The Etrian Odyssey series has traditionally focused squarely on a certain audience: the hardcore RPG fan who doesn't care about today's involved stories and flashy visuals. Instead, it looks to lead the gamer into a world of hurt with tough as nails difficulty, seemingly unending dungeons, and a distinct lack of many of the crutches like endless do-overs that today's RPG fans take for granted. That said, with the release of Etrian Odyssey Untold: Millennium Girl, Atlus is clearly trying to polish off some of the rougher edges of this previously niche product. The result reminds to some extent of the success Nintendo achieved with Fire Emblem Awakening; that is, they've managed to broaden the series' appeal without damaging what makes it special.
Etrian Odyssey Untold's opening cinematic scenes might fool the player into thinking the quest about to unfold is rather epic in narrative scope. The reality is this isn't the case. Untold is a reimagining of the first game in the Etrian Odyssey series released back on the Nintendo DS; as such, Untold is essentially inserting a story into a game that didn't really have one.
The story that's been added here isn't original and relies on old tropes the player has 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 story and its characters won't 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's been done in other better presented games, yet Etrian Odyssey Untold will still make players feel a certain affection for its characters. They're standard archetypes; but they're sweet homages to the simple RPGs of old, and they're vibrant enough to hold the player's attention.
And that's really all this story and its characters need to achieve. The original Etrian Odyssey had been criticized 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 the player a little narrative thread to follow and likable characters with which to relate. These elements are merely there to help the player better digest the game as a whole.
Fans of the original version that cringe at the thought of static characters and an integrated story have the option of playing without it in the offered Classic Mode. It does beg the question, 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, he or she can choose to play without in order to enjoy the challenge at hand devoid of distraction.
And those challenging elements still exist in droves. The gameplay here is turned-based RPG fare, where the player will move through dungeon labyrinths in first-person, mapping the design while fending off random encounters. The dungeons here are extensive, and gamers are forced to map the layouts on their own. 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 Untold more playable without damaging the core dungeon crawling experience.
The random encounters here are similarly well-handled. There's an onscreen indicator which warns the player 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 the player feels more confident.
The turn-based battle system might be somewhat straightforward, but the branching skill trees combined with the Grimoire synthesis system prove utterly addicting. The characters in the Story Mode of the game come in classes which only allow them to use certain weapons or unlock specific skillsets. There's 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 player's party in a significant way, and is where the real fun of Untold is to be found: customizing the characters in a way that complements the player's preferred strategy. The player can choose to go all-in with powerful attack skillsets 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, verses a skill which provides for higher attack power.
Besides just a new story and Grimoire stones, though, Untold also offers audio/visual improvements. The onscreen eye candy won't blow players 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 the player might actually play in 3D the majority of the time. The soundtrack is similarly given a lift over the old MIDI one. Many of the tracks are quite lovely; others seem strangely out of place in this style of game.
Relentless, turn-based RPG fare that will force the player to make smart decisions with character customization. Dungeon crawling will turn off some, but many others will find the exploring and mapping to be captivating, perhaps even therapeutic.
Won't rank among the best on the system in terms of technical achievement, but the style is attractive, and the 3D is very well implemented. There's nothing here that will turn the player off, and that's really the goal: one less barrier to enjoying the gameplay.
High quality tunes that sound great coming from the 3DS speakers. Some of the jazzier tracks can feel a bit strange in a game like this. There is some limited voice acting on hand as well, and it's mostly well done.
There are simply dozens of hours of gameplay here. The player will not feel short-changed in any way. The only fault is the lack of multiple save slots.
At the end of the day, despite the enhancements, the core gameplay of Etrian Odyssey Untold is still likely to divide players. It may not win over sceptics who scowl at the idea of making maps, grinding for skills, synthesizing Grimoire stones to perfection, and fighting endless battles to earn just enough cash to buy that next suit of armour. But if any of that sounds remotely interesting, Untold will likely please the prospective gamer. Atlus has worked hard to make the experience here palatable without sacrificing the title's old-school hooks. There are obvious caveats here when it comes to a recommendation, but Etrian Odyssey Untold: Millennium Girl is an excellent game that provides copious hours of fun for those who give it a chance and succumb to its addicting gameplay.