has very little plot or any other type of appeal outside of its unique gameplay, anyone without a taste for a good old-fashioned grindfest would be better off spending their money elsewhere.
Review copy supplied by author.