There's been a fair few dungeon crawler-style role playing games coming out lately. With Disgaea 5, Etrian Mystery Dungeon and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon either out now, or on the near horizon, the first thought that popped into our head on hearing about Etrian Odyssey 2 was "do we really need another of these?" It didn't take us long to realise that the answer was a resounding "yes", Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight has so much more going for it than the average dungeon crawler.
For starters, Etrian Odyssey 2 has a very clever trick up its sleeve, where a single setting lets it appeal to two rather different groups of people. Do you like a game with an depth and involving storyline, in which every choice you make matters? Then this is the game for you! Or do you prefer a game where you can create and customize your characters to be exactly how you want them, down to their actual name? Then this is also the game for you!
Your very first option is whether you want to play what the game calls Classic Mode, where you can make your own characters, or Story Mode, which takes you on a dramatically told tale of five detailed characters, with all the usual role playing game trimmings. As you'd probably expect, we went with Story, as we love a game that engages us with good character development and a gripping storyline. We were not disappointed.
As another added bonus, you can also choose how hard you want the game to be. If you want a challenge, then Expert is the hardest on offer, for the self described "fearless". If you want to play more for the exploration and the storyline then you should go with Picnic, which is dubbed as being "for those who like a walk in the park," as the monsters don't pose too much of a threat. If you're not sure how you might get on with the game, but you don't want to make it too easy then Normal is a safe bet, "for those who enjoy overcoming trials."
The story starts off with the game's protagonist (we named him Matthias) and his childhood friend Flavio. You are members of the Midgard Library organisation, who are tasked with helping the Princess Arianna on her quest to perform a ceremony inside the nearby ancient temple of Ginnungagap (trying saying that five times fast!)
As you'd likely expect, not everything goes according to plan, and as problem after problem arises, it's up to you to overcome them, by following the guidance of the various explorers and dwellers of Central City (ok, so maybe they could have come up with a more exciting name for their city…)
Essentially what this boils down to is having to venture into the nearby dungeons and defeat the numerous bosses, until the protagonist is powerful enough to fulfil his destiny as the Fafnir Knight, complete Arianne's ceremony and ultimately save the land from the rage of a creature known as the Calamity, which will be unleashed if the ceremony is not completed! Unfortunately, this too doesn't quite go to plan (whoops!) and in the end, it's up to you to destroy the Calamity, or you are all dooooooomed!
A traditional dungeon exploring game (the Etrian Odyssey name is synonymous with the genre), the game is divided across the 3DS' two screens. On the top screen, you've got a first person view of the dungeon you're exploring, and on the bottom, a blank screen that will soon become your map. You start on the first floor of the first dungeon, and as you explore, you'll eventually come across the stairs that take you on to the next floor. As you go, you'll be attacked by monsters, find yourself in dead ends, and generally perform other exploring duties, as you unveil every inch of the area.
Depending on which mode you're playing, the bottom screen on the 3DS will either be incredibly useful automatically, or equally useful with a bit of work. On Story Mode, as you explore the area, the map will automatically fill itself in - but on Classic Mode, you actually have to draw the map for yourself. On both modes, you can place markers on the map to remind you of where items of interest are, such as places to gather, mine and chop down the materials you'll need to cook food and obtaining better weapons and armour - or the all important staircases.
As you journey through the dungeons, from time to time you'll find yourself in a battle with some of the local monsters, and it's up to you to decide the best course of action for defeating your enemies. Turn-based affairs, there's plenty of room here to experiment with strategies, and while an all-out attack will work most of the time when you're playing on easy, you'll sometimes need to make the most of your team's varied classes skills.
Being a Fafnir Knight, you have a reasonably strong attack, but you also have the option to temporarily transform into a monster form, giving you a boosted amount of health and attack strength for 3 turns. This is a special move called 'Force', and each of your team has a unique one.
The others members of your team each have their own roles such as healing, inflicting status ailments on the enemy (for example poisoning or putting them to sleep), acting as a human shield, or using ranged attacks. It's cool that you can switch your team around in battle, as this means that if one of them is taking a bit of a pounding on the front line, you can switch them to the back and give them a bit of a rest. Of course, you also have the option of escaping as well (if you're a complete coward!), but you won't get far in this game without defeating as many monsters as you can. You gain experience as you beat monsters, which in turn lets your team mates level up, developing a better attack strength and stronger defence.
Before too long, you'll discover that your best friend in the game can be a Grimoire Stone! By equipping your team with these special stones, you can give them extra attacks that are stronger than your usual ones, along with useful abilities, such as boosting the strength of your attacks or defence. The game actually gives you your first stones to start you off, and you'll be able to pick up new, different and sometimes better ones from fighting and defeating monsters.
The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that we mentioned gathering items to cook with earlier, and this is one of the best parts of Etrian Odyssey 2, as it's kind of like a mini game of sorts. When you've unlocked the cafe (which you can also name!) you soon find yourself in charge of decoding ancient recipes. You're given a description of the food used in a dish, and then it's up to you to select the correct ingredients from the ones you've collected. If you chose the right ones then congratulations, it's now available at the cafe! And if you didn't then just give it another go, or wait until you have more ingredients to choose from.
Of course, there's more to do in the café than just cooking. You can advertise your dishes around the city which gets you money if your dishes sell. This is well worth looking into, as you'll need money to develop your town and expand it, which in turn will mean more people to sell more dishes to!
Eventually you'll start saving up enough money to buy better armour and weapons, and that's where the gathering, mining and chopping that was mentioned earlier comes in! You'll also notice that the monsters you defeat will drop items. Sometimes one will leave behind body parts, sometimes literally itself. Seriously. We have collected many a "Hiding Snail" from the Forest Snails… You can sell the bits and pieces you collect to unlock different weapons and armour, and then spend your hard earned cash kitting out your team.
It's also worth setting some of your materials aside, as you'll often find they come in handy with the quests you can accept. If you pop over to the local bar, you'll find many a traveller and explorer in need of assistance because apparently they're too lazy and pathetic to go out and help themselves… Mostly they'll be after something you can pick up in the dungeons - and if you already have the stuff in your supplies, you don't even have to lift a finger, and can just pocket the rewards there and then!
We've had a good think about our feelings about this game, and we can't come up with any reason not to like it. That is, of course, if you are a fan of role playing games that involve exploring dungeons and fighting monsters. If you don't, then sure, this probably isn't the game for you. But we loved it. From the story to the battles, to the little touches, like the fact there were so many little extras to find, depending on how you react to certain situations (like the hedgehog incident), it really makes you feel part of the game, rather than an audience just watching events pan out.
It's definitely worth picking up this enjoyable game that will give you hours of entertainment and a great story with fun and unique characters.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS