You get to fight dinosaurs in this game--this game wins.
Etrian Odyssey Untold 2, the latest in the dungeon-crawling series from Atlus, sank its hooks into me deep and quickly climbed to the top tier of my 3DS Activity Log. I beat the game, beat a bunch of post-game content, completed almost all of the quests, prepared all of the recipes, drew all of the maps, and eventually ran around killing low-tier mini-boss characters just for chuckles. Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 might be my favorite game on the system.
Untold 2, which is a remake of the 2008 DS game Etrian Odyssey 2, is a first-person dungeon crawler where the player is tasked with literally drawing a map of each floor on the touch screen as they fight off enemies with their party of five heroes in turn-based battles. There are all sorts of helpful icons you can place on the map to point out the location of important quest items, healing spots, treasure chests, etc. Completing large portions of the map allows you to warp between floors—which is insanely helpful. Once you use a particular staircase, you can also warp between staircases. In short, drawing detailed maps is very worth your while. However, I should warn you that if cartography is not well within your wheelhouse, you should probably turn back now (or just use the auto-map functionality). To be fair, I didn’t know how much I’d like it, but I took to map-making like a duck to water. If you’re unsure, there’s a demo available.
The original game tasked you with creating your own heroes from numerous classes, and that’s represented in the remake in Classic Mode. New to the game is the Story Mode, which gives you a set party of five characters to adventure with in the various environments. Every five floors of the main dungeon, Yggdrasil, make up a “stratum.” Each stratum has a unique aesthetic and monster pool, culminating in a big boss battle. The other dungeon—Ginnungagap—also plays a role. You won’t return there too often, but it’s where the bulk of the narrative beats take place in Story Mode.
While engaged in terrestrial cartography, you’ll come across various monsters in the dungeons that are fought with traditional turn-based RPG mechanics. You actually choose each character’s action prior to the start of the turn, which is useful for chaining abilities together once you figure out the turn order (you can also set battles to auto-play). Characters can use standard attacks or “Skills,” which are essentially magic attacks, buffs, debuffs, and status modifiers. Attacks are classified as cuts, stabs, or bashes, and many have elemental or status-inducing effects. Leveling up allows you to invest Skill Points into large skill trees for each character or class.
Let’s say there are three parts to this game: cartography and RPG battles make up 2/3rds, so what’s the final third? That would be questing—a major time sink in this game. The game’s only city has several shops, all of which need your help. There’s the Inn, where you can stay and/or save your game. Staying (which restores health and mana) is actually discouraged—the price goes up every time you do. If you make good enough maps, you’ll never actually have to stay at the Inn! However, the Innkeeper may have the occasional quest for you. Sitoth Trading is your next stop. You’ll have to bring them materials, dropped by monsters, so that they can hew them into weapons, armor, accessories, and items for you to then buy.
The Bar is where you’ll accept the vast majority of your quests. These range from killing certain monsters to gathering certain ingredients, finding missing people, stopping thieves, and even babysitting. I was honestly shocked by the variety in the missions, and some build on others. No story thread is left unexplored. You can also talk to the patrons to gain information on quests or tips for battles.
The Explorer’s Guild is where you’ll go to swap character classes or re-invest your Skill Points (at the cost of losing a few levels). Head to the Duchy’s Palace to trigger most of the game’s story sequences. There’s never a shortage of things to do in the city; it’s a little overwhelming at first, but Untold 2 eases you into it nicely.
The Café, which you can name, opens a little bit later in the story and there is a lot to do there. You’ll eventually be preparing meals from ingredients dropped by enemies and gathered in the field, advertising meals around town (to make a little money on the side), and actually paying out ducats to improve the town’s population, thus increasing your potential customer base. The advertising is frustrating, though, as the townspeople are frustratingly vague in their dietary preferences. The Café also has an item storage facility and the ever-important Grimoire Stone area, which I wasn’t a big fan of. In theory, they’re pretty cool; you can equip characters with Grimoire Stones that teach them new skills or help them gain access to the weapons of different classes. The problem is that you acquire Grimoire Stones all the time during battles. You’ll constantly be going back to the Café, going through your hundreds of Grimoire Stones, equipping a few and getting rid of the rest. It’s a real hassle, and the benefits are not always worth the trouble. Ooh, a new attack; I was perfectly happy with the ones I knew already.
I spent most of my time in Story mode, where you play as a set group of five adventurers trying to complete a ritual in Ginnungagap that will prevent an Ancient Evil from escaping. I think we all know where this is headed. The story is fairly cliché, but the excellent localization saves it. Each character is impressively written and voiced and you’ll come to care about all of them over the course of the story. The game does have a habit of presenting lengthy, almost visual novel-esque story sequences that—were it not for the quality of the writing—would be difficult to slog through. However, you (as the main character) are usually asked to chime in, and you’ll be asked to make minor decisions at certain points that keep you engaged. I enjoyed it.
Beating the main quest—which takes a while—opens up New Game+, and Story mode stuff can be carried over to Classic Mode. There is also a ton of challenging (and profitable) DLC content. Quite simply, there isn’t a shortage of things to do in Etrian Odyssey 2.
I was impressed by the variety of monsters in the game. While there are a few color swaps, even they tend to have some differences in the character model that are appreciable. There are quite a few monsters based on prehistoric critters, including Longisquama, an obscure lizard-like critter from the Triassic. Monsters are divided roughly into three categories: normal random encounters, FOES, and bosses. FOES are large, powerful monsters that you can see on the map and must find your way around, which occasionally requires strategy. While it’s usually unwise to take on FOES as you find them, it’s a lot of fun to go back to lower floors and slaughter all the FOES once you’ve attained a sufficiently high level (this is also a good way to stock up on rare materials & ingredients). Bosses and mini-bosses tend to appear every few floors, are always visible, and are usually quite challenging.
While there is certainly a lot to love, a few elements didn’t sit well with me. Most significantly, you’re very hampered by the 60-item carrying limit. You will rack up 60 items in no time if you’re dutifully collecting materials in the field and killing monsters, which means you constantly have to go back to town and drop things off. I would have appreciated a way to increase my carrying ability. Floor Jump (and an item that warps you back to town) help, but it’s still a pain. The later areas of the game—I’m thinking the depths of Ginnungagap and the fifth Stratum of Yggdrasil—throw FOES at you like it’s going out of style, and that stratum in particular is a pain because you have to dodge floating bombs in most of the large rooms. Late-game FOES in particular will drain your mana pretty quickly, so you’ll eventually be doing three things, primarily: battling FOES, finding healing areas, and warping back to town to sell or store items. It becomes kind of a grind.
Even the few complaints can’t take away from the charm, challenge, and thrill I got from playing Etrian Odyssey Untold 2. I’m still playing it, in fact, two months later, trying to complete a few remaining quests. I will probably start New Game+ and carry everything over so that I can (eventually) take on the high-level DLC quests (otherwise I’d have to mindlessly grind). This is an incredible game, and one of my favorite on the 3DS. You should at least play the demo. If it hooks you, the full version is well worth your time.