There are many games that attempt to recapture the nostalgia of older titles. Some, simply because they try so hard to adhere to things thought of as "old school," fail miserably. Etrian Odyssey is not one of those failures. Instead, it is a wildly successful and addictive role-playing game that hearkens back to the day when one would need a pencil and grid paper to get anywhere.
One thing Etrian Odyssey does not do is present the player with a compelling storyline. Essentially, there's a forest through which players are asked to go. The end. But in all seriousness, this is not a game that needs a strong or compelling story to carry it through. It's a saga created by the player. As new characters are created, and old ones die off, a simple kind of story of heroism evolves throughout. It could not be argued at all that Etrian Odyssey has any kind of storyline worth mention, but it is telling that it does not need it. In fact, it shines in spite of a lack of narration.
When a player begins the game, they are asked to create a guild, and from that, to create characters with which to travel through the floors of the Labyrinth. Already at this stage, players come to a highly important choice: how to build the party. While characters can easily be removed or replaced at will by the players, any new characters start at level one, and can require significant training in order to be useful.
Each class has its own specific skill set, and with each level up, players gain a points with which to increase a character's abilities. While distributing these points among many different skills to make "balanced" units is tempting, the game is much simpler (using this term cautiously, as the game is extremely difficult) if players focus their characters on only a couple skill tiers. The extremely wide variety of types of individual classes can be daunting, but through early experimentation in the game, players will quickly learn what type of party best suits their particular playing style.
|The backdrop for most of the game.
This concept of completely building one's party for their own needs is nothing new, but rarely has it been done so well, or been so compelling. The wide variety of classes makes for a huge amount of party combinations, all of which are useful in some way. This alone helps the replay value of the game.
One extremely unique part of the game is having players map the dungeon themselves. By using the touch screen and various iconography, players must learn quickly to make a map of the Labyrinth as they proceed through it. This way, they can retain the knowledge of where they want to return (such as a grove of trees, as chopping wood is one of the many ways to gain income in this rather stingy game), as well as where they'd like to avoid. The map system, while rather sensitive on the touch screen, is a very fun part of the game, and while sometimes tedious, overall is a very well done and enjoyable addition to the game. In fact, it could be argued for being one of the better uses of the touch screen in an RPG to date.
Speaking of dungeon design, it is done particularly well in Etrian Odyssey. There seem to almost always be new things to discover, new traps to get destroyed at, and new FOEs (like a mini-boss) lurking around every twist or turn. Thankfully, the game provides items allowing players to teleport out of the Labyrinth when not in battle. Unfortunately, this means a long trek all the way back through all the floors the player has already completed. Overall, however, the dungeon design is simply wonderful, and the mapping system just adds to the fun.
|The character art is great, too bad this is pretty much the only time you see it.
The high level of difficulty in Etrian Odyssey may be a warning for some, but it is in this challenge that the game retains its addictive gameplay throughout. Grinding for levels is a lot more fun when players know that it's "just a few more" before they'll finally be able to beat that vile FOE around the next corner. FOEs are pesky, since they roam the map freely and are capable of chasing down and trapping players at some inconvenient times (like right after running out of TP for their medic). But this aspect can be exciting, and despite the fact that the FOEs only move while players are moving, it can amount to some good chases through the Labyrinth.
The music and sound effects in Etrian Odyssey are respectable, but nothing too major. The score is suitable, not fantastic. The sound effects make sense, but are not spectacularly good.
Graphically, Etrian Odyssey would not be for everyone. While it's far from the drab "cave" environment design of many dungeon crawls, the game can get repetitive after a while, and not being able to see one's own characters is a letdown (especially since the art for them is done so superbly). Overall, the graphics are about average.
Etrian Odyssey is one of the few games that manages to recreate old-school charm without crossing the line into being archaic. Its high level of difficulty is retained throughout, its addictive gameplay will keep players coming back, and the huge amount of different party setups can keep players going even after the first playthrough. This is dungeon crawling at its best.