Atlus, oh Atlus, why must you humble me? Why do you have to keep making games that will push any gamer’s skills to the limit? Could it be because you care and want to cater to the hardcore market?
Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard is the most challenging RPG that I have ever played. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing, if you know what you’re getting into. The second installment of Etrian Odyssey for the DS is once again a dungeon crawling RPG. However, this time instead of traveling from the top floor of a cave downward, the players must start on the first floor of a massive tree and work their way to the top.
Along the way you are free to choose from several different player classes for your adventure party. Players will find themselves constantly switching characters in and out of their party to make it to the next floor.
Etrian Odyssey 2:Heroes of Lagaard is definately for the hardcore RPG fan, but is it worth their time?
Etrian Odyssey 2 uses a very colorful 3D graphics engine. There are a total of 30 floors in the game and the background graphics for each floor will change every 5 floors. For instance the first five floors all have a summer time tree look, with lots of green leaves and flowers throughout the environment. Floors six through 10 all have an autumn time look with orange, yellow and red leaves being prominent.
Keep in mind that throughout the game you will be traveling in a giant tree, so don’t expect grand vistas and landscapes. Instead the game seems very much like a dungeon crawling game set in a cave, but with a lot of leaves and flowers and sunlight popping through the leaves. Considering that this is a DS title the background graphics are fairly detailed. However, there is a fair amount of popup that occurs in the game. The tile sets closest to the player are always much more detailed than the tiles a couple of steps away.
The enemies are handled in 2D and are all hand drawn. They are usually very colorful and detailed. Many of the enemy designs are repeated and given different names, but even then, they usually have some variation in their design so you are not fighting the same monsters floor after floor.
Friendly characters and your party characters are also all hand drawn. They too have a Saturday morning cartoon look to them. This decision seems strange to me considering that the game is so difficult and is not catered toward a young market. In any case, the characters aren’t so cute that they are distracting and once you start playing the game you will hardly ever see them anyway.
The sound and music in Etrian Odyssey 2 is standard fare for the genre. There is a constant background song that plays while wondering around and battle music that plays when you are in a fight. Your attacks all make cutting sounds, bludgeoning sounds or magical whooshing sounds. There are no voices in Etrian Odyssey 2 and therefore you have to read all of the text in the game (which doesn’t amount to much).
Overall the sound does its job, but it doesn’t stand out. Players won’t miss anything if they decide to play the game with the sound turned down.
This is an RPG and not an action game or button masher, so the controls are all fairly basic. Players move around the maps by using the D-Pad. You go forward by pressing up, backward by pressing down and you turn left or right by pressing in the corresponding direction. There is no strafe button and no jump button. The menus are all handled very well and are simple to navigate.
I will talk about the mapping system later in the review, but for control purposes you need to know that the player has the ability to modify each floor’s map significantly with the use of the stylus. For the most part this works very well. However, sometimes I found myself draging certain things I didn’t want to drag on the map and erasing things I didn’t want to erase. So, the accuracy of the stylus isn’t 100%, but it still works pretty darn well.
Etrian Odyssey 2 is not for the weak of heart. This game will chew you up and spit you out. The early floors are especially difficult since your characters are all low level and don’t have a lot of skills. What makes the game even harder in the early going is that once you get into the tree and are on a floor it is very hard to get back to town. You don’t receive spells or items to warp you back to town right away and if your healer or tank goes down then you will struggle to make it back to the Inn to rest. Resting in the Tree is not possible so you either have to be able to warp back to town or somehow make it all the way to a special pole that will allow you to warp back to town (there is only one pole per each set of five floors).
To add to the difficulty, the boss monsters and sub bosses (called FOES) will usually kill you the first time you meet them, because they will be much stronger than your current level. This makes it necessary to wonder around grinding in order to level up prior to defeating bosses. The game acknowledges its difficulty by telling you prior to most boss fights that the monster up ahead is VERY strong and will most likely destroy your party.
Perhaps the strangest decision that Atlus made with this game is that the FOES and most bosses do not award experience to your players when you defeat them. Thus, there is usually very little award or incentive to fight the high powered enemies. The one exception to the no experience rule is that the Bosses at the end of each 5 floor zone will award experience and a lot of it. The only other saving grace with the FOES and bosses is that they are all visible within the game. So fights with them do not start by random encounter. If one wants to, they can avoid most of them all together. Which leads to the question, why even have them there in the first place?
Etrian Odyssey 2 uses both screens throughout the game. The top screen is used predominantly for viewing the action and the environment and the bottom screen is used for your inventory and more importantly, for the game map. The mapping system in the game is a big part of the fun of Etrian Odyssey 2. Upon entering each floor your map for that paricular floor will be blank. As you progress throughout each floor your path will be marked and from there it is up to you to add details such as doors, shortcuts, treasures, minerals and so on. You are given complete freedom to change the map with the stylus in whatever manner you see fit. The end result is a highly interactive mapping system that takes advantage of the DS’s capabilities very well.
Another big strength for Etrian Odyssey 2 is its character system. At the start of the game the player must set up an adventuring guild. I chose to call my guild Team GT. Your next step is to create the characters that you want to have in your guild, you are free to choose from 12 different character classes (1 has to be unlocked). Each class is different from the next, but they mostly represent classes similar to what you would find in modern MMORPGs. You can have as many characters in your guild as you like, however, you can only actively use five of them at any given time.
As your characters level up you have the ability to customize them even further. Each level will give them a new skill point that you can assign to a varity of different skill sets. The end result is a character system that is highly customizable. It is entirely possible to have three characters all based in the same character class but with three different skill sets. Once you are in the game you are free to add new characters to your giuld at any time and experiment to your heart’s delight.
The story in Etrian Odyssey 2 is paper thin. The game centers around one of the last remaining human cities that just happens to be at the base of a massive tree. At the top of the tree there is rumored to be a great treasure. The king of the city has asked adventure guilds to get to the top of the tree and claim the treasure. Beyond that there really isn’t much of a story. There are no main villains and no end of the world story plots.
Etrian Odyssey 2 is available for $29.99. Anyone who enjoys challenging RPGs will definately get their money’s worth out of the game as it will take well over 40 hours to finish the main quest. Aside from the main quest there are several optional quests for each floor. With 30 total floors and several hidden areas in each floor, a player could spend well over 70 hours trying to complete everything in the game.
Part 2 has more classes than Etrian Odyssey 1, a different storyline (if slim) and all new environments. So, Etrian Odyssey 1 vets will find more to love with part 2.
Etrian Odyssey 2 is very replayable because of the robust character creation system. It would be very easy to play through the game a second or third time using new character types each time.