Oh what the fuck? What is this, 2005? That's right, we goin' OLD school up in this bitch. Believe it or not, I bought this game when it came out back in... when was it again? 2006? Whateva nigga, somewhere around there. Thing is, shit happened, as it always does, other stuff kept taking my time, other games kept coming out and getting priority, and I never got around to even taking the shrink wrap off. Since then, up to this point, for years, this game has been sitting there in the corner, wrapped, unloved, crying. But iz all good, 'cause I vowed that ONE DAY I would open this game. And that day is now. Better late than never and all that jazz. For those that don't know, this is the first game in a series. I may've been in on the ground floor when I bought this, but I missed the train. There've now been, like, FIVE of these motherfuckers out. I mean, how did that even happen? You look the other way for just a moment and suddenly you're behind by 5 games? Ridiculous.
But whatever. Old or not, we're doing this shit. Thankfully, the 3DS is backwards compatible so I didn't have to go digging around for my old DS, wherever it may be. RIP. Anyway, Etrian Odyssey is a straight-up dungeon crawler. It has a dungeon (in which you spend 95% of the game), it has a town, and that is IT. Just kidding though, the town is actually just a series of menus and still pictures. Y'know, just in case you were thinking that this game had an actual town. Check yourself fool, we don't got that kinda budget. From the "town" you can buy stuff at the shops, grab quests and rest at the inn and manage your party. You start the game by making 5 dudes for your party and picking from a set of classes for them to be. I like that, I've always enjoyed being given a variety of options for character classes at the start of RPGs. Too bad that in this game, that class variety is actually an illusion and a trap, as I will show you later.
After that you start your journey into the labyrinth, and the game plays like a classic dungeon crawler, so enough of that. Etrian's gimmick is that it makes you have to draw the dungeon's maps yourself on the DS's touchscreen. This is sort of interesting at first but very quickly becomes just plain tedious. The game could EASILY just automatically draw the map for you as you progress, but no, it forces you to take twice or three times as long to explore because in addition to moving you have to map out every god damn wall. In fact, it practically ALREADY draws the map for you, since it automatically colors in squares that you've stepped on, and you just have to draw the walls. Why not have the game draw the walls as well? This becomes worse by the fact that Etrian only acknowledges the map drawing feature like twice in the entire game and never again, which means you could theoretically just draw the map for the tutorial and then never touch the feature again. I considered not doing it, but not having a map is probably more trouble than it's worth. Overall the map drawing feature feels like one big pointless gimmick. It would've been nice if the game gave you rewards for mapping out an entire floor perfectly or some sort of acknowledgement that it's there. I kinda feel like the developers were looking at the DS touchscreen and wondering what the hell they could use it for and this was all they could come up with because they didn't have the balls to just not use it. The touchscreen is, of course, as ever, a worthless gimmick.
Anyway, I'ma be so real right now: this game is super fun early on. It really is. The reasons for this are several: your party is weak early on, but has a lot of room for growth. Monsters in random encounters feel strong and battles are taxing on your party. At this point your mages have a very small MP pool and there is no way to recover MP outside of resting at the inn. At the early levels you can only afford to have a very small number of battles before your healer runs out of MP and you have to go back and rest. Continuing on in this state without going back is practically sure death because monsters are not pushovers. Having such limited resources makes exploration and battles more engaging. You have to be more careful and considerate of your decisions. Do I spend MP on a spell for this battle, or do I save it and possibly take more damage and have to then spend more MP healing myself? Do I take the risk of exploring a little bit farther, or do I play it safer and start going back early? That sort of stuff. I like it. I like it a lot. Gaining levels also feels surprisingly meaningful, which makes fighting the many inevitable battles more fun. You can really feel the increase in power when your party levels up. In addition, each level up gives each character a skill point that you can spend in a variety of skills dependent on their class. Each skill has a rank from 1 to 10, with more points in the skill making it stronger or giving it added effects. So you can choose whether to learn new skills or make existing ones stronger. Finally, the other reason why this game is so fun is the existence of FOEs. FOEs are extremely strong special enemies that can be found walking around the labyrinth. Unlike normal enemies, they are not random encounters, you can see them on the field and thus they can be avoided. In fact, the game explicitly tells you that they're too strong and that you have to avoid them. Of course, running from enemies is for pussies. And so, fighting and defeating these super strong enemies that you're not supposed to becomes a really fun part of the game. And they legitimately ARE really tough. FOEs early on range from really tough to fucking insane. One of the highlights of the game is getting to floor B3F and the game telling you the Stalkers on this floor are way too strong and are to be run from on sight, but nonetheless defeating them after a gruesomely difficult battle that took like 10 tries to make sure none of your guys ended up dead. Fun stuff. The downside to this, though, is that the actual boss of the area ends up being easier than some of these insanely hard FOEs. So that kind of sucks, but the boss of the first area was still suitably difficult enough so I won't complain too much.
The problem is that the game is unable to keep this up. The boss of the first area is the only one that is decently difficult. Every single boss after the first is more pathetic than the last, culminating in a final boss who doesn't do SHIT. Approximately halfway through up until post-game Etrian Odyssey becomes way, WAY too easy. You become too strong and enemies can't seem to keep up. It's not just the bosses that are pathetic. All battles become easy to breeze through. Even FOEs go from the fearsome things they once were to just more fodder to steamroll through. And it simply kills the game, because, being a pure dungeon crawler, that is really all Etrian has going for it. Once that part of the game becomes boring, there's nothing else. The story sucks and/or is nonexistent. It has no real characters. It's just a dungeon and battles. That's it. I was honestly prepared to give this game a really high score if it kept being as fun as it was early on, but as I kept playing the problems only kept piling on.
First of all, this game is a huge asshole when it comes to information. It's impossible to know exactly what skills do because the game only gives a vague description of the skill but no real information. No numbers, no concrete facts, just vague bullshit. This is how you end up wasting 5 points on Provoke, only to find out that it DOESN'T DO SHIT. Oh sure, it SAYS that it makes the character more likely to be targeted, but it may as well have been called Hide for shit all that it does. This is how you waste 5 points in Quicken, only to find out that it doesn't do SHIT. Oh sure, it SAYS it increases the speed of your party, but did it ever make me take action before an enemy? No. Not fucking once. This is how you waste 5 more points increasing your fire elemental damage, only to find out that IT DIDN'T INCREASE YOUR DAMAGE AT ALL. Trolled. Fuck you, Etrian. And this isn't even constrained to just the skill information, the developers seem to think that it's okay to give you a quest and then give you ZERO information on what you're supposed to do to complete it. It's like they expect me to just bumble around starting from the very first floor of the labyrinth all the way trying to figure out which square I'm supposed to stand on to trigger the progression on the god damn quest. FUCK you again, Etrian.
Which brings me to the quests in this game. They suck. Most of them are a boring waste of time and the rewards are never any good. I mean, seriously, what sort of asshole do you have to be to make a quest where you have to spend 5 fucking days on one floor just walking around? That shit took me like 3 separate tries to complete because I couldn't handle the boredom of just walking back and forth for ages. Anybody who's not an idiot should immediately call horse shit on such a quest and refuse to do it.
Next, the level cap in this game is too low. I've said this before, but once you're no longer able to gain experience points in an RPG the game dies. It's done. It's boring. It sucks. What's the point of all these battles? None. By the time I was in the final area I had already hit the level cap, which made said area a waste of time. This is made worse by the fact that there is no way to prevent random encounters in this game, and they are fucking CONSTANT. Shit. Even maxing out the skill that decreases encounter rates doesn't eliminate them entirely, which is incredibly annoying in a game with such a low level cap AND so much fucking boringass backtracking. And as if that wasn't enough, the game becomes the absolute biggest ASSHOLE in the history of mankind's dungeon design in the last area, fucking you with countless pits and warps EVERYWHERE that make you have to retread the same god damn paths a million times over, fighting the same stupid fucking battles that are giving you no exp anymore. It's infuriating.
Oh, and remember how I said the game was way too easy halfway through until the end? That's really only up until the post-game, at which point it proceeds to become utterly retarded. You see, all that choice and class variety I mentioned earlier which I liked? Turns out it's all a lie and a trap: There's a certain party composition that you absolutely 100% MUST have if you want to be able to complete the game. Except the game never tells you this, it makes you think that you actually have a choice in how you make your party. But there isn't. Your party must have a certain 4 classes without which you cannot complete the game. These classes, which the game never tells you are necessary, are Protector, Medic, Survivalist, and Troubadour. I was lucky enough to have picked the first 3 when I made my party, but I made the mistake of having a Ronin instead of a Troubadour. Why is this a problem, you ask? Because the game gives you a couple of absolutely horse shit bosses: the first one confuses your entire party, which makes you unable to do anything for 5 turns while he kills you. And the only, ONLY way to prevent it is with a Troubadour song. Oh, you don't have one? You're shit outta luck. Then there's the other boss who casts a buff on himself that makes it so you only deal 1 damage to him, and then casts another buff that heals him for 2000 HP per turn. And the only, ONLY way to dispel buffs in this game is with a Troubadour song. There is no alternative. If you don't have one it is literally and actually impossible to win. May as well give him a move called Fuck You Get A Troubadour. So in the end I had no choice but to scrap my Ronin and grind a Troubadour all the way from level 1 because this game is a fucking dick. Not fun.
I will say that the real final boss was pretty fucking ridiculous, which is kind of appreciated because the game had been so easy for so long. One of the few games I can say in a while whose final boss was actually ridiculous. Too bad by that point I was just tired of the game. Much too late.
Overall Etrian Odyssey is alright, but gets boring halfway through, and by the end it wasn't really enjoyable anymore.
Final Verdict: C+
Final Playtime: 151 hours