It’s two games in one……well, kind of anyway. The second remake of the Untold spin-off series, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight, an upgraded and story driven update of the DS’, Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Laggard, provides the inclusion of a character driven, dialogue heavy version of the previously story-lite DS original while also providing a more straightforward update of said original that forgoes the new story elements but wisely includes many of the technical enhancements alongside a graphical upgrade and new dungeon layouts that, while perhaps not for purists, does go some way toward making it a slightly more accessible adventure.
While the inclusion of the original experience is likely to please fans of the series and is undoubtedly a welcome addition to what is a sizeable handheld adventure, it is the all new Story Mode that provides the primary reason to return to this classic dungeon crawler. Like the previous Untold remake, some will inevitably scoff at the inclusion of fixed characters, classes and the major emphasis on storytelling, but for those previously put off by its undeniably hardcore exterior, this latest Untold upgrade might encourage traditional JRPG fans to try what was previously a somewhat sterile, if undoubtedly enjoyable, mechanics-driven experience.
Many will ultimately consider the addition of a story superfluous, but whether you deem its inclusion a positive or a negative, there is no getting around what a major effect it has on the gameplay. The most prominent change is the fact that the new Story Mode now has a fixed party with five fixed starting classes. This ultimately means that you can’t create new party members at will and are thus stuck with the characters in your group and their subsequent class affiliation. In fairness, classes can be changed at the cost of lost levels as your progress and the new Grimoire Stones do allow you to absorb character skills that can be subsequently passed on, but neither option provides the freedom allowed in the original game.
That’s the point though I guess, and with an upgraded version of the original also included, it’s hard to get to worked up by artistic and mechanical changes made for the Story Mode. Saying that, many will arguably want to stick with the original on account of the games’ decidedly forgettable fantasy yarn and largely annoying characters. There is nothing overtly offensive here, but the central tale of fantasy and adventure fails to pull up any trees, and while that might be ok under normal circumstances, there is so much story and dialogue here that it’s all but impossible to ignore its lack of imagination or complete dearth of compelling characterisation.
Almost exclusively text-only, some of the dialogue appears to go on forever, and for a series that traditionally has no story whatsoever, it’s surprising that Atlus have taken it to the other extreme by adding hours and hours of text-driven conversations. The characters are simply too clichéd and too grating to warrant this much dialogue, and while the ability of the main character to transform into the Fafnir Knight does add a cool twist to the very solid core gameplay, it’s never long until you’re dragged from the games’ brilliant mechanics and battle system and forced to sit through yet another bout of tedious fantasy banter.
The newly added story might be a bit of a bust, but the new ruins area of Ginnungagap, beyond being central to the all-new plot, delivers a vast new area for returning players to explore, and while it certainly suffers from the same lack of artistic diversity that the majority of the games’ dungeons fall foul of, it’s increasing size and importance to the story will ultimately make it an exciting addition for those willing to put up with all of that incessant chatter.
That’s not the only positive addition of course – beyond the improved visuals that really bring the games’ fantastic enemy design to life in ways that the DS simply couldn’t, little changes to the controls that allow you to auto-battle opponents, fast-forward through enemy encounters and run through the large environments, really do help to deliver a smoother, decidedly more user-friendly experience. The ability to improve the town also adds a nice sense of tactical depth to the game outside of the core dungeon crawling experience as you build up stores that can provide additional items and stat boosts for your team of brave adventurers.
Of course, fans of the series will be glad to hear that the ability to draw your maps has been included and is now arguably better and more intuitive than ever before. The hardcore will inevitably roll their eyes at the auto-draw feature added for the Untold series that sees floors and walls added automatically, but whether you’re taking the traditional approach or the newb friendly one, it remains a unique and compelling aspect of the games’ design and has once again been integrated brilliantly into the core experience.
The technically improved but fundamentally unchanged Classic Mode arguably remains the strongest aspect of this package, but whichever way you choose to tackle the latest entry in Atlus’ much loved, Etrian Odyssey series, the gameplay and decidedly old school dungeon crawling mechanics remain as strong and compelling as ever. While traditionalists are unlikely to find themselves enamoured with the lengthy story and its subsequent effects on the core gameplay, the addition of characters and an actual story undoubtedly delivers a more accessible experience and a way for new players to ease themselves into what is an unforgiving and unabashedly old school video game. The story itself is utter cobblers and the games’ cast of cliché ridden characters never know when to shut up, but despite these issues, the charming presentation and fantastic underlying gameplay ensures that, while only likely to prove a stop gap ahead of the nearly finished, Etrian Odyssey V, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight nonetheless delivers a compelling and largely enjoyable slice of decidedly old school adventuring.
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