You might also subtitle it “Stockholm Syndrome.”
When I say I love the Etrian Odyssey games, what I really mean is that I love the Etrian Odyssey Untold games. I reviewed The Fafnir Knight a couple years back and fell truly, madly, deeply in love with it. These feelings carried me towards the eShop, upon which you previously could often find the 3DS Etrian titles on sale. I grabbed The Millennium Girl and Etrian Odyssey IV: Legend of the Titan. I played a good chunk of the former but never got ‘round to the latter. The difference between the Untold series and vanilla Etrian is that the Untold games have a story mode. This mode gives you five pre-made characters in standard RPG classes and, well, a story. Everything else about the game is the same as Classic Mode, which, in normal Etrian games, is just the default.
In Etrian Odyssey IV and V, you have to roll up your party from scratch. You get several character races and classes and the ability to change their character art, eye color, hair color, and skin tone. You give them names. You try to remember which classes are front-line attackers and which ones are back-line supporters. In Etrian Odyssey V, you can make an overwhelming 30 characters and section them off into distinct groups for (I assume) different mission types. I was uncomfortable with this entire process, worrying that I’d be playing it wrong, or put together a group of mismatched classes.
And in fact, I did have to screw around with my classes, swapping out a Necromancer and Botanist for a bare-knuckle brawler and a mage. But now nobody in my party has a healing spell, so I’m rethinking the lineup again. This wouldn’t be a problem if new characters didn’t start at Lv. 1. Etrian Odyssey V tries to make this more palatable by allowing you to essentially double-class your characters, but in doing so you’ll only wind up with about half the skills of each class. You can also reorganize your spent skill points at the cost of losing several levels.
The game is also brutally more difficult than the Untold games’ Story Modes even at the same difficulty level. As you move through each floor of a given stratum, you’ll find the occasional resource-gathering spot and, sometimes, a campfire to cook food, which is used to heal up between battles. But overall it’s much more difficult to stay in the labyrinth for an extended period of time, as ingredients are rare, campfires rarer still, and there’s a real dearth of “rest areas.” What rest areas there are tend to be one-time use, which is frustrating. Enemies hit much harder right off the bat (it’s humiliating to be KO’d by a walking acorn) and you’ll have to learn your team’s best strategies quickly. You will also quickly figure out which classes are not pulling their weight.
To be honest, I was getting very frustrated with Etrian Odyssey V. Every new floor was an order of magnitude more difficult than the previous one and I was constantly limping back to town to heal at the Inn (never an economical decision), sell materials, and pray I had enough money to get a new weapon or piece of armor for somebody. You don’t make a lot of money in this game. I felt like I was playing a F2P RPG without spending any actual money. Grinding for experience and money wore me out, and the first time I made it to the boss of the First Stratum, he annihilated my team in about 30 seconds.
So I turned over a new leaf. I accepted the fact that I was going to have to grind for money and experience if I was going to have a hope of beating that boss. And I did. I spent several hours wandering around killing specific monsters (for materials), completing side quests, and learning new cooking recipes so I could cook better food. At a certain point, my persistence paid off. I was getting through all five floors of the First Stratum with relative ease, slaying monsters easily that, the day before, had easily slaughtered me. I began figuring out my team’s best strategies and I played around with Union Skills (which are poorly-explained multi-character special attacks).
Eventually, after killing a lot of monsters including FOEs (a holdover from previous games), I succeeded in accumulating the best armor and weapons for every one of my five characters. As I approached that First Stratum boss, it was like that scene in Guardians of the Galaxy where the team is walking together in slow motion towards the camera. And guess what? There were a couple tense moments, but I beat him! I beat him real good and nobody died. It only took fifteen hours.
And here’s the weirdest part: when I got to the 6th floor (2nd Stratum), I was actually overpowered. I was going through enemies like tissue paper at least until the turkeys showed up. Yes, nobody told me that game birds provided such a meaty challenge. So now I’m back to grinding for experience and money, and taking every side quest that comes my way. It’s going to be a slow haul, but now that I’ve leaned into Etrian Odyssey V’s punishing system of advancement, I’m enjoying myself. That old Etrian magic is still there, just obscured by terrifying acorn monsters and murderous turkeys.
Map-making is still a blast, and it seems like there are way more icons this time around. So many, in fact, that I grew a little tired constantly swapping them out. Navigating around environmental puzzles and FOEs is still enjoyable and pretty much all the FOEs I’ve encountered have been very challenging but ultimately doable. Navigating around Iorys (the town) is strictly menu-based, as always. The writing is fantastic—the Innkeeper has a lot of groan-inducing puns to inflict upon you. The graphics are good in that they look like pretty much every other Etrian Odyssey game but I’m happy to report that you’re not just limited to forests anymore. I’m not entirely sure how the 2nd stratum is above the first, but hey.
It may be that my complaints regarding this game’s steep difficulty curve are applicable to every non-Untold entry in the series. If that’s the case, and you were fine with it then, by all means jump onboard the Etrian Odyssey V train. However if you, like me, only have experience with the Untold story mode, maybe consider buying and trying Etrian Odyssey IV when it’s next on sale to see if the challenge is right for you. This new game also has a demo, and the save data transfers over to the full game. Etrian Odyssey V was a rude awakening for me, but I’m glad I powered through.