Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight
The Etrian Odyssey franchise just keeps getting better in terms of its game systems and accessibility. The series is still the punishing, map-drawing dungeon crawler that the hardcore RPG audience loves, but a lot of frustrating and archaic elements have faded, such as endless backtracking between floors and unreasonable difficulty levels.
The Untold games (remakes of the original entries) have a bigger focus on story and characters elements that are commonly criticized in this series. The Fafnir Knight has more exciting twists than the previous entry, The Millennium Girl. The character interactions and dialogue have come a long way, but compared to other RPGs, they still fall short. You've seen versions of these characters and the story before: You have the best friend with a heart of gold, two main characters of the opposite sex with a mysterious connection, and the enigmatic wildcard. The narrative isn't much better, focusing on trials to complete a ceremony that happens every 100 years.
Tired story aside, the basic gameplay is still solid. You map your way through labyrinths and examine every inch to ensure you don't miss a hidden passage. However, the dun geons and FOEs (deadly minibosses) themselves are much more interesting. Etrian Odyssey is all about surviving and getting around obstacles, whether you're swiftly dodging before a FOE unleashes a wave of fire or navigating ice that slides you forward until you hit an obstruction. You can also use these dangers to your advantage, like pushing those ice blocks to damage FOEs and lure them into traps.
Etrian Odyssey rewards you for knowing when to use your brain to avoid a fight. When it's not immediately apparent how to avoid the encounter, the fun is in figuring it out by studying enemy patterns and looking for traps. This extends to tough boss battles where you need to exploit weaknesses and use status effects to your advantage. As the dungeons get more complex, they require some annoying backtracking, which is my primary complaint about them. Sometimes you're forced to go in circles before you can advance. At the very least, dungeons have a lot to interact with this time around, whether you're lighting spider webs on fire to damage enemies, raising bridges, or triggering random events that test your luck.
I also love building my characters and having complete customization over the skills I want to invest in. Grimoires, obtained by chance during battles, allow you to equip characters with skills normally unavailable to their class. These are fun to experiment with, especially since you can buff skills you already have, but they didn't feel like they made that big of a difference in my success.
Outside of dungeons, The Fafnir Knight has plenty of fun activities to break up the grind. You can help out by finding recipes and ingredients for an up-and-coming restaurant, and the resulting dishes grant perks like regenerating HP and status effect resistance. Furthermore, a fun new town-building mechanic lets you put cash into the town, which nets better facilities and increases the population. Raising the population helps because you can do different advertising campaigns for the restaurant, catering dishes to the inhabitants' wants. You keep the funds collected from the revenue you bring in, which becomes a great way to raise money for better equipment, and I enjoyed maximizing my profits and watching some of the crazier recipes succeed.
I don't have much to knock about The Fafnir Knight beyond some tedious points and the uninspiried story and characters. In fact, as soon as I opened up cooking and town development, I found myself in an engaging, hard-to-put-down gameplay loop. That being said, after numerous Etrian Odyssey entries, the formula hasn't changed much. It's still fun, but without any large leaps, Etrian is starting to get stale. I feel playing one entry is like playing them all.
The Etrian Odyssey franchise just keeps getting better in terms of its game systems and accessibility.