The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Etrian Odyssey IV opened its doors to a new audience by adding a casual difficulty mode to the hardcore dungeon crawler. Up until that point, only the most dedicated could survive the slow grind, vicious enemies, and mistakes that could cost them their life and progress. New fans emerged once the barrier was lifted, so it’s no surprise that Atlus has remade the first game sporting the same casual mode.
What’s most gratifying about Millennium Girl is that it does everything a remake should, offering new features alongside enhancements to dated systems. The final product shows Atlus listened to fan feedback, from the little things like fast travel between dungeon floors to the full story mode complete with cutscenes and character interactions.
While Millennium Girl beefs up the narrative, it still isn’t a sterling mark in the world of RPGs. It suffers from the same failures as the rest of the series, where the story exists only to get you into the dungeon. At least the stock characters are gone; this time around, you journey with adventurers who feel like distinct individuals. That doesn’t mean that these individuals aren’t full of stereotypes though; for instance, you meet a young girl from the mythical land of “Ontario,” who loves her booze and ends sentences with “eh.” During dungeons, skits between characters play out; these vignettes are easily the highlight moments, since the main plot is full of generic tropes like amnesia. I just wish more of these appeared, as the character interactions show the story at its best.
For those who find it more fun to create their own stories and characters, classic mode lets players delve into the dungeon just as they would in other entries. You get the same game, but you can still build parties from the ground up like in the original. Story mode offers a narrative full of cutscenes, so classic mode is the better bet for players who don’t want the characters getting in the way of grinding and exploring. The only other drawback to classic mode is that the new Highlander class, which combines heavy hitting and healing abilities, is only available in story mode.
The difficulty you select also impacts your experience. While the casual mode starts out much easier and lets you get your bearings, it is by no means an invitation to let your guard down. Part of the lure with Etrian Odyssey is overcoming the challenges of a harsh and uncaring world; escaping the ruthless enemies and unfavorable circumstances are impossible. Building my characters to meet this challenge is one of my favorite parts of the game. The skill trees are varied enough where characters can be completely different, even if they’re the same class. Combat itself is straightforward – deep enough due to characters’ skills and abilities, but without distinguishing features to set it apart in the genre.
Even after building your party to meet the outside world, Millennium Girl offers several enhancements to keep the sometimes-tedious elements to a minimum. Selecting a staircase in a dungeon teleports you to any level the party has already visited (instead of building long strings of arrows to automatically guide your characters). The optional auto-mapper removes the need to craft your own map on the bottom screen, so those without the patience can zip through without taking pit stops for cartography.
Other new features include Grimoire Stones, allowing use of skills outside a particular character’s class, and the Guildkeeper system, which provides bonuses for a small fee. Both are useful, though I did spend more time beefing up characters’ innate skills rather than those offered by the stones, but neither provides such a large advantage as to be broken.
All of these enhancements still don’t eliminate the grinding. I returned to the same floors of each dungeon several times, and they aren’t varied enough to make repeat visits interesting. If I’m going to spend an hour on level two of a dungeon, a change of scenery on level three would be nice. Etrian Odyssey also plays its classic mind games; I second-guessed my decisions at every turn, looking at every choice with suspense. Some decisions are simple, like drinking from a fountain or deciding to help someone. Unfortunately, the rewards (such as a slight HP boost) are never quite in line with the risks.
This was especially true with choosing to fight challenging FOE enemies. While fighting FOEs, other enemies can join the battle if they’re nearby on the map and quickly overwhelm you. Clearly, Etrian Odyssey doesn’t want you fighting them unless you’re leagues above their level. It often comes down to rote memorization of the patterns they walk in the dungeon to decide which enemies to engage and when, so if you happen to take one step in the wrong direction, expect a game over quickly. Also, finding out that you’re out of inventory space when you mow down a FOE also means another decision: what items to throw away. Returning to the shop to clear out inventory space (and then backtracking back to where I was in the dungeon) is a pain – especially when my party is still healthy enough to keep adventuring.
Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl has plenty of small enhancements (and one big one) to make things easier for players of all skill levels. That being said, the hardcore dungeon crawlers haven’t lost their one-turn-you’re-dead combat if they explore too far too quickly. It keeps the adrenaline high in battles and doesn’t put your brain on autopilot, but at the same time, the series could use some refinements to keep the tedium at bay. Millennium Girl won’t change how you feel about Etrian Odyssey, but it may open the door for further improvement.
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.