Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold is the latest release in the long-running dungeon crawling franchise. It continues the ‘Untold’ moniker, serving as a remake and a retelling of the 2008 title Etrian Odyssey 2. The Etrian Odyssey series is well-known for its fiendish difficulty and old-school sensibilities, so let’s see how this latest entry pans out.
At its core, Etrian Odyssey is a dungeon crawler in the purest sense. You’re tasked with exploring the eponymous Yggdrasil Labryinth, usually with loose story direction guiding you along the way. Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold follows this same formula. You arrive in the Northern town of High Lagaard and are immediately directed to form a guild and start climbing the nearby Yggdrasil Labryinth; a tower that stretches beyond the clouds. After a brief tutorial, you’re thrust into action, directing your party through 25 floors of first person dungeon crawling and turn based combat, sporadically returning to town to resupply and pick up new quests.
Each of those 25 floors is extremely hazardous, with damaging floor tiles, interactive events, and of course, enemies in abundance, so it helps to know exactly where you’re going. Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold utilizes the same cartography system as previous entries, encouraging you to map out the labyrinth as you explore it. That map is your lifeline, as a properly drawn map can mean the difference between a successful exploration and excruciating defeat. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the F.O.E system; a staple of the series since the beginning. F.O.E are essentially minibosses that roam the labyrinth independently of the random encounters that form the bulk of your battles. With each move you make, whether in combat or in exploration, these creatures move too, essentially forming puzzles for you to solve. It’s almost always possible to avoid an F.O.E, but failure to do so can mean a rather swift game over. On the other hand, a more difficult enemy means more lucrative rewards, so managing to topple an F.O.E is always an incredibly satisfying experience.
Upon booting the game up for the first time, you’re met with an option to play in one of two different modes: Classic and Story, a feature added for the Untold subseries. Classic mode is precisely what you might expect; more accurately recreating the experience of playing Etrian Odyssey 2. Most of the maps have undergone slight redesigns, with some new puzzles and elements added to make use of the more powerful hardware. You are given free rein to create a party of five from any of the 13 available classes, each with a deep and varied skill tree for thorough customisation, and you are set free to adventure at your own discretion. Story mode follows a more rigid narrative setup, establishing your party of five predetermined characters and tasking you to explore the labyrinth with a more deliberate pace. You are given the ability to reclass any of your party members at any time, allowing a degree of flexibility. Story mode has some exclusive content in the form of a unique class, character interactions and the occasional cutscene, but the vast majority of the content is the same between the two modes. Choosing one is simply a matter of preference; the flexibility of Classic mode is great, but the narrative structure of Story mode and the character interactions are rather charming, if simple.
Also unique to the Untold series is the option to set the game’s difficulty to one of three levels: Picnic, Standard and Expert. Picnic is rather self-explanatory, with no penalty for failure and significantly bolstered party attack and defence. Standard is the recommended option for newcomers, offering one restart after a defeat, as well as unaltered stats. Expert is significantly more sadistic, specifically catering towards series veterans. A game over on Expert difficulty sends you back to the title screen, potentially costing hours of progress. If that wasn’t enough, your party also deals significantly less damage and takes much more, meaning a party wipe is always one mistake away. Even on Standard difficulty, this is not an easy game, but it manages to feel balanced and fair throughout. Often, the best method to overcome a difficult trial is to re-evaluate your options and approach from a different angle; an option made all the more enticing by the flexibility and versatility of the available classes.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold is a very satisfying dungeon-crawling experience. It’s unapologetic, brutally difficult at times, and unmistakably old-fashioned. Exploring those 25 floors, plus the additional five unlocked after completing the story, was engrossing all the way through. That said, this title is certainly one aimed at a niche audience. The slow, plodding pace of the game can be tough to push through at times, and the one-note nature of the gameplay may not prove interesting enough for some. A significant part of the entertainment value of this game comes from the sheer cathartic joy of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. Once you get sucked into that feedback loop it can be difficult to break free, but this isn’t a concept that will appeal to everyone. If you’re looking for a way into this series, this is your best option so far. It’s well polished and the most accessible release in this otherwise rather unwelcoming series.
However, I haven’t addressed the elephant in the room here for Etrian Odyssey fans. Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold marks the first time in the series that DLC has been factored in for the game’s release. A lot of fans have expressed concern that this means content was cut from the original release, and while that may not be reasonable to assume, it is certainly a possibility. This DLC adds an additional playable class, as well as some optional bosses and some experience boosting items. As far as DLC trends go, that’s pretty much par for the course, but Etrian Odyssey has always been a self-sufficient game. Naturally, there is concern among the fans that change may not be positive, but I don’t strictly believe they are well-founded. The Etrian Odyssey series has been running since 2007, and outside of graphical overhauls, it hasn’t undergone any significant developments. I understand that it’s old-fashioned by design, but at this point, eight years into its life, it’s beginning to feel rather stale. While DLC may not be the answer, I feel a little bit of change, a touch of innovation, will go a long way to revitalising this series. As it stands, the above review can effectively describe all previous entries in the series, a fact that I find rather concerning. While Etrian Odyssey still manages to deliver what it promises with aplomb, I feel that it’s time for it to deliver more.