Monday, September 30, 2013

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl Demo First Impressions and Reactions

Previously I had expressed my disappointment in the recently released Shin Megami Tensei IV. At the time I compared it unfavorably to Etrian Odyssey IV, another Atlus game that was released this year, and that I consider to be a far superior entry into the dungeon exploration genre of JRPGs. Today I'm going to be talking about the odd child out in the Etrian Odyssey series, the imminently released Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl. This entry is unusual in that, rather than being a true sequel, EO: Untold is a remake of the original Etrian Odyssey, albeit a drastically augmented version of that game (the first Etrian Odyssey was released in 2007). EO: Untold retains the graphical augmentations implemented in the 4th entry (most notably fully rendered 3D models for enemies rather than static sprites) but presents the a similar labyrinth and the original classes from the first Etrian Odyssey game.

For those who are unfamiliar with Etrian Odyssey, the series focuses on building a team of customized adventurers (a team of 5 at a time, though you have space for 30 in your guild) to explore a labyrinth, mapping as you go on the bottom screen of the DS (yes you draw your own maps, this is actually a very important part of the game). Rather than story, the games emphasize exploration, planning, and a steep difficulty curve that savagely punishes a lack of strategy. In addition to the augmented version of the original, EO: Untold also presents an alternate play mode: Story Mode. This version of the game gives the player a pre-determined group of voiced adventurers rather than the all custom cast of the other EO games, and also includes additional story sequences, events, and fully animated cutscenes. This gives people who have already beaten the original even more incentive to consider picking up EO: Untold. I recently had a chance to sit down and play through the lengthy demo, and wanted to report my findings before I delve into the full game (EO: Untold is set to release tomorrow, October 1st, in North America).

I'd already played through the original Etrian Odyssey, so I decided to go straight for Story Mode (the fact that you can only have one save file between classic and story mode is a pretty serious oversight I think.). I was immediately pleased to note that progress made in the demo was applicable to the main game (you can reach up to level 10 in the demo and your save will carry over to the full version). You start off by choosing a difficulty, which is a first for an Etrian Odyssey game. The three presented are Expert (the default difficulty in all previous EO title) normal, a more forgiving mode that gives you a mulligan if you die in the labyrinth, and picnic mode, for if you are really looking to breeze down easy street. After that you start by naming your character, who is a member of the special Highlander class that only exists in Story Mode (he seems sort of like a cross between a Landsknecht and the Bushi class from EOIV). The normal introductory mission, where you have to map the first floor of the labyrinth, is made considerably less dangerous by virtue of the fact that, rather than a party of lvl. 1 scrubs all with default equipment, you are guided along your way by two level 30 characters. This lets you gain your bearings in a way that doesn't involve restarting the game about three or four times. After this point you are introduced to the rest of the pre-generated cast, and also to another new feature of the game, a totally original labyrinth that you will apparently be periodically returning to explore as the game progresses. This dungeon seemed to be a bit less combat heavy and more puzzley than the main dungeon, which I think offered a nice change of pace. This was also the point where I was introduced to the idea of grimoire stones, items that you can collect and fuse, allowing your characters access to skills from classes other than their own (also stat buffs and enemy skills wowzer!). All of this made the game seem totally fresh, rather than a prettied up re-release.

That runs pretty much throughout the whole demo for that matter. When I got down to the ctual exploration of the labyrinth (in the demo I explored the first three floors of Yggdrasil, which amounted to something like four or five hours of gameplay, now that is a quality demo) I discovered that not only was the game totally overhauled graphically, the levels of the labyrinth were also totally different, and the second floor even offered a completely new kind of FOE (the sub-bosses that roam the levels of the dungeon in EO games). So while the town was the same, and some of the NPCs were the same (only they're now voiced over) basically everything else had been revamped and rearranged. The music is fully orchestrated, just like all the tracks in EOIV (though I don't know that I could like them more than the battle music in EOIV which was just fantastic) and really helps to evoke the setting.

I'll be picking up the full copy of the game after work tomorrow and delving into it deeper, but so far I'm pleasantly surprised with what I've seen. I expected a very slight gameplay upgrade and the graphics of EOIV, but I've experienced a much fresher game than I'd hoped for, and I'm looking forward to playing the heck out of this entry. Like any of the other titles in the Etrian Odyssey series, if dungeon crawls and leveling characters isn't your thing, you'll have a tough time enjoying this game, but if you like that kind of thing, EO: Untold seems like it'll be a great entry into the series, and also has the scaling difficulty and ease-into-it Story Mode beginning to be the best way to introduce players to the genre without turning them off of it with its punishing difficulty.
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