Contributed by CJ
A little history ..
A good few years ago the original Etrian Odyssey tore colossal strips of time from my life.
Memories long past of pouring beefy stretches of time into 16-bit classic Dungeon Master, transitioning wonderfully from the dinky bedroom portable telly I had as a blighter, through to the even tinier window through which the modern day me gleefully gazed at Atlus’ Nintendo DS classic.
The original Etrian Odyssey has you bringing a group of mercenaries into a town to try and best a labyrinth. Lots before you had tried, most had failed, and the town silently thrived upon such folks turning up, spending coin and then waddling off to their deaths.
There was little more to the story than that. You created a character for yourself, and as many variants as you fancied throughout numerous classes and headed out to test those choices against the monstrous forest which had consumed so many before.
It was only after a little time into the game I realised that a group of adventurers and separate party of foragers was the best route; the latter I’d send out purely to mine for goodies, the main bunch specialists in besting the beasties using the spoils of the previous team’s run.
Along the way I met my match numerous times, breath gripped with an invisible fist, convinced I was out of my depth and had no chance of making it back; and in certain glorious instances risked blistering bravado to burst beyond the battle to steal victory from seeming defeat.
The choral wash of celebration rang blissfully from the speakers – I hit new levels, experience and skills attained wonderfully percussive over themes of victory – all set to a heartbeat which could confidently drum for Nine Inch Nails.
I didn’t play Etrian Odyssey 2 or 3, investing instead in fabulous throwback adventure Dark Spire, as well as the utterly sublime Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. My return to Etrian came with the fourth instalment, ‘Legends Of The Titan’; a game I loved, one which humbled me, and a title I bestowed a very respectable 87% to back in August of last year.
And so to the latest instalment – ‘Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl’. Going in, I knew very little at all, other than the new game had billed itself as a ‘re-imagining and remake’ of the original, as well as being the first in the series to feature a story mode.
As opposed to the original template of naming and creating a bunch of my own characters – the entire experience purely mine to invest in as much or as little as I wished beyond scene setting footnotes – I was curious to see how I felt about a scripted experience, so threw myself into it.
The immediate change was in creating just one character – me – and venturing out into the forest alone, rather than having built a party of varying abilities to pitch in alongside me.
As a veteran this evoked an uncertain nervousness, venerability – something the game balances alongside the most accomplished lead-in of any of the titles in the series. In those early moments care is taken to gently lead you in, balancing awe and nervousness with well timed whispers as to how to control, move and thrive. And it’s here you’re truly encouraged to get your drawing on.
See, while the top screen details your step-by-step movement in the game, plus any menus that might arise, the lower screen is dedicated to manually mapping the area you’re in.
It’s veritable maths paper upon which to draw outlines, show secret passages, illustrate uncertain discoveries – pretty much anything you fancy. A number of pens and highlighters exist to flourish your work, stickers you can drag and drop onto your creation, as well as a couple of erasers if you stuff up.
The game is quite forgiving when you’re drawing a straight line, so don’t worry about pinpoint accuracy. Two rattling romps of train journeys a few weeks back didn’t bring a stitch of rage in this regard, so if you fancy the game for your daily commute, I reckon you’ll be fine.
Once your first area is mapped and you’re attuned to the game’s systems, you head out properly, and the game debuts the difference the story mode imparts, and in turn takes a giant leap from the titles I’ve played prior to this.
[If your interest is piqued and you fancy going into the game knowing nothing more, jump past this next bit. It’s scene setting, illustrating the differences, but came as a big surprise to me, so -your choice!]
Beyond the expected forest adventure I encountered what looked to be a spaceship, and inside was joined by a number of fully formed characters. Not only were these folks bursting with personality, but I realised I was smiling, biting my lip a bit, genuinely hooked and curious as hell.
Each of these people had differing abilities, some of magic, others skills such as healing – your standing RPG stuff – but there were also those good with rifles as well as swords.
All of there people appeared to be from differing points in time, my party instantly swelled by them joining me in battle. Not only did was I taught the various nuances they brought to the fore, but also their special skills.
This wasn’t as dull as ‘push button/enact magic’, but abilities such as being able to singularly draw the ire of a beast, or protect the front line of the party for example.
A fun battle with what looked like a furious two-legged camel – and wouldn’t you be if you were a camel with two legs [*I avoided the ‘got the hump’ joke. Just ;)] – understanding more about the tactical scope of a battle the further the fight went on.
It’s here I met ‘The Millennium Girl’, a Miss sealed away in a cryogenic chamber, as curious about her past, future and as to what might have brought all of us together as I.
Amidst all this the art style is gorgeous, voice acting packed with personality, and the anime cutscenes by Studio Madhouse truly sumptuous.
I’ve played, I’ve died, and I’ve come back time and time again. A few weeks ago the game devoured a train journey up to visit my old man and back again, and, frankly, I’m a wee bit smitten with it.
As a fan of the likes of Dark Souls, of choosing my own adventure and forging my own path, I was curious as to whether the story mode would feel forced, and far too funnelled, but the opposite seems true.
Through great writing and characters that crackle, an art style that sings, I found myself being more drawn into The Millennium Girl than I have any of Etrian Odyssey’s previous titles.
Equal care has been taken to make the game more accessible to new players, and again as rather than feeling like every hand is being held, every spoon feeding likewise, the craft in amplifying the awe and loneliness with a little understanding is wonderfully perfected.
Yet for fans of the series who would rather shun all these trimmings and purely want a new adventure in exactly the same way they’ve always loved, the classic mode still remains. Cake and eat it. Win-Win.
There are still a few niggles that can be applied to the game. You only get to see enemies when you’re right upon them and about to launch into battle.
Likewise NPC’s have to be manually marked on the map in case you want to chat to them again, because if you fancy scouting for them you certainly won’t see them from distance.
The former could be considered an oversight within this new evolution, but there’s still a little something to be said for the gasp of a random battle kicking in with very little warning.
An element to be looked at for future instalments perhaps, yet nothing that feels detrimental to the overall experience.
In fact, The Millennium Girl feels like a step forward for Etrian Odyssey and a definite bar raised.
+ Looks beautiful.
+ Fabulous design and wonderful cutscenes.
+ Great story.
- Still a few aspects to be tweaked to achieve greatness perhaps, such as the random encounters and lack of identifying NPCs at distance.
Keep up the strong writing and gorgeous design work, along with a little evolution and a great series could well become something truly magnificent indeed.
In the here and now, I really love The Millennium Girl, and recommend it unreservedly.
Etrian Odyssey: The Millennium Girl.
Nintendo 3DS – published by NIS America.