Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight Review (3DS)

Long associated with the antiquated charms of classic role-playing games, Etrian Odyssey has always taken pride in its herculean difficulty, and people are surprisingly okay with this. Never mind the rigid grid-like movement or the awkward first-person exploration, and never mind that if the games were any harder they might be classified as low-end forms of torture, folks far and wide — for better or worse — love their Etrian Odyssey just the way it is.

But by the books labyrinthian dungeon crawling is so 2007. Here we are in 2015 hot off the heels of two — count ’em — two crossover spin-offs in Persona Q and Etrian Mystery Dungeon, both wildly different takes on the traditional Etrian Odyssey formula with just enough familiarity to keeps things grounded. And the same could be said of the Untold games, especially this latest installment.

Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is, for all intents and purposes, a remake of Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Laagard, but that’s selling the title short. Really it’s less of a remake and more of a prequel that dovetails into the campaign of Heroes of Laagard (and Classic Mode in Untold 2) with all sorts of added and reimagined features to differentiate itself from the aging DS game. Be warned, though: if you’re a die-hard Etrian purist, you’re bound to have your feathers ruffled with this 3DS rendition, but bare with me.

I’m referencing, of course, the polarizing addition of Story Mode. While narrative has always had its place in past Etrian Odysseys, it’s typically looming in the background as an omnipresent force teasing the player with nebulous mysteries brewing behind the scenes. And that’s half the fun. Rather than spilling the beans, the original games would much rather players piece together the clues themselves and imagine scenarios without a bevy of Chatty Cathys and nefarious monologuers hogging all the screen time. So then… incorporating more exposition and a linearized narrative would totally desecrate the whole odyssey, right? Right??

Surprisingly, not really.

EO2U follows the journey of five fresh-faced explorers (well, four plus one grumpy old man) on a pilgrimage to perform a century old ritual. The group is a rag-tag assemblage of close friends and unlikely heroes that do a nice job of playing off one another throughout the 50+ hour long campaign. Sure, these enthusiastic explorers all stick to a steady diet of tropey anime quirks, but underneath it all they’re legitimately sincere characters battling with their own existential fears and uncertainties. Suffice to say, I wouldn’t expect such treatment coming from a series where characterization is typically handled in the second-person, and yet the new approach where the characters literally speak for themselves works so well and isn’t intrusive at all. Princess Arianna, Bertrand, Chloe, Flavio, the protagonist — they’re all delightful personalities that make The Fafnir Knight one seriously enchanting adventure from start to finish.

Along with the bolstered narrative comes new gameplay features like the Story Mode-exclusive Ginnungagap Ruins. This five-floor dungeon exists as a separate entity from the main labyrinth, though it plays out in a familiar enough way. Rather than repeatedly shoehorn event scenes into the expository-lean stratums, the Ginnungagap Ruins houses the most integral story moments while the labyrinth functions as the more conventional Etrian Odyssey realm with a few minor exceptions. Don’t get me wrong: none of this is to say Ginnungagap is all talk and no play. On the contrary, each floor contains a nasty boss encounter to offset the dungeon’s otherwise insistent chattiness. These are some of the most formidable foes the game has to offer (especially on higher difficulties) and are very indicative of the classic challenge the series is known for, so buckle up.

The other notable addition to Laagard is Regina’s café, a culinary hotspot that holds new town development features, the Grimoire exchange, StreetPass settings, and, of course, a kitchen for cheffing out. Not restricted to just Story Mode, the café is where EO2U leverages the systems established in Heroes of Laagard for more purposeful implementation. For example, gathering materials has become two-fold: either trade in materials for improved inventory at the local vendor per usual, or turn them into tasty dishes to consume for handy passive skills while dungeoning or advertise and sell the food to townsfolk for a hefty sum.

Remember Grimoire Stones from The Millennium Girl? Those skill-inducing rocks acquired in battle used to hybridize party member’s repertoire without entirely reclassing them? They’re back in full force and now can be traded at the café with nomadic travelers, namely those met via StreetPass. Say you swap data with Brad the Dungeoner and Brad the Dungeoner has a Protector with a defensive skill that would compliment your Highlander MacLeod nicely. Well then, head on down to the Grimoire exchange and swap Brad some extra Bonus TP skills and you got yourself a deal. It’s a way more reliable system than synthesizing Grimoire Stones where you toss in a couple and get a random skill in return. And folks with anemic StreetPass activity will be pleased to hear that you can easily scan user-generated QR codes to find trade partners whenever, wherever.

If all these changes are starting to make your head spin, take comfort in the untampered battle system. Same goes for cartography outside some streamlining to the interface. Classes haven’t changed much either other than there’s a lot more familiar faces now. See, even though its based on Heroes of Laagard, The Fafnir Knight has wrangled classes from every Etrian Odyssey since 2008, resulting in totally different party composition options. With classes like Sovereign and Highlander now in the mix, players can experiment with exciting new tactics for taking down enemies that weren’t even possible when Etrian Odyssey II came out all those years ago. And with the Grimoire system in place, you can assign skills to no end regardless of class — or you can just reclass the unit outright. Don’t like the fact that Flavio’s a Survivalist? Me neither! I turned him into a spoony bard! Well, Troubadour technically, but let’s not split hairs here, people. Point is the game is infinitely customizable and accommodates all types of playstyles.

For as much as Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight rocks the boat, it’s abundantly clear that it remains ever unwavering in its devotion to its forebearers’ impenetrable legacy. It’s not so much that The Fafnir Knight sets out to blaze new trails for the series as it, again, tries to accommodate all types of players. If you’re a newcomer to the Etrian series, there is simply no better starting point than EO2U. Its new features are as well-conceived as they are masterfully executed, its gameplay carefully balanced between three difficulties including “Picnic” for easy goers, and best of all it improves upon an already rock solid foundation by venturing out into uncharted territory. And if change scares the bejeebers out of you, opt for the tried-and-true Classic Mode that’s a faithful revamp of the original Heroes of Laagard. For penny pinchers like me looking for a portable RPG, definitely pick this one up because it’s effectively two games in one with exclusive content within each respective game mode.

Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight hits North American shelves August 4th and early next year for Europeans. It retails for $49.99 and first-print copies come with a 6-track CD and nifty art book.

[BUY Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight]
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight Review (3DS)
A RPG so fine it'll make you go cross-eyed. With two substantially different game modes and a glut of new features, EO2U will keep you hooked for hours. The new Picnic difficulty finds the perfect balance of ease and friction to attract newcomers while Expert will crush even veterans. When it's not charming you with its spritely characters or beautiful locales, it's giving you hell on the battlefield like an Etrian Odyssey should. EO2U could very well be the pinnacle of the series.
Gameplay10
Presentation10
Lasting Appeal10
Character Named "Flavio"10
Pros
  • LOADS of new content
  • Finely-tuned from top to bottom
  • Respects your time
Cons
  • I got nothing
  • Seriously
  • Nada
10Overall Score
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About The Author

Former Co-Editor

Trace Wysaske lives somewhere in Washington, and when he isn't compulsively hunting Green Stars or felling the Lagiacrus, he's writing about everything from forlorn Japanese teachers to well-mannered crows. He still needs to play Ghost Trick.