Atlus Etrian Odyssey
For the classic RPG fan, Atlus's Etrian Odyssey for the Nintendo DS is everything you could hope for and then some. For the rest of us, it's a cartographer's worst nightmare.
- Classic RPG strategising, uses touch-screen well
- Limited enemy animations
Ultimately, this one is for fans of the genre and not for the short-on-time. It may be a handheld game, but with no quicksave, Etrian Odyssey demands more of a gamer than the average hack-n-slash RPGs of the day.
Price$ 69.95 (AUD)
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Unlike modern RPGs, which coddle us with heavy plotlines and walk us through training dungeons, Etrian Odyssey dumps you into the world of the Yggdrasil Labyrinth with just a few lines of exposition and the option to form a party.
Once there, you are charged with drawing in the blank parts on your map — meaning pretty much all of it after the first floor — using the DS touch-screen to great effect. The game has an auto-draw option that will paint in the ground as you go (though you still have to pencil in the walls) and tonnes of pre-made icons that you can add to the map to mark item locations, doors, and events with an option to annotate any space on the isometric grid. But for those of us who can still remember getting out the graphing paper to get through Tactics Ogre, you can turn off the auto-draw and go all-out old school dungeon crawler.
The combat system in Etrian Odyssey is not unlike the one Atlus's Thousand Arms and Shin Megami Tensei games. The first-person gameplay is effective when combined with the shiny new 3D graphics engine that renders the Labyrinth in rich detail, day or night. As you work your way downwards through the twists and turns of the Labyrinth, it really feels like you're lost in a maze. The novelty wears off, though, as you'll find your eyes glued to the 2D map rather than taking in the 3D world to plan your route and avoid roving enemies that pop up. Despite the detailed setting graphics, the character models are anime-styled 2D cutouts and enemies have no attack animations and only one wobble animation and a flash of light indicating that your attack hit them.
The real appeal of Etrian Odyssey is the renaissance of the classic RPG. Instead of a world that conforms to your level and rewards you with HP every time you level up, you have to strategise about which characters will enter the Labyrinth, how best to allot skill points among your characters, who charges the front line and who stays in back, and how much money you have to spend on reviving dead characters. You'll almost always need one Medic and one "strongman" class in your party (e.g. Landsknecht, Survivalist, Protector) even if you're just going item-hunting. And though Alchemists, Troubadours, and the kinky Dark Hunters can work some nifty magic, it almost doesn't matter until you've got a front line that can cover them while they wait their turn to attack.
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