Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!
Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is a greatly expanded remake of the Nintendo DS game Etrian Odyssey, from 2007. This series, since the beginning, has been an intentional throwback to classic first person dungeon crawlers, like Wizardry. In those classic games, you create your own party, name them, and assign them each classes. The first four Etrian Odyssey games used a similar system, where you create everyone you use on your journey. Since everyone is unique, there is very little character development, but on the flip side, the party configuration and the complex choices that come with your party makeup become a core (and very interesting) part of the game.
Also in the spirit of those classic dungeon crawling games, an important part of Etrian Odyssey is its use of the DS bottom screen – to have the player map out the environment. Everyone is expected to draw a map of each dungeon level, and it greatly rewards you in many ways if you do a good job. Your party lives and dies by the map.
Where Untold takes things in a different direction is in the new Story Mode. Classic mode is available for those who wish for the classic experience, but the new mode gives you preassigned characters, who you come to know, and grow with as a team. There is also very good voice acting, which helps bring the experience together. Story mode also offers new classes that are not available anywhere else. Other incentives include additional areas to explore, and full motion videos in a few spots.
Beyond the new Story Mode, which is a pretty big change itself from previous entries, there are also some smaller quality of life improvements as well. Etrian Odyssey has always been in large part map driven. But while previous entries would draw floor tiles you have walked on for you, this one also has an option to have the game automatically fill in walls as you walk by them. While this may seem like a big help, and it is, it's not as much as you might expect – you still have to fill in plenty of details about dangers, secret paths, events, and more on your own. If you do not do these things, you will be sorry...
In Classic Mode, you create your party, and indeed, you have the option to make as many characters as you will likely need. You can create predefined squads with them, or add them to your party on the fly. If you have already beaten the game in Story Mode, you can also carry over your characters from there over to Classic Mode as well via New Game +. This is the only way to get Story Mode's new and unique classes – Highlander and Gunner – over to Classic Mode. The other classes available are Landsknecht (general fighter), Survivalist, Protector, Dark Hunter, Medic, Alchemist, Troubadour, Ronin, and Hexer. Each class has unique strengths and weaknesses, and balancing your party properly is required for survival. Exploring each class' strengths, weaknesses, and skills could easily double the length of this review – but suffice it to say that each has some usefully powerful weapons, armor, attribute points, or passive and active skills that really help define them or make them very powerful and useful in each situation.
While later Etrian games explore various forms of multiclassing, Etrian Odyssey did not. But instead, Untold introduces the new Grimoire Stone. These stones can be found in treasures throughout the game, but more importantly, you can earn them randomly during battle. In battle, you may see 'Grimiore Chance' flash on the screen for a certain character. Whatever skills they use, or the enemy uses, may randomly be included in that stone. Once that stone is equipped on a character, they can use all skills on the stone no matter what class they are. They can also use whatever weapon type is on the stone as well, which can grant some very powerful bonuses. One of my favorite combinations is to give the my healer and magic user guns, which allows them to do very respectable damage from the back row.
The core gameplay of Etrian Odyssey is all about the dungeons. As you explore a dungeon, there are random battles, where you fight off the enemy in simple turn-based combat, similar to classic RPGs where you simply assign each character an action for that round. There are also sometimes avoidable F.O.E.s, which are much stronger than a normal enemy. These F.O.E.s (Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens) can be quite powerful, and may take much more skill, sacrifice, or advanced level grinding to defeat. They also usually offer much greater rewards, in the form of experience, or loot drops.
Loot drops are used in a somewhat unique way: rather than getting weapons or other items directly from enemies, instead they drop raw materials that are used to create better and more powerful items. Some items, once you have the materials, can be purchased as much as you like. Others, you must have a certain number of specific component(s) to make them. Everything, from weapons, armor, accessories, it used combat items, are purchased in this way. And saving up the money for some future payoff is rarely an option – this game is no cakewalk.
Classic Etrian Odyssey had one difficulty level: punishingly hard. This game, and indeed this series, is known for it. Untold now offers three levels: Picnic, Standard, and Expert. Expert is modeled after that classic experience, where patient leveling and nearly perfect strategy is required. Picnic is much easier, with unlimited retries upon death, and unlimited uses or purchases of certain items. Standard is supposed to be like a typical RPG, with challenging bosses and F.O.E.s, but normal enemies that are easier to handle. You also get one retry per excursion to the dungeon. I played mostly on Standard, as I wanted the 'full' experience, but I didn't have enough time for Expert the whole. I did try it, and it was indeed harder, but my progress slowed down significantly – so I had to go back to Standard in order to get this review out in any reasonable time. As it is, this game took me over 92 hours before I saw the credits in Story Mode! And there is still plenty more to do. Not only can I choose to explore even more of the dungeon, unlock every item, and beat optional super-bosses, I can choose to play Classic Mode with New Game +, and play the whole adventure again with any combination of my old and new characters that I wish. There is a ton of gameplay here.
Graphically, it does a decent job. From what I understand, it borrows a lot of the art assets from Etrian Odyssey IV, which was the first 3DS Etrian Odyssey game. Unlike the DS versions (Etrian Odyssey 1-3), the enemies all have battle movements and animations. The DS games had static pictures of each enemy as you fought them in battle. I also really like 3D mode. While nothing about the gameplay changes in 3D, I thought they did a great job with the sense of depth – I found my eyes focusing in the distance as you look down the hallways. If I turned off 3D too quickly, I found I had to blink to refocus on the 2D screen. It is a weird effect, but to me it shows how good of a job the 3D effect is – you really notice it's absence. I enjoyed the art in the game, and I never felt like it was cheap or uninspired. There are some enemies that are palette swaps from other ones, but they mostly feel unique.
The music in this game is fabulous. The Story Mode defaults to the new, orchestrated music, which I thought was just great. I found myself with those tunes stuck in my head many, many times. Classic Mode defaults to the classic FM synth versions of the songs from the original game. These are also very nice, but I have to admit I prefer the redone versions. When I was able to get the soundtrack from the game in the physical copy, I was grateful – though I wish it had more of the game's music on it.
The voice acting is also fun. Classic Mode characters do not feature any, but all of the Story Mode ones do, though the main hero doesn't have lines – only grunts and battle noises. Several of the NPCs also have voice acting. Every word is not voice acted – most of the time, text is used, with accent sound effects in each character's voice. There are a few lines fully voice acted, if they are really important to the story. During battle, there are also some well-timed lines that help remind you of enemy weaknesses, or show emotions on how the battle is going. One character unfortunately likes to curse, saying things like 'What the H*ll!' and 'D*mn it!' when things get tough during battle.
Beyond the language problem mentioned above, there are also some characters who dress inappropriately. Thankfully, the game doesn't dress female warriors in skimpy outfits – if a they are supposed to wear armor, they are shown wearing it. But some Classic Mode characters models like the Dark Hunter, Troubadour, and the Ronin (sort of) show a bit more skin than I would prefer. One in particular, the Dark Hunter, is skilled with the whip, and their character portraits hint towards bondage-style whips. The skill names themselves (and descriptions) remove all doubt with choices like Gag, Shackles, Cuffs, Ecstasy, and Climax.
There are also some NPCs who wear ridiculous outfits, though the game does make a joke out of it. There is one quest where I had to laugh out loud because this character chooses to go with you on a quest. During the conversation arcs, you have many opportunities to make fun of her outfit – ask her if she's cold, and other humorous anecdotes. I always appreciate a game that doesn't take itself too seriously. On another note, one of the Story Mode characters really like her booze, and asks you to join her several times. If you opt out, she is rather disappointed with you, though there are times when your teammates may join you in saying things like 'now's not a time for a drink'. There is also a character who can be seen smoking a pipe.
While there are certain aspects of Story Mode that might be considered cliché, like the amnesiac girl, for example, on the whole, I really enjoyed the interaction between characters, the camaraderie, and the game in general. I would not have played this game as much as I have - over 92 hours - if I did not enjoy it. I am considering playing it some more before finally putting it down, since I still have the deepest levels of the labyrinth left to explore, more items to forge and monsters to document, and classic mode to embark on as well. If you are a hardcore RPG lover, and the appropriateness issues aren't showstoppers for you, I highly recommend giving Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl a shot – it may just be one of the best gaming values around on the Nintendo 3DS. And the best part is, there is a demo for the first 5 levels of the labyrinth on the Nintendo eShop – and your save can be transferred to the retail game with no loss in progress. So, what are you waiting for? Give the demo a spin!