Hands On With the New Etrian Odyssey Story Mode

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Atlus has done a great job bringing all the Etrian Odyssey titles over to our sect of the world, the series is well known for being an old school dungeon crawler with a modern coat of paint on it.  In the series you basically create your band of adventurers and tackle the games various dungeons.  It is known for being difficult and you have to make sure you strategically know when to leave dungeons, get refreshed, and go have another go at it.

With this new installment however they have decided to focus on storytelling and that brings us the new Story Mode.  From what I played of the demo it isn’t any less difficult and you still have to advance cautiously, conserve your resources, and know when to fall back.  The main difference is that now you are paired with various story characters and there is a noticeable increase in dialogue and cutscenes.

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The demo, which is up now on the 3DS e-shop, allows you to advance to the main dungeon’s first 2 floors; however there is also a side dungeon to explore which makes this demo quite long.  When you start it up, you are treated to a beautiful animated cutscene, which shouldn’t surprise anybody as it was animated by prolific anime studio Madhouse.  After the cutscene you get into the game, where you play as a highlander who is working for the Radha group. Before they officially induct you into the group, you must pass the trial of mapping out the first floor of the Emerald Grove which is under their control.

Drawing your own maps is one of the main trademarks of this series and it returns in full force here.  If you have never played an Etrian Odyssey game, they basically tried to capture the feel of those oldschool RPGs that you would map out with graph paper but here you are obviously using the 3DS touchscreen.  You draw out your walls and they give you plenty of icons with which to mark various points of interest, both good and bad.

You are paired up with Ren the Ronin and Tlachtga the Hexer and the first thing you will notice is how much more powerful they are than you.  They do this so you can concentrate on mapping and less on just keeping yourself alive as I am sure they are expecting new players to jump on board with this more story focused game.  Your two comrades can basically kill anything in one hit and they even tell you to do nothing but defend.

After you have the first floor mapped out, you report your map to the guild leader and your comrades leave, now the demo really starts.  You are sent to investigate an ancient ruin all by yourself. After you are officially inducted into the guild, things are still very easy as you will rarely fight in the dungeon until you reach a certain point and meet a mysterious girl in some kind of cryo sleep chamber.  You free her and then another group of people investigating the ruin literally fall through the ceiling and you have little time to rest until you are attacked by a giant camel like monster.  He is easily dispatched and then you are given time to rest.  This is where you really notice the increase in dialogue and characterization.

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The various characters introduce themselves, wonder what you are doing in the ruin, question who the mysterious girl is, and try to probe you for information you might have on the ruin.  This new group of investigators are a part of the Midgard Library who look to spread knowledge to the world.  I was weaned on more story focused RPG’s so it’s really great to have these extended story sequences mixed in with the classic Etrian Odyssey gameplay.  After everybody has their chat you travel through the ruin and investigate numerous more points of interest until you can’t advance any further and then return to town.

You determine that the secret to the ruin lies in the Emerald Grove and you realize that these people you met can really help you solve the mystery behind it.  You then set off to meet with the leader of the Radha guild to see if he will allow you to travel into the grove with the Midgard Library group.  He is wary of their involvement but ends up agreeing to allow you to travel in the grove with them.  From here, it’s onto floor #2 of the grove and here is where the difficulty picks up.

As soon as you descend to floor 2 you notice the increase in difficulty.  The enemies hit harder, the map is a lot bigger, and you are introduced to the FOE, a series staple.  They are basically much more difficult enemies that will probably end up annihilating you if you decide to challenge them at first.  Luckily they are shown on screen and you can avoid them which is highly recommended.  I would be especially wary of the pig boulder FOE as they charge right at you if they see you and they can kill you in one hit, as they did with me many times.

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Now for anyone who has played the original game you will notice that a lot of things seem familiar and that is because this game is kind of a remake of the original game.  You see familiar characters and while the layouts of the dungeon floors are different, there are major parts that remained the same – most notably, the Emerald Grove.  However, the neat thing is that the entire part with the ancient ruin is totally new and I can’t wait to see how that factors into the story when the full game comes out, or if that dungeon will have those darn pig boulders too.

You also get a nice look at how the skill tree is going to work in this game.  You earn 1 skill point per level up and can apply those points to various skills such as HP up, attack up, etc.  Something I noticed while playing is that sometimes you will learn 2 skills for the price of 1.  After you learn a certain skill you can then level it up to 10 for added benefits.

Your levels are capped at 10 in the demo and there was some message at the beginning letting you know that the sound quality isn’t as good in the demo as it will be in the final product.  I’m not sure what that means, but I assume the final product is going to have different, more up to date arrangements for the music.

So that is basically it, or as far as I got anyway.  It’s quite a long demo and the really cool thing is that your save data for the demo will transfer to the actual game so all of your hours playing the demo won’t go to waste.  The game launches on October 1st and the demo is obviously available now.  Make sure to check it out!