While they’ve made their fair share of obscure cult classics, Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey series has always felt like the niche among the niche. With little emphasis on plot, or characters, the series strides forward as a modern homage to classic dungeon crawling, exploring vast maps with rough-as-nails combat, all wrapped up in a cute anime aesthetic. Now Atlus has released the first three games in the series in the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection on Switch and Steam.
The HD Remasters include more assessable gameplay and redrawn visuals. Much like the SMT III Nocturne, and P3 and P4 ports before them, they’re serviceable ports. If you want to play these games and don’t have access to the DS originals, this is a good way to get your hands on them but if you’ve never been a fan of the series, these won’t do much to change your mind. For those that love classic turn-based battles though, this might just scratch that itch.
Welcome To The Labyrinth
The Etrian Odyssey series sees each new game take place in a traditional fantasy world. While each game’s plot slightly differs, the general idea is that you are a member of an adventuring guild that seeks to explore an ancient Labyrinth. From here, you go into first-person dungeon crawling, exploring the great labyrinth, fighting enemy monsters in turn-based battles, and drawing up a map as you go.
It’s a slower, more methodical kind of turn-based RPG, very much an homage to the antiquity-era dungeon crawlers like Wizardry but with a number of modern touches. There’s a little story but the game gives you enough information about the world and people that it doesn’t feel flat. A big part of the game is actually getting each recruit prepared and equipped from local shops as well as talking to people at the tavern to get new info and sidequests, making the world feel more lived in.
Speaking of characters, the character portraits for the classes in each game have been redrawn for the remaster, making the chibi adventurers sharper and more vibrant. Players can choose among 5-6 types of appearances per class, including the previous illustrations. They all look very cute with the chibi designs and I’d be lying if choosing my favorite design wasn’t a big part of my time in the unit creator.
The Dungeon Crawl
Etrian Oddysey sees your time of five in turn-based RPG battles. Combat is pretty tough with a lot more time dedicated to party building and battle strategy. You’re given a number of classes to pick from to form your five units party and it’s up to you to decide who think are best are the best to send into the labyrinth, from the sword-wielding Landsknecht to the magic brewing alchemists.
Leveling them up unlocks new skill points which can unlock new skills for battle. The games have pretty much no restrictions on customizing your party so feel free to min-max and create the perfect composition of heroes. The customization is vast and makes the game highly replayable.
I also can’t talk about Etrian combat without mentioning the FOEs. These are powerful enemies that appear physically on the map. They increase tough to the point that the game often tells you to run away if you encounter them. It’ll take a lot to beat them but even avoiding them can be seen as part of the game’s challenge and bring up the importance of knowing the map of the floors.
The core of Etrian Odyssey really however is charting out a map of the dungeon which is split up the graph tile sections. This is a direct influence from old CRPGs like Wizardry, many of which actually came with graph paper to draw out the maps. This may sound tedious but it’s actually quite addicting. It’s not just filling out the tiles map floor and walls but also marking down different traps, resource tiles, and floor types so there’s a lot to keep in mind. And once you return to the Labyrinth and know where everything is, it’s very satisfying, you really feel like an explorer who’s conquered the elements.
When the game was originally released for the DS, the map charting obviously took place on the bottom touch screen. This made me concerned about how they would port the game without the second screen and the answer was to have it pop up on the right-hand side of the main screen. From here, you can use your controller, mouse, or the Switch touchscreen to fill in the map. It’s fairly easy to do since the drawing is locked to each tile of the graph maps. It’s not as convenient as having two screens at once like the DS version but still, it’s maintaining what makes it fun.
Now let’s take a look at each of the three games individually:
Etrian Odyssey is the first game in the series, and it sets the foundation for the games that follow. It pretty much follows the central formula I’ve described above. The player must explore the Yggdrasil Labyrinth and map it out while battling enemies and solving puzzles. It’s a bit dated by modern standards and the story isn’t anything to write home about but the combat is pretty fun once you can get into the groove of it.
Etrian Odyssey II
Etrian Odyssey II is the sequel to the first game, and it features a more complex story. The player must once again explore the Yggdrasil Labyrinth in order to find a cure for a mysterious plague that leads them into a castle floating in the sky. It’s not too different from the last game but it does feel more streamlined with less level grinding and floors that a bit easier to navigate.
Etrian Odyssey III
Etrian Odyssey III is the third game in the series, and it features the most complex story of the three games along with a great number of classes to choose from. This time you’re exploring the Labyrinth in order to stop a powerful demon from destroying the world with the gameplay being the most challenging of the three games but also giving you the most playstyle options.
It’s also unique in being the only one of the three games to have multiplayer. Up to five players can team up to explore The Oceanus. This is a randomly generated dungeon that is filled with powerful enemies and valuable treasure. It’s tough but a lot of fun as you and the other players brainstorm different ways to take on each new boss. Players can also trade items with each other, which is a great way to get the resources you need without having to grind for them.
Overall I’d say III is probably my favorite of the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection. It feels like the most fleshed-out package of the three and if you only want to try out one of these titles, this is the one I’d go for.
New Quality-of-Life Feature
In addition to the bring to the three games getting ports. Each also comes with a number of quality-of-life features.
These include EOI getting an auto-battle feature (this was only introduced in EOII) and the automapping system introduced in Etrian Oddysey Untold now appearing in all three games. This means that if you’re not interested in tracing the map as you dungeon crawl, you don’t have to worry about it. The game will do that for you.
That being said, you should still be careful to pay attention to their surroundings and to manually add notes to the map as needed. The automap is not perfect, and it may sometimes miss important details like shortcuts, treasure, or even traps. This may sound bad but it’s actually a great way of balancing the game, giving you a crutch with the primary mapping but still ensuring you pay attention to your surroundings and have to do some planning. Mapping and exploration are meant to be a selling point of this game after all.
Finally, they also added a difficulty system here. You have three options to choose from: Picnic (Easy), Basic (Normal), and Expert (Hard). Expert is the same difficulty level as the original version which should tell you what kind of game Etrian Odyssey is intended to be, a hard dungeon crawler for the most dedicated of players. That being said, I’m glad Atlus has added easier difficulty options for more casual players that want to dip their toes into the series.
Sound and Visual
The visual upgrade for each of the three games is far sharper, making the dungeons and monsters seem more vibrant and eye-catching resulting in a more realistic look that makes the dungeons more fun to explore.
We should also note that the PC version of the game can be played in 4K resolution which is nice although these are ultimately enhanced DS games so the extra power doesn’t add too much to the game. That’s not a bad thing though as even lower-power PCs and the Switch are able to play the game smoothly.
The Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection is a solid remaster for a game that’s made for a very specific audience. If you’re a die-hard dungeon crawler fan, this is very much the series for you and who the games are primarily catered towards.
At the same time though, the collection is also the perfect way to introduce Etrian Odyssey to newcomers thanks to the more accessible options like the easier difficulty modes. Instead of trying the hard stuff right away, players can start off easier and then slowly work their way up into the depths of the Labyrinth.