Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight, the most recent entry into publisher/developer Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey series on the Nintendo 3DS. Being the first entry in the series I’ve played I was immediately non-plussed on the somewhat lengthy name. Being the consummate professional that I am, I did some digging to find that EO2U:TFK (Still unwieldy, but a lot more manageable!) is actually the remake of the second game in the series, Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard, updated and packed with extra content. You’ll be pleased to hear that I required no previous experience of the series to enjoy the game, I dived right into my own odyssey.
Unlike its predecessor, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight has the option to run through on ‘Classic’ mode (more on that in the gameplay section) or Story mode, and because I’m a sucker for a decent plot I dived straight into the story mode. I was immediately impressed by how the plot was laid out. I’m generally of the opinion that JRPG’s such as this can err on the side of overly convoluted plot, mixed with too many one dimensional characters. But The Fafnir Knight has a fairly simple premise, introducing you to the first 2 main characters and doing a decent job of fleshing them and the world they live in fairly quickly. The Player Character (PC) and his childhood friend Flavio are junior members of the Midgard Library, an organisation dedicated to collecting and preserving knowledge from around the world. You are immediately tasked with travelling to the city of High Lagaard to assist an allied Noble with completing an ancient ritual and cataloguing your journeys. In short order you are introduced to the central locales and characters you’ll be adventuring with, as well as the city residents that provide you with all the services a budding explorers guild could need.
The central driving narrative of the beginning of the game is to assist the aforementioned Noble, a young woman named Arianna, to complete an ancient ritual performed every 100 years. Shortly after meeting Arianna, you are joined by a mysterious adventuring pair, Chloe the War Magus and Bartrand the Protector, rounding out your party. For the first part of the game, it is not revealed what the ritual is actually for, and you spend all of your time overcoming obstacles on your path to complete it. You aim to uncover the secrets of Ginnungagap and the Labyrinth (The two main adventuring areas), personally I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the written dialogue, with all of the characters having distinct personalities. You learn of their quirks and traits naturally from the dialogue, and grow a little attached to the characters, you can find yourself wanting to get further with their stories, and see how the relationships between the five main heroes will develop.
When dungeon crawling you are responsible for drawing the map of the levels, and populating them with the information you’ll need as an adventurer
Parallel to the main story, there are numerous sub-quests, including an optional player run restaurant specialising in dishes made from monster parts, and bounties to help build up your characters and flesh out the world and people of High Lagaard. This over-arching narrative that I enjoyed so much was actually one of the features added in the Untold version, surely a must have addition to the franchise, it was one of the main draws that kept me invested in the game.
The Fafnir Knight doesn’t really break much new ground with its core RPG mechanics, with the battle system being your usual turn based RPG fare, with each character having its own class and abilities. This isn’t to say it wasn’t enjoyable, in fact it sported a very solid combat system, with each class providing something different to your party. You can even sacrifice any characters’ progress to change their class to gain access to new skills and dramatically change how they would affect your party dynamics. The only thing that let it down was a lack in transparency in the stats and effects of each upgrade, in some cases providing only a basic description of what spending skill points would do. In the Story version of the game, each character starts with a distinct class that will work well as part of a party, though as mentioned earlier in the review there is another game mode to play. Classic mode removes the main overarching story and allows you to build your own party, their classes and character portraits included. I’d actually recommend going for the story mode first, unless you’re a veteran of the franchise, as this level of customisation and lack of direction can be confusing for first timers, and you’ll miss out on the upbeat dialogue.
The primary stand-out mechanic really comes into its own as you start to explore further, when dungeon crawling you are responsible for drawing the map of the levels, and populating them with the information you’ll need as an adventurer. This was an interesting use of the 3DS’ touchscreen, as well as a nice tie in with the narrative origin of the main characters. I found the potential bonuses and penalties for completing the maps of each dungeon floor to be consequential and tangible, being able to quickly transport around less easily navigable floors, and keeping track of all of the discovered harvesting nodes. You can even annotate the map to remind you of what monsters prowl each area, and to mark places to explore when returning from town.
When dungeon delving, or forest delving would be more accurate for the first few levels of the labyrinth, you must navigate through multiple floors that make up each stratum of the adventuring zones. As you reach each floor, you are greeted with new enemies, and reaching new stratums will present you with a visually distinct zone. Traversing the labyrinth means battling lots of random encounters, but also you will come across particularly large and vicious monsters called FOE’s which are actually present in the game world, and it is immensely satisfying to prepare your party and eventually take down these challenges. Rewards for exploration and combat proficiency primarily come in the form of harvestable resources and monster parts, which can be used to sell to your friendly local shop keeper, providing you with currency and new weapons. The progression mechanics felt a little grindy at times, but being a portable title meant that picking up and putting down the game was a breeze, alleviating any fatigue I felt for the system.
The adventuring locales in The Fafnir Knight are presented very nicely, especially for a portable title. A wide colour palette is used, and because the adventuring zones are built to form nice grids for map making, it translates well for the 3D function on the 3DS as well, providing a decent impression of distance, handy for map-making. Monsters in the battle scenes are rendered as 3D models as well, and there are a wide variety of monsters made, based on mythology as well as a few more original enemy types, though the staple of JRPG’s, the palette swap, is in full force. Characters and areas outside of the adventuring zones are presented as static art, familiar to fans of manga and anime. This was actually slightly disappointing as I always enjoy seeing the physical appearance of my party change in RPG’s as I acquire hard fought loot, but the characters and NPC’s are still charming enough for it not to be a deal breaker. Overall, the clean and colourful style of the game lends itself well to the 3DS’ dual screens, and I found myself wanting to push on to see what visual treats the next environment would bring. Adding models for the party as well as the monsters in battle would have really ticked all the boxes for me however.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is a pleasant surprise for me, not falling into many of the traps that the genre suffers from. It provides a hefty chunk of content, and the two main gameplay modes will allow for some replayability, especially for genre fans. A worthy addition to a 3DS owner’s library, and a light hearted romp through an attractive fantasy setting, and a great excuse to dust off the 3DS!