We return to Etria, this time with an actual plot!
I’m sure that some Etrian Odyssey fans were turned off by the announcement of the Story Mode to Millennium Girl, Atlus’ newest entry in the series. The Etrian games are known for their rock-solid combat and intricate dungeons, not their vibrant stories. Those people will likely fire up the Classic Mode, start exploring and forget that Story Mode was even an option on the title screen. But, for newcomers like myself, the Story Mode seeks to make a rather opaque and hardcore RPG just a tad easier.
I’ll touch on Classic Mode briefly, since most fans of the series already know if they are or aren’t going to purchase it. To put it succinctly: it’s Etrian Odyssey. More specifically, it’s a remake of the original title complete with new visuals and music. The dungeon itself is also largely redone. In comparing the maps, I found that some of the floors were similar, but they were, for the most part, redone completely, which is good news for anyone who has recently played (or replayed) the original game. The overworld from more modern entries is absent, but, to be honest, the overworld is just a distraction from all the dungeon crawling to be had.
Story Mode is the big draw for this entry, and, if nothing else, it delivers an even healthier dose of content. You’re introduced to the main protagonist through a very beautifully done anime cutscene, the first of a handful peppered throughout the game. Then in your early travels, you’re teamed up with a static party (that’s right, no customization here) to discover the secrets hidden not only in the Yggdrasil dungeon, but also in the Story Mode-specific Gladsheim dungeon.
The characters are relatively cookie-cutter, but with the story spread so thin over the basic dungeon-crawling nature, it never gets grating. The story feels a bit stereotypical in the beginning, but opens up later on. After a few hours, enough interesting quirks showed up to keep me interested, but it wasn’t too engrossing.
Of course, the story and static characters are just the window dressing on the main event: the dungeons. You’ll fight your way down into both Gladsheim and Yggdrasil, mapping every detail along the way with the stylus. While it feels a bit burdensome to map things in the beginning, since this was, again, my first real foray into the series, I turned on auto-mapping and soon enough, it felt like second nature to slap down a door or minor note as it went on.
The map itself responds well, and does its best to be unobtrusive. You can, of course, choose not to map anything, but you’ll probably find yourself lost and frustrated pretty quickly. Being able to jump around on the floors after mapping them makes it worth the effort either way.
The combat system employs items called Grimoire Stones, which enable you to customize your static Story Mode characters with unique abilities. At a glance, it just looks to be a simple way to add axes to a character or a fire attack to another, but close inspection reveals a very intricate synthesis system that had me counting stats and meticulously combining stones to empower each of my characters. In fact, during some of my shorter play sessions, Grimoire Synthesis would take up my entire playtime.
Even after synthesizing stones, you’ll still need to employ decent strategy in combat. While you’re constantly assailed by small encounters, the ability to auto-battle lessens the more monotonous ones and lets you focus on enemies that require more strategy. A large portion of the dungeon is spent avoiding F.O.E enemies that are large, usually very difficult enemies that show up on your map and wander the dungeon halls. They require planning and strategic movement, and break up the monotony of mapping and random battles well. If you’re not careful, they can even trap you, forcing you to return to town and try the level all over again.
After several hours in Story Mode, I was curious to try out Classic Mode. The story was never gripping enough to keep me from wondering if I couldn’t create a much more efficient party, or at least one more suited to my tastes. In the end, the Story Mode serves as a great introduction to the mechanics, but I doubt it’s going to be very gripping for people who just want to jump right in and play. Overall, it’s a very nice addition, though I would have loved to see a few more of those awesome anime cut scenes.
The 3D effect works very well with the new graphical engine, and many areas (especially the 3rd Stratum) really pop out of the screen. In battle, the enemies are constantly writhing and bobbing about, and things like vines wrapping around the nameplate of bound characters make them come alive. Players have the option of listening to the new soundtrack or the old MIDI version from the original game. The new music sounds great, if a little flowery, but the low-fi hum of the dingy original music still lends itself to the atmosphere much better.
In the end, the game’s best feature is how well it respects the player’s time. With some minor options tweaks, even boss battles can be lightning fast. Growing your characters and working out new strategies with Grimoire Stones is incredibly rewarding. One unfortunate flaw is that players can’t have both a Classic Mode and Story Mode game going at the same time, which may leave some with the difficult decision of which to choose. Story Mode offers a bit more content, but Classic Mode offers ultimate customization. Whichever you choose, the game is a rock-solid dungeon crawler that fits the 3DS very well.