I'd like to credit the first Etrian Odyssey game for teaching me how to finally spell 'odyssey' and to appreciate the first person dungeon-crawler/RPG. Now I'd like to credit Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard for taking up all of my free time. If Etrian Odyssey is a chocolate cake, Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard is a red velvet chocolate cake with deliciously dark chocolate frosting and a tall glass of milk.
The improvements the team made on Etrian Odyssey II streamline the game so well that I almost have no complaints. Players can now strafe with the L and R triggers on the DS, which makes running away from FOEs easy. The added auto-battle system takes the tedium away from pressing 'A' for each person to attack an easy-to-beat enemy. Finally being able to use L and R to cycle through party members in the main menu makes upgrading and equipping members a breeze. Being able to see the effects of equipment on particular party members in the shop and giving the choice of equipping them with the newly bought item are also much appreciated additions to EOII.
A big part of the two games is mapping your progress through each floor. Fortunately, EO II now has additional icons and colors to use while mapping, which means players don't need to add as many notes as in the previous game. My favorite addition is the three colors for item points. I used a different color each for mine, take, and chop. The much needed arrow icons are also now in EOII.
Maybe I've been too comfortable with my power-party in the original EO (my medic had maxed immunize and my troubadour had maxed relaxing and bravery), but I was surprised by how hard EOII is. I thought I knew all the tricks of exploring a floor, but none of those tricks kept me from dying several times on the first floor.
In the first game, I had a looting party made up of survivalists with maxed chop, mine, and take skills. I would just camp at item points and keep gathering items until my daily limit was reached; it was an easy way to make money. The second game however, throws you a curveball about that — the longer you stay at an item point, the greater chances of an enemy ambushing you. And it's not just any enemy. It's an enemy that's way stronger than the usual enemies of that floor.
Another difference from the first game is that FOEs no longer give EXP. I'm not sure I like that. The thrill of fighting a FOE is still there, but the nice rewarding chunk of exp you get after beating it is no longer there. The developers said it was to encourage players to avoid FOEs, like they intended, which makes sense. There does seem to be an awful lot of FOEs in EO II. The good thing is that at least they still give rare drops.
I haven't had a chance to play around with all of the new character classes yet. So far, I'm using a Gunner to get all the bind skills to handle FOEs and bosses. Then I'm going to use the Ronin as a fire elemental damage-dealer. My Protector will be the tank. My Landsknecht will be my main physical damage dealer with ax skills. My medic will be the healer. I had first hoped to use a Warmagus to heal and eventually become a damage dealer because it has better sword skills than a medic, but I realized my front row didn't have enough room.
Protip: Talk to the shopkeeper to unlock the warp wire. Don't trudge your way back and forth the first three floors like I did. Oops.
Images courtesy of Atlus.