Friday, September 25, 2020

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl

 Etrian Odyssey Untold The Millennium Girl.png

Over a decade ago, I became fond of RPGs published by Atlus, such as many entries of their flagship Megami Tensei franchise, and in 2007, they began the World Tree Labyrinth series, making extensive use of the Nintendo DS’s touchscreen capabilities with customizable maps. I actually had a fun experience with the first game in the franchise, titled Etrian Odyssey in English, in spite of its above-average difficulty, to the point where I happily purchased and played its sequels. The franchise would eventually move to the 3DS in the form of a remake of the first game, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, which very well builds upon the original.

When starting a new game, the player receives a choice to play on Classic mode or Story mode, with the former allowing players to use their imagination and create a party of up to five characters of a variety of classes. The latter, on the other hand, has named characters with fixed occupations, lead by a highlander dispatched to the eponymous city of Etria to discover the cause of earthquakes. The player’s character quickly meets the subtitular “millennium girl,” Frederica “Ricky” Irving, frozen in a thousand-year-long stasis in ruins of Gladsheim. The rest of the highlander’s party consists of employees in the service of the Midgard Library, including Simon, Arthur, and Raquna.

Aside from the oft-imitated RPG trope of amnesia, the narrative is well-told in Story mode, with an endearing cast and some decent twists. The translation definitely helps the game, with nary a spelling or grammar error, and some occasional battle dialogue that’s actually helpful, for instance, pointing out things such as enemies’ elemental weaknesses. Many characters also have dialects, such as Raquna’s pseudo-Canadian speech and shopkeeper Shilleka’s “Australian” voice. As with other entries of the franchise, however, titling it Etrian Odyssey in English was a bit shortsighted as only the first game occurs in Etria, but otherwise, the plot and translation are far more than functional.

Solid gameplay backs the narrative experience, with the characters, in Story mode, fixed to their occupations, each having skill trees where the player can invest points obtained from leveling into active and passive abilities, allowing for things such as TP consuming skills, increased attack and defense, and the like. The turn-based battles themselves occur randomly, though a colored indicator, as in other entries, notes how close the player is to an encounter. When an encounter triggers, the player’s party of five characters, with up to three able to occupy a row at once, squares off against the enemy.

Each character can attack with their equipped weapon, defend to reduce damage, execute a TP-consuming skill, “boost” when a special gauge is full to increase the power of a command, use a consumable item, or attempt to escape, with up to five opportunities to do so if the player feels the enemy outmatches them. Once the player has inputted all characters’ commands, they exchange turns with the enemy, turn order likely dependent upon agility. The typical JRPG trope of sometimes-unpredictable command order plays part, although it’s pretty much only critical on higher difficulties.

Winning battles nets all living characters experience points for occasional leveling, along with parts of the defeated monsters that the player can sell at the shop in Etria for money in turn used to purchase equipment and consumables, with new merchandise appearing as the player sells enemy parts. Dungeons too have enemies more powerful than those in random encounters termed FOEs, which have certain movement patterns in the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, and the game encourages their avoidance at least when first encountered. Luckily, after defeat, FOEs don’t respawn for several days, and sometimes different enemy sets appear during nighttime.

The game mechanics definitely work well, with the difficulty being adjustable, the easiest setting warping players back to Etria in cases of defeat by an enemy party, whilst higher challenge options maintain the harshness of defeat for which the original game was known. The endgame is also fair, with several bosses encountered towards the end of Story mode, although fortunately the player has opportunity to go back to town, save, and heal in between these encounters. In the end, Etrian Odyssey Untold definitely sets the standard for turn-based RPG combat.

As in prior games, the player must use the stylus to map each floor, although options exist to map walls and visited tiles automatically. Mapping the dungeon has its perks, as once a floor has a decent-enough map, the player can instantly travel to ascending and descending staircases. The menus are easy to get a handle of, it’s nigh impossible to get lost at any point during the central storyline, and exploring the maze can be fun. Most of the sidequests such as bar requests are also beatable without a guide, and aside from the lack of an in-game clock, Untold interfaces well with players.

The remake remixes Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack, which is easily one of the game’s high points, given the instrumentation of each peace remaining faithful to the original digitized tracks, the player further able to switch between classic and modern-style music. Notable tracks include the peaceful town theme, the music in the first stratum, and the energetic battle themes that rarely loop, given the quick pace of combat. There’s also voice acting, which is top-notch, with no character ever sounding miscast, and akin to Skies of Arcadia, dialogue isn’t always fully-voiced. Ultimately, an excellent-sounding game.

The visuals are perhaps the remake’s weak point, given the total first-person perspective of dungeon navigation and combat, but they too have their share of redeeming aspects. The color scheme, for instance, is pleasant, with each stratum having different designs, and their respective environments look pretty, despite some occasional blurriness and pixilation regarding the texturing. The enemies in battle are also animate, with good ability effects from the player’s party, although there are occasional reskinned foes. The art direction is further solid, with pretty character portraits with effects such as different emotions and blinking eyes. In the end, Untold is far from an eyesore.

Finally, the game isn’t terribly lengthy, with total playtime of around a day or so, and there’s plenty of lasting appeal in the form of finding all monster parts, a post-game stratum, and a New Game+.

Overall, Etrian Odyssey Untold is very much what an RPG remake should be, given things such as its tight and straightforward game mechanics, the engaging dungeon-mapping system, the developed narrative, the excellent soundtrack, the pretty graphics, and plenty reasons to come back for more. There really isn’t a whole lot of room for improvement, except perhaps in regard to the visual style, although as mentioned, it too has its positives. The adjustable difficulty is also sure to appeal to hardcore and casual players, and I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the game.

The Good:
+Quick, straightforward battle mechanics.
+Engaging mapping system with Floor Jump feature.
+Enjoyable narrative.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Pretty visuals.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Dungeon and battle graphics strictly first-person.

The Bottom Line:
A great remake and high point of 3DS RPGs.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 9.5/10
Story: 9.5/10
Localization: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 10/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: ~1 day

Overall: 9.5/10

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