Etrian Odyssey Untold's opening cinematic scenes might fool players into thinking the quest about to unfold is rather epic in narrative scope. The reality is that this simply is not the case. The Millennium Girl is a re-imagining of the first game - Etrian Odyssey - released back on the Nintendo DS in Europe during 2008, and much earlier in Japan/USA; as such, Etrian Odyssey Untold is essentially inserting a story into a game that did not really have one to start with.
The tale that has been added here is not original and relies on old tropes undoubtedly seen many times before. The girl with amnesia? Naturally. The wise older character in the group, always making sage remarks? Check! The young rascal who never takes things seriously? Uh-huh. The strong alpha woman who can outdrink any man? Yep. The brooding, serious party leader? Of course!
The yarn and its characters will not win awards for originality, yet somehow they possess a sort of infectious allure. The story might not be terribly enthralling but the banter between the characters is rather amusing. It has been done in other better presented games, yet Etrian Odyssey Untold will still make players feel a certain affection for its characters. They are standard archetypes but are sweet homages to the simple RPGs of old, and are vibrant enough to hold attention throughout.
That is really all this story and its characters need to achieve, in all honesty. The original Etrian Odyssey had been criticised for being hard to access, partly due to its lack of a real storyline. In this update, the designers ease the barrier to entry by giving a little narrative thread to follow and likable personas with which to relate. These elements are merely there to help newcomers better digest the game as a whole.
Fans of the original version that cringe at the thought of static creations and an integrated tale have the option of playing without it in the offered 'Classic Mode' that brings back the old chiptune soundtrack in favour of the newly orchestrated one, and makes the experience as hardcore as it once was, back when former Atlus Japan director (and former Trauma Center creator), Kazuya Niinou, was at the helm of the project. It does beg the question, though, why buy this title if not to experience the new additions - including Story Mode? One must respect Atlus, though, for putting the choice in the hands of gamers. If the player prefers not to bother with the trappings of a story, they can choose to play without in order to enjoy the challenge at hand, devoid of distraction.
As for those challenging elements? They still exist in their droves! The gameplay here is turned-based dungeon crawling RPG fare, where the player will move through labyrinths in first-person view, mapping the design while fending off random encounters. The areas here are extensive and gamers are forced to map the layouts on their own, for the most part unless turning on the toned down version. Every time a new level is reached, the player must fill in the details with a map editor permanently located on the Touch Screen.
This could have been a tedious, painful affair, but the editor is intuitive, and the painting tools and icons allow for a great deal of flexibility in how the player wants to draw each level. This element of the game will appeal to those with completionist streaks who like to see all a title has to offer. Once the end of a level has been reached, the player is allowed to auto jump to either end, mercifully limiting the amount of backtracking. This is another move by Atlus that makes Etrian Odyssey Untold more playable without damaging the core dungeon crawling experience.
The random encounters here are similarly well handled. There is an on-screen indicator that warns of when a random battle is about to occur; this is a nice touch that prevents jarring surprises that can be annoying in other RPGs. There are also enemies (F.O.E.s) that appear on the map and are visible to the player. These opponents are significantly more powerful and can be avoided - in some cases absolutely must be avoided - until feeling more confident, with higher character levels.
The turn-based battle system might be somewhat rudimentary but the branching skill trees combined with the Grimoire synthesis system prove utterly addictive. The characters in the Story Mode of the game come in classes that only allow them to use certain weapons or unlock specific skill sets. There is variety present within this limitation but the Grimoire system allows the player to push beyond the constraints of the character classes and equip team members with additional skills and different weapons.
This expands the possibilities of the party in a significant way, and is where the real fun of Untold is to be found: customising the team in a way that complements a preferred strategy. Choose to go all-in with powerful attack skill sets and Grimoire stones geared toward offense, or perhaps go for passive skills that allow for a more self-sufficient party. For instance, the player may select skills that heal the party every time an enemy is slain, versus a skill that provides for higher attack power.
Besides just a new story and Grimoire stones, though, The Millennium Girl also offers audio and visual improvements. The on-screen eye candy will not blow gamers away, but like the story, the graphical upgrade is just one more thing Atlus has done to ease the barrier between new players and the series. The most impressive aspect of the presentation is the 3D, with the various menus and environments being nicely layered. Etrian Odyssey Untold is a 3DS game that might actually be played in 3D the majority of the time. The soundtrack is similarly given a lift over the old MIDI one, bringing with it a new orchestrated feel, although it can be changed as mentioned earlier, for those retro fans. Many of the tracks are quite lovely, whilst others seem strangely out of place in this style of game, though. The option to work through on the most basic mode, with parties being pre-created and paths laid out automatically means the walls have been removed completely for this update, making it the most 'friendly' version of the Etrian Odyssey games to date. However, those looking for a remake with the core 'tougher' elements still in-tact, will not be disappointed either.