Atlus has certainly been doing its best to address the major criticisms leveled at Etrian Odyssey, a notoriously challenging series of dungeon crawler RPGs. With Etrian Odyssey IV, the company sought to open the series up to a wider audience by adding an adjustable difficulty, making the gameplay much less daunting to newcomers. Now with its follow-up title, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, Atlus looks to improve the series’ storytelling (or lack thereof), weaving a stronger narrative through the adventure while still retaining the sense of freedom and exploration that drew gamers to it in the first place. Fortunately, the game succeeds on both counts.
Unlike previous installments in the series, Etrian Odyssey Untold is not an entirely new adventure but a reimagining of the very first Etrian Odyssey game, which was released for the Nintendo DS back in 2007. As such, the title sticks closely to the foundation laid down by its predecessor, but your journey is tempered with many of the refinements introduced in Etrian Odyssey IV, from improved visuals to multiple difficulty settings, which can be adjusted at any point in the adventure from the start menu.
Longtime fans will be immediately drawn to the Classic mode, a spruced up version of the original quest. Here you’ll be tasked with plumbing the depths of the fabled Yggdrasil, clawing your way through its innumerable floors, besting the monsters that lurk within, and mapping out its twisting corridors on the touch screen. Despite the familiarity of this premise, the gameplay is still just as engaging now as when the series first debuted; navigating to the end of a floor is immensely satisfying thanks to the planning and resolve required to get there, and the aforementioned cartography system instills the whole experience with a palpable sense of discovery.
What really sets the title apart from the original, however, is the new Story mode. Unlike a typical Etrian Odyssey game, which is more about dungeon-crawling than any kind of a plot, Untold also features an alternate, narrative-driven quest to embark on. In this mode, players are cast in the role of a nameless Highlander, who is brought to Etria to investigate the mysterious earthquakes that have been plaguing the city. While exploring a dilapidated ruin at the outskirts of town, you awaken a mysterious girl from her cryogenic stasis and come across a band of researchers from the Midgard Library, who are also combing the ruins for information on the disturbances. Guided by the girl’s fragmentary memories, you form a guild with the researchers and head into the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, a winding, natural maze that stretches far below Etria’s surface and holds the key to unlocking the secrets behind the earthquakes (and the girl’s past).
The ensuing quest will take you through the same sprawling dungeon as Classic mode, but the stronger emphasis on narrative gives Untold’s Story mode a different flavor than previous Etrian Odyssey games. The tale doesn’t veer far from the usual RPG tropes, but it is compelling just the same, giving you an incentive to delve deeper into the heart of Yggdrasil beyond just the thrill of adventure. More importantly, it does so without sacrificing any of the customization you’d expect from the series. Your party members may all have predetermined roles to play, but they can still be re-classed at the Explorers Guild. You’re also free to allocate skill points to their various attributes as you wish, affording you a great deal of freedom in developing their builds. Each character is likeable despite being drawn in fairly broad strokes, allowing you to forge a more personal attachment to them than the empty ciphers who accompanied you on previous adventures.
But while the stronger narrative generally makes Untold an improvement over its predecessors, there are a few instances where the game still stumbles. Because it’s based on the earliest installment in the series, it lacks many of the features that have helped define later titles, making it feel a bit primitive compared to more recent adventures. Etrian Odyssey IV’s overworld in particular is sorely missed, as it offered players a respite from the constant grind of dungeon-diving, and injected the gameplay with some welcome variety.
Likewise, for all its attempts at opening the series up to newcomers, Untold still succumbs to some of the genre’s more archaic tendencies. It’s hard to become fully invested in the story when the encounter rate impedes your progress, and the difficulty of fleeing from battles can make retracing your steps through a floor tedious (particularly if you’re forced to withdraw from the dungeon before you can reach the next level and activate the quick jump feature).
Still, these complaints do little to detract from the game’s appeal. Etrian Odyssey Untold largely succeeds at marrying the series’ gameplay with a more narrative-driven adventure, creating a unique take on the traditional Etrian Odyssey formula, while the Classic mode ensures that longtime fans will not be alienated by the game’s new direction. There are still a few issues that mar the overall experience, but the stronger plot and adjustable difficulty help stake new territory for the series, making Untold another great Etrian Odyssey game that newcomers and veterans alike will enjoy.