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   Etrian Odyssey - Reader Review  

Labyrinth of the World Tree
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Medium
COMPLETION TIME
50-150 Hours
OVERALL

3.5/5

Rating definitions 

   The town of Etria sits on the edge of a deep maze known as the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, which many adventurers have attempted to explore, although few have survived. One day, you arrive at the town, creating an adventurers' guild of your own in hopes that you'll be the one who will conquer the Labyrinth and uncover its mysteries. Etrian Odyssey is a first-person dungeon-crawling RPG for the Nintendo DS, published in North America by Atlus in 2007, which proves to be an enjoyable old-school experience despite its shortcomings.

   When starting a new game, players can create a guild of up to five active characters of seven different classes (with the player able to unlock two more classes later into the game). Within the Labyrinth, monsters are randomly-encountered, with a meter indicating how close the player is to encountering enemies. In battle, the player inputs commands for his or her characters and then lets them and the enemy beat each other up in a round. As with most other turn-based battle systems, turn order can vary and be unpredictable at times, although luckily, fights are pretty fast-paced, especially when the player holds down the A button, and very rarely exceed a minute.

   For each step taken in the Yggdrasil Labyrinth and every round of battle, moreover, more powerful enemies known as FOEs (an acronym for some Latin term) will take a step through the current floor, and if they’re nearby while the player is fighting, they'll possibly take notice and gradually approach the location of the encounter, able to enter the fight themselves. After their defeat, FOEs require a few days to re-spawn within the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, with time elapsing for each step taken in the dungeon and whenever the player sleeps at the inn in Etria.

FOE! FOE! FOEs can easily slaughter you early on, so take heed.

   After any encounter, the player's party gains experience and occasionally some items that he or she can sell for money at Etria's main shop, which is, aside from the occasional treasure chest in the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, the only way to gain money in the game. Whenever a character levels up, he or she gains a skill point the player can invest into various skills, with some skills necessary to unlock others. Moreover, if a character's level is high enough, the player can "rest" him or her, setting him or her back ten levels yet allowing the player to completely redistribute his or her skill points, or even retire that character, in which case the character is replaced by another of a different class (or the same class) with slight stat bonuses and additional starting skill points.

   Another feature of combat is the boost system, where each character has a boost gauge that gradually fills with damage received, and, which full, allows a character a one-round surge in power that can empower normal attacks and special skills. However, it's fairly easy to forget about this feature, which is hardly the difference between victory and defeat throughout the game. As for difficulty, Etrian Odyssey is fairly balanced for the most part, with experienced players likely to have a smooth adventure through the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, and the inexperienced likely to struggle somewhat. Overall, the battle system is fairly solid and enjoyable, with little to complain about.

   The interface is clean for the most part, with easy menus, controls, and the like. Moreover, while the main equipment shop in Etria doesn't immediately show how much a piece of equipment will increase or decrease a character;s stats, the player does have access to the main menu while in the shop, and can very easily compare the stats of equipped gear with those of prospective gear before buying it. While navigating the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, moreover, players must mostly create their own maps (the game automatically marks visited tiles, but the masochistic can turn this feature off), drawing walls, indicating treasure chests, placing memos at certain spots, and so forth. If players die within the Labyrinth, the game offers them the chance to save created maps before restarting. All in all, interaction is clean, though the heavy degree of cartography won't appeal to everyone.

Beh, I ain't spoiling anything, really. Expect to meet these two a lot through the Yggdrasil Labyrinth.

   The ability to create dungeon maps with the Nintendo DS stylus is what mainly sets Etrian Odyssey apart from other RPGs, although it does derive elements from RPGs such as Shining in the Darkness (first-person dungeon-crawling), Diablo II (the skill point system), and Final Fantasy XII (selling junk gained from enemies to make new equipment appear when shopping). Overall, Etrian Odyssey is somewhat moderate in terms of creativity.

   The story, unfortunately, is where Etrian Odyssey severely falters. Since the player creates all playable characters, there naturally isn't much character development or many story scenes throughout the game, although there are a few interesting twists near the end of the main quest. Still, the plot is hardly a selling point.

   The music, though, is another of the game's high points, with many great tracks composed by Yuzo Koshiro of ActRaiser fame. Granted, its quality does leave a little to desire, although it's still pleasant to the ears.

   The visuals aren't as strong, but they do have their high points. Character and monster art is nice, and the 3-D dungeons are well-rendered, although there are some flaws such as the player's party being invisible during combat and inanimate enemies, which have been dated for a little over a decade in the genre. Despite their shortcomings, though, the graphics certainly don't detract from the player's experience.

   Finally, Etrian Odyssey is a fairly lengthy game, with its main quest taking at least fifty hours to complete, and the player able to spend somewhere up to a hundred and fifty hours working on post-game quests, such as completing the Monster Codex and Item Codex. In the end, Etrian Odyssey is an enjoyable old-school experience, with solid combat, dungeon exploration, and music topping off the adventure. Those looking for a great story, however, should certainly look elsewhere, although those who simply want a fun game should certainly give it a look.

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