By Laura . October 1, 2013 . 11:32am
The instant you switch on Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, you are given an option that will change your entire gaming experience. Unlike previous Etrian Odyssey games, Untold provides players with the option to play through the dungeons, which remade for the 3DS from the original Etrian Odyssey, with a story.
This sounds simple in premise—after all, simply slapping on any old adventure “Let’s explore the whole Labyrinth to find the treasure at the end!” tale would have sufficed. However, Untold takes this one step further. Not only are the two modes, Classic and Story, extremely different in their narratives, but they are completely different gameplay experiences as well.
Let’s start what’s the same between the two modes because, at its core, Untold is a first-person dungeon-crawling game. You’re given a blank grid on the bottom screen, where you are also provided with various markers, palettes, and icons which you can use to create your own dungeon map. For some reason, this feature ultimately makes the difference for me between crawling through a dungeon, where the map is automatically created on the bottom, and actual exploration, where you draw the map as though you, the player, are discovering everything for the first time.
Like in prior Etrian Odyssey games, I enjoyed playing with the markers, trying to capture every single detail of the ridiculously complex floors of the dungeon. My favorite feature of the dungeon map is that, after you’ve completed the trek from one set of stairs to the next, you unlock the Floor Jump feature. This allows you to warp to that set of stairs, even if you’re on a entirely different floor. This saves lots of time when you have to return to where you left off after an emergency visit to the town’s Inn to heal up.
Of course, no dungeon is complete without obstacles. These come in the form of regular enemies, extra-powerful enemies called FOEs, and traps. Regular enemies are met on a semi-random basis, where you can see how likely an enemy is going to attack in a color gauge on the top screen (Red is danger!). Traps are interactions you find in dungeons with various effects. Sometimes they’ll heal you, but usually you’re then immediately forced to fight a party of monsters immediately afterwards. Investigate at your own peril!
FOEs hulk through the forests, each type of beast moving in their own specific patterns. Some will only attack if you’re in their line of sight; others will attack only if you are already in another encounter (yes, enemies can tag-team against you in battles); others will only attack if you stand in their way and won’t actively chase you; and yet others will go out of their way to hound you but have to rest after a moment. Sometimes these FOEs themselves create puzzles that you have to solve with timing and planning your steps beforehand.
Finally, there are the battles themselves. Each character in your party comes with a set of skills, and each level they gain they earn one Skill Point. These are used to unlock the skills, which are briefly touched upon in our previous impressions. In addition to these, each character can equip a Grimoire Stone, which are items that come equipped with a couple of skills. These skills can then be used by one character even if they’re of a different class. For example, even if you have a Hexer, if you equip a Grimoire Stone with Fire Formula (an Alchemist skill), the Hexer can now take advantage of an offensive magic skill. This allows for much greater customization, since Grimoire Stones can come equipped with enemy skills and you can even synthesize to create different combinations of skills on one Stone.
It feels like I’ve discussed the majority of the game, and I sort of have—with regard to the Classic Mode, at least. As its name sounds, Classic Mode is the barebones port of Etrian Odyssey 1. You’re a nameless adventurer and you can create your own party from scratch. You can choose any class you wish, you can form whatever team you want. There is an enormous amount of customization involved, especially when you factor in the Grimoire Stones.
However, at the cost of such freedom is a story, which hasn’t really been present in previous Etrian Odyssey games and isn’t really present in Untold’s Classic Mode either. There isn’t a lot of dialogue involved other than, “Go off into the wilderness and explore!” You are purely playing to explore the Yggdrasil Labyrinth from one set of floors to the next for nothing more than personal pride.
The moment you try out Story Mode, however, you realize just how impersonal Classic Mode is, and what you’ve been missing out on.
The very atmosphere of Story Mode is different from that of Classic. You’re not one of a million here; you’re one-in-a-million. In Story Mode, you play a character of the Story Mode-only Highlander class who, like in Classic Mode, arrives and wants to explore the Labyrinth. Time is taken to make you feel welcomed as a character.
Right off the bat, the conversation with the councilman who greets you is much warmer, and you even have two characters who temporarily join to teach you the ropes instead of a generic soldier sternly snapping, “You can’t pass. Finish the map!” Other characters such as the Guild owner, the Weapons Dealer, and the Pub owner are all much more accommodating and friendly. While none of these changes were essential—they could’ve just plopped party characters into the game and been done with it—this attention to completely rewriting what everyone else says completely changed the experience for me. In fact, it felt like taking a step backwards, playing Classic Mode again, after having spent so much time in Story Mode.
And there is a story here. It goes thus: An unexplained earthquake erupts, prompting the councilman to give you the mission of exploring a new dungeon—Gladsheim. This is a massive dungeon that is completely unique to Story Mode. While it doesn’t have nearly as many floors as the Labyrinth, it is by no means any less complicated, with twists and turns, switches to flip to open doors, and even lights to manipulate to avoid or attract FOEs. You could say that while the Labyrinth is extensive because of its sheer number of floors, Gladsheim is massive because of just how widely it sprawls across your bottom screen. Each floor is massive and all of them require you to think and plan your moves strategically.
It is also where you will meet the mysterious girl, Frederica, whom you find in a mysterious (futuristic-looking) pod. She is a Gunner (another Story Mode-only class) and has amnesia. However, immediately upon finding her, you meet the colorful cast of a Midgard Library investigation team. These characters quickly join you because of a rampaging FOE, but even after that, they join to try to learn of the secret behind Gladsheim and Frederica.
I absolutely loved these three Librarians. Raquna is a sometimes-uncouth noble lady who’d rather dirty her hands and drink to her heart’s content. Arthur is a fast-talking mood maker who is quick to his feet and equally quick to slack off. Finally, Simon is the level-headed thinker of the group, always making sure Raquna and Arthur don’t get too carried away with their antics. As for the other two, Frederica is understandably trouble, but she always pushes herself to wallow in her lack of memories, and the Highlander, of course, is still a silent protagonist (can’t change some traditions), but you can make some choices in how he responds to questions. The choices aren’t massive, but it can be amusing to act completely oblivious like Arthur.
I immensely enjoyed everyone’s interactions with each other, and I loved how the game took the time to slow down and work on the characterization. There would be times in dungeons where one character (usually Arthur) would suggest a night’s rest, and the slow campfire conversations you read during these scenes show just how much effort the writers put into fleshing out the characters. There is even one mission where you have to spend five straight days in a dungeon, and each night you do you can view one of these, where you learn more about each Librarian and Frederica.
Despite all the added dialogue and new scenes, however, Etrian Odyssey Untold doesn’t slow down. Other than the rest and relaxation portions, the game is briskly paced. For example, immediately following a skippable animated sequence showing you arriving at Etria, you’re immediately taken to see the councilman and start off on your first adventure. There isn’t a lot of small talk here because “You have a task to do so go do it!” In addition, you are even given the option to skip the small talk and pub scenes if you wish. Between giving players the option to view the scenes and the excellent attention to pacing, Untold knows when to speed up and when to slow down.
The game would’ve still been a drag, though, if these characters were completely horrible in battle, but thankfully this isn’t the case. In Untold’s Story Mode, you are provided with a well-balanced party. While you can’t change any classes or party members (despite the five characters forming a Guild, you can’t recruit any new characters), the standard classes are all more-or-less covered.
You have a Protector for defense, a Medic for healing, an Alchemist for elemental damage, a Highlander for physical damage (and some healing), and a Gunner for long-distance physical and elemental damage. While you can’t pull off tricks like status effects or buffs or debuffs without Grimoire Stones (or until you level up and spend the Skill Points on those specific skills), you can power through the dungeon well enough on this party. This could even serves as a good introduction to other classes that can be considered more difficult to use in Classic Mode. (I do believe that the Librarians can’t learn every single skill available to their class in Story Mode.)
With no real drawbacks and an interesting motivation in the form of learning more about the other four characters (and the mystery behind Gladsheim, of course), I had a lot of fun with Story Mode and I think it was a wonderful addition to the game, especially with a whole new dungeon to entice avid explorers. Yes, you can transfer some data from Story Mode to Classic Mode or vice versa, but only after you finish one to the end. This means that you should choose one mode and stick with it; don’t try to skip between the two midway or you’ll end up losing all your data!
Food for Thought:
1. Grimoire Stones are actually a bit more complicated than I explained above. Each skill on a stone has its own level; these are roughly equivalent to a Skill Level if you were to learn that skill normally. This normally just increases damage output and such, but if you want to use a skill that can, for example, only be used by a Sword but your character doesn’t have a Sword Mastery skill, that Grimoire Stone must have a Sword Mastery skill (taking up one slot) of the Sword Skill’s level or higher. This means that synthesizing and equipping Grimoire Stones isn’t just about gathering the most powerful Skills. It requires some forethought.
2. My favorite trick with the Highlander is, after learning the Turning Tide skill that allows your party to heal HP after you deal a finishing blow, to plow through a whole party of weaker enemies with the Legion Thrust skill. While Legion Thrust will consume some of your party’s HP, the amount you heal from defeating multiple enemies at once can make up for it threefold because the Highlander’s skill stacks! This is compounded with the lovely Floor Jump, so you can leap to earlier floors to exploit the poor hapless flies and wasps.
3. Story Mode is partially voiced. Animated sequences and some lines are completely voiced, and every character has their collection of amusing battle quotes. My favorite feature of voices is that your party members (usually the observant Simon or the hyper Arthur) will notice something observable in the dungeon and draw your attention to it. I would’ve missed so many shortcuts if it weren’t for them!
4. Finally, the OST between Classic and Story Mode has been completely changed. The tunes are still the same, but Story Mode uses much more modern instrumentation.