The Case For: Etrian Odyssey

What Is It?

The Nintendo DS was a silent hit machine. While the best selling handheld to date, the big boys sucked up a lot of the available buzz. I see it all the time, “This generation sucks, no original IP’s?” and “Nothing but sequels, no original ideas anymore.” The people who say this are either oblivious or purposely ignoring reality to inflate their own views.

Etrian Odyssey is one of the many games that came out of Atlus’ extreme support of the DS. It’s a bit of a hard game to describe in a single string of genre describing nonsensical buzzwords, but I’ll give it a go; Dungeon Crawling Role Playing Exploration Cartography Simulator. Of course, that barely begins to describe what you can do in this series. At its core, Etrian Odyssey is a combination of deep character customization with old school pen-and-paper style dungeon exploring. You always start as a brand new guild getting ready to explore the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, a giant maze like dungeon. The labyrinth has multiple sections, or strata as they’re referred to as in the games, each with dozens of floors.

The first thing you do in the game is make your first party. Unlike most RPGs, where you come across party members as the story progresses, here you make everything from scratch. You can have up to 5 characters in your party, but can have a total of 30 characters in your guild at any one time. There is a number of classes to pick from when making each character, specifically 10 in IV (3 of which are locked until later in the story). Later on in the game, you can add subclasses to your characters. This gives you access to all of that classes skills, except for their “unique” skill. Skill synergy can be used to exploit the games mechanics and create some bizarre and devastating combinations. Once you have your characters created, you can put them in the front or back row of your party. This row mechanic, while on it’s face may seem very basic, is very important and I’ll go into more detail later.

Once you have your party created, it’s time to venture off into the labyrinth. You can get missions, which are your story related objectives, and quests, which act as side-objectives. In the latest games, III and IV, there is this overworld like map called “Lands”. In IV you travel across these lands in an Airship which you name, and in III it’s a boat. These are where you can find entrances to the labyrinth, optional caves, random items such as food, and other guilds. The other guilds act as traders which can be used to obtain powerful items that could help you if you’re in a jam.

Once you’re in the labyrinth, the real game starts. First thing you’ll notice is that you have no map. Like I mentioned above, the Etrian Odyssey series is a throwback to old pen-and-paper style games. At a glance, this may seem like a tired mechanic that has no place in modern gaming. In Etrian Odyssey, you couldn’t be more wrong. This isn’t a situation where they just removed that map and make you do it. The mazes of the labyrinth are designed around this mechanic. Floors can be giant sprawling puzzles. They can have dozens of shortcuts and secrets that you’ll only be able to find again if you mark them. The map making is streamlined so you can even map during battles or outside the labyrinth itself. The game will automatically fill in the floor type of the tile you’re on, letting you fill in the walls and objects. You can even create an auto pilot path that you’ll follow automatically whenever you activate it. The map making gives you a sense of exploration that you don’t see in other games. Once you reach the end of maze, you’ll be treated to a huge network of hallways and rooms and much more that you found and mapped. Every new floor has a sense of mystery to it. What could be over there? I know there’s a path behind that rock, but how can I get to it? Where will this shortcut bring me?

Once you start your way into the labyrinth, you’ll be quick to notice large enemies on the field. If you’re playing anything before IV, they will be represented by a fuzzy orange floating ball. This is the dreaded FOE, or Field On Enemy. While technically the English translation of FOE is Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens , it’s even more nonsensically when translated from Latin, Continuous Attack of Terror, so I just use Field On Enemy. FOEs are extremely powerful enemies, at least when you first encounter them. They are sort of like minibosses that roam the field for different reasons. One could be that they are there to prevent you from access something. They could open up different paths of the floor for you. They could even stalk and kill other FOEs. FOEs are usually what make people quit Etrian Odyssey the first time they encounter them. Walking around the floor, making a lot of progress, and accidentally run into a deer looking FOE without knowing what it is, and it proceeds to completely destroy you in a single turn, losing all your progress. Smart map making, careful planning and always having an escape plan are the keys to surviving against FOEs.

That’s how the game goes. You dive deeper and deeper into the labyrinth and uncover its mysteries. You overcome the odds and kill that FOE that has been the bane of your travels. You use the deep skill trees to create a unique party and exploit the games own mechanics. You forage, you hunt, you kill, or the labyrinth claims you.

What Should I Expect?

Okay, say you pick up IV. I’ll admit, my writings above are very much razzle-dazzle fan writing. So, here are some straight facts about the series. Yes, it’s not an “easy” game. Meaning, you can’t just walk around and hit attack on everything and expect it to die. The map making takes time to get used to, since it’s such a foreign concept, but after awhile, it becomes second nature. I will say that my main problem with the map making in IV is the stylus placement on the regular 3DS. On the DS, the stylus was very easy to get to, you could slide it out with easy when you need to map something and return it in the blink of an eye. The 3DS on the other hand is placed next to the cartridge slot, and it’s a bit harder to pop out. I found myself just holding the stylus between my fingers as I played the demo, which can get uncomfortable.

Look at that fucking hat!

Probably my favorite thing in EOIV are the Runemaster's hats.

Don’t come into this game expecting some grand story. It’s well written, the translation is great and the overall stories are usually very interesting, but it isn’t going to set the world on fire. The story, or rather plot, boils down to the same thing every time; the labyrinth has appeared, explorer guilds from all around the world want to explore it, you are one of them. What happens down in the labyrinth I can’t say, but based on the previous titles, expect some twists and turns in the story, and some real crazy nonsense at the end.

While not easy, the game isn’t “difficult” per say. It just requires dedication and strategy. There will be times where the game feels like it’s screwing you over. You get destroyed by some FOE you didn’t notice, or that came into the battle right in the middle of things (yes, that can happen). The boss you’re fighting seems like it has infinite health, or has left your party in such a state there is no way you can win. All these things can happen, and it’s going to feel real shitty when they do. You are going to backtrack a lot. Not all floors of the labyrinth can be warped to directly. You’re going to fill up on item drops and going to have to go back to town if you want to get any of the much needed money from them. I’m going to try and help you get past these problems with some simple, but helpful, first timer tips.

 

Tips (no tricks)!

  • Always, ALWAYS, have Ariadne Thread (Warp Wire before EOIII) on you at all times. This item will warp you back to town as long as you’re outside of a battle. You will need this.
  • Don’t spend all of your money, or en. Money is not exactly plentiful, and it’s used for everything. Reviving a dead character, sleeping to revive health, it all cost more and more money as you level.
  • The item carry limit is 99 (60 in the demo). This includes drops from monsters, consumable items like potions and unequipped weapons and armor. Story items do not count in IV, but they do in previous titles.
  • You aren’t married to your skill build. Going to the Explorers Guild in town and “resting” a character will allow you to respec the skill tree at the cost of levels. In EOIV, the cost is very low, only 2 levels. Don’t be afraid to use this. Even if you get every possible skill point available, it still isn’t enough to fully complete a class tree.
  • Experience is divided evenly among your current party members and remains the same amount no matter how many are in the party. So, if you get 1000 EXP and have 5 members, it’ll be divided evenly to 200 each. If one dies or you only have 4, 250 each, and so on. This is why the level cost of respecing is actually very low, you can take that character and get them large amounts of EXP in lower level areas very quickly.
  • Read the skill descriptor. Skills are very particular, and can change as you put more points into them. Also, most skills are percentage based, and don’t use hard numbers. If you’d like to check up on a skill before getting it, I recommend this site.
  • Pay attention to dialog. While the plot itself may not be the most unique, the writing itself is very good, and often leaves clues for you.
  • Three classes are locked at the start of the game. These classes can be unlocked by performing specific tasks. In the other games, you could only unlock one of these classes per playthrough. This may have changed in EOIV from what I’ve heard.
  • Typically, after you finish the main story of the game, there is one more stratum that opens up. This stratum, called the Post Game Stratum, has the hardest of the hard enemies in it, new missions and quest and unlocks areas of the game that previously were inaccessible. Sometimes you have to get a certain ending to open up the final stratum, but it’s usually fairly obvious.
  • This series does have a new game plus. It carries over your guild name, characters, maps and items unlocked in the shop. It does not bring your levels over. The main benefit of new game plus is being able to unlock another class while keeping the one you already unlocked.
  • The normal level cap is 70 for a total of 72 skill points (3 at level 1). After level 30, you can retire a character which will half their current level to gain extra skill points. Retiring at level 70 will give you 8 extra skill points for a total of 80. Adding a subclass to a character gives you an immediate 5 extra points, for a  total of 85 possible skill points. The level cap can be raised, but I’m not sure how or by how much, but I believe it’s to 99. In EOIII, it was done by defeating the 3 superboss dragons in the post game content. If I’m correct, the grand total of possible skill points is 111.
  • Subclassing has a few particulars about it. First, you have access to every skill of the subbed class, except for that classes unique skill. For example, the Dancer’s unique skill increases the length of their dances. Second, you can only put half as many points into subclass skills than you could if it was the main class.
  • Every new game starts with 5 random treasure maps. Treasures are found on lands, caves and floors. The treasures can range from basic healing items, to very powerful weapons.
  • Different skills and weapons have different levels of effectiveness depending on the row you are in. For example, the Dancer class has skills that will only effect the members of their row, such as a follow up basic attack every time a member of that row does a basic attack themselves. Characters in the back row deal out less damage, but also take less damage. The Fortress class, for example, is all about high defense and taking the aggro of the enemy, so they are very effective in the back row.
  • Don’t underestimate elemental attacks, status effects and buffs/debuffs. Many classes focus on these aspects of the battle system, and should not be taken lightly. A simple poison effect, or a binding of the enemies legs, can completely change the course of a battle.
  • Some monsters, as well as bosses and FOEs, have conditional drops. This means you have to kill them in a very particular way or have a certain status effect on them when the die. The monster codex will give you a hint about what you need to do to meet the conditions, and can be access during battle. Bosses will respawn after 14 days, so if you screwed it up the first time, you can try again.
  • Rare breeds of enemies are golden and will give out huge EXP bonuses if killed. They sometimes flee, so either bind their legs or kill them ASAP.
  • Guild cards can be traded via QR codes. From the guild card you can recruit the guilds registered representative into your party provided you’ve at least had one character reach the level of said representative. You also unlock whatever “treasure map” is attached to the guild card.
  • If it says you can pet it, don’t.
If, after all that, you are intrigued and would like to give this series a try, go and download the demo of EOIV on the eShop. The level cap is 10, and you can only go through the tutorial cave and first floor of the labyrinth, but you can transfer your progress into the main game. If you have any questions about this series, feel free to ask in the comments, or asking me directing on twitter. Happy map making!
Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan comes out February 26th, 2013.

About Addison

Addison is a bit of a jerk. His favorite game is The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. This is really all there is to him. Very hollow, very boring.