Posted 17 May 2007 - 07:44 PM
Okay, so I guess I'm the only person here who has actually *played* this game. Here is my novella:
First off: Etrian Odyssy is not nearly as HARDCORE as a lot of the hypefans have made it out to be -- in fact, compared to old-school dungeon crawlers, it's incredibly forgiving. You start out with a ton of money, which allows you buy all of the introductory gear you need. There are clear descriptions for all sorts of things, and the overall mechanics of the game make it much easier to bend battles and exploration in your favor. Physically weak classes can actually take a hit or two, so unlike other classic D&D dungeon hacks, you won't have to worry about an enemy accidentally breathing on your mage and sending you packing back to town (although enemies will hit you with devastating critical hits which will kill your guys instantly if you don't keep your HP up). The game also features warp points and revive items -- although they are rare -- and the item shop sells a pretty cheap tool for exiting the dungeon in a jam. I think it's important to realize that this is a decidedly new-school dungeon hack, heavily influenced by the current design philosophy of "always give the player rewards for making good decisions" rather than "always punish the player for making mistakes."
Visually, the game looks pretty good. Interfaces are snappy and the forest is lush and colorful. You can definitely tell that it would look like total ass on a big screen, but on the tiny DS display it fills out nicely. Battles play out like an older Dragon Quest game, so you know what to expect there. Spell effects are pretty flashy though.
The class system is a real treat. In classic fashion, you choose a group of five characters from a variety of classes (this is confusing at first, because you have six available slots in your party formation). Classes are pretty typical: Offensive warrior, defensive Warrior, balanced warrior, spellcaster, healer, support class, rogue. Each character has a stat-learning system similar to Diablo 2, where you get a skill point each level and spend it. Every class has a few different categories of skills: for warriors, you can specialize in a weapon type, boost your HP, or specialize in unique skills; for wizards you can specialize in different elements, or in having high MP, or in casting the ultimate fireball; etc. I think each class has about 15-20 different areas to spend points on. Every class is useful and unique, and each class has at least 4 different ideal configurations. It will really hurt to only be able to focus on five party members each with one specialty when there are so many legitimate possibilities. At higher levels, you *can* respec, which is an absolute blessing.
My favorite class is the roguish class, Survivalist, because they learn a variety of abilities to decrease encounter rate, get an extra turn in battles, and are pretty solid warriors otherwise. I also like the female Dark Hunter because I am a pervert.
The game is a little punishing, but it's not exactly masochistic. You might need to gain a few levels when entering a new area, but a well-designed party should run into few hitches. Boss battles are brutal, but almost all are optional. The experience curve is a lot like Dragon Quest, where you will level up rapidly whenever you get to a new area, and then will level very slowly. This keeps your level right around where the designers want it. Money is very very scarce, and it will be shockingly expensive to revive your entire party. There might be times when you have only one party member left and he is killing moths and rats in order to get enough money to revive everyone else. I really do not like this, and I have never liked that dungeon crawlers tend to make it so hard to revive a fallen character when a boss can kill someone so easily. The Medic can learn a revive skill somewhere before the middle point of the game (judging by the skill points required to earn it), so I guess that will make things much easier. As it stands, the extortionate fees for revival and recovery are my least favorite thing about the game.
Map-making is a snap, and, surprisingly, really fun. The game automaps each tile you step on, so you don't actually need to draw on the map if you don't want to. You can add little text memos and stuff to your liking. One thing is that the automapping function does not draw walls, and only draws floors. It's a little tough to explain, but you'll have a hard time knowing that you have the entire floor charted out for sure unless you draw the walls in yourself. I really like being able to put an icon wherever I want, and typing in "locked door with crystal on it", rather than the game putting a "locked door" tile on the map and leaving me wondering which key goes into it. Seriously, it's hard to convince you, but drawing maps really is a blast in this game. You can also draw maps while battles and such are loading or even during the animation segment in the combat round, if you aren't interested in watching.
The overall pace of the game interface is pretty fast. This isn't like Pokemon or anything -- if you hold down the "a" button, battle animations will whiz by and all of your characters will be assigned "attack" in a split second. You walk pretty quickly through the dungeons, which is probably mandatory in keeping this game from sucking. You can set text boxes to "instant display", rather than the default "crawly text" mode that most RPGs use, which is a boon to those of us above a fifth grade reading level. I don't know how important the brevity of a game interface is to most people, but for me it's the difference that makes Pokemon no fun and Xenosaga 3 a whole lot of fun.
As a side note, I am playing this game concurrently with Disgaea 2, which has a typical button setup for Playstation RPGs. Etrian Odyssey's button configuration is exactly the inverse of Playstation RPG configurations, so expect to make millions of mistakes early on. The biggest issue is that the top button opens the map, not the character menu -- which is assigned to the left button. After hours of playing, I still can't get to the two straight.
SO IN SUMMARY
This is a solid, well-designed re-envisioning of the dungeon crawler. It's substantially more forgiving while still maintaining the high standard of difficulty and scarcity of resources. Reviving and healing is the worst part of the game, as it often is in this genre, but you can build your characters around it. The class sytem is very malleable and very cool -- almost identical to Diablo 2, except you get to customize five heroes instea of one. The pace of interaction with the game is very fast, which keeps it from crawling and is important in such a slow-paced game as this one. I give Etrian Odyssey my recommendation.