Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: Atlus
Release Date: June 13, 2008


NDS Review - 'Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 26, 2008 @ 3:09 a.m. PDT

Continuing one of the genre's purest experiences, this sequel builds upon the original cult classic with more diverse areas to explore, new character classes, more fiendish FOEs, and an improved mapping system.

Etrian Odyssey was one of those rare DS gems that appealed to a small subset of gamers, but those who actually played it found it to be an exceptionally fun game. A plot-light dungeon crawler combining Japanese RPG aesthetics with the first-person dungeon crawling of Western games like Ultima and Wizardry, Etrian Odyssey was unforgivingly difficult and incredibly fun. One of the best surprises the game offered was revealed after you finished it. One of the options unlocked in the post-game was the ability to generate a password for the sequel, something that cheered up any gamer who was willing to put the time into defeating the punishingly hard foes in Etrian Odyssey. Now, just a little over a year since the original title hit, Atlus brings us Etrian Odyssey II: The Heroes of Lagaard, and it is everything that fans of the first title have been waiting for.

Etrian Odyssey II opens up with your guild arriving in the grand duchy of High Lagaard, a bustling town built on the edge of huge Yggdrasil Labyrinth. If you've played and beaten the original Etrian Odyssey, you're prompted to enter a password from that game. Doing so transfers over a number of details, such as the guild name from the old title and the Town Crown item, if you managed to unlock it. If you did manage, you'll receive a free useful accessory in Etrian Odyssey II, but otherwise you're starting off fresh from level one with a new cast, although you have the option to either keep your old guild name or start them over with a clean slate. Your goal, much like it was in Etrian Odyssey, is very simple: reach the top floor of this new labyrinth and discover the secrets of the floating castle, not unlike the mystery of the depths of the labyrinth in Etrian Odyssey. It isn't a story line that's heavy on plot twists and secrets, but the meager backstory that does exist is interesting enough to keep you going. You can't even enter the labyrinth without buildling a new team of explorers to visit.

Etrian Odyssey II allows you to create a guild of up to 30 different characters from a number of available classes. All of the classes from Etrian Odyssey are returning, including the Hexer and Ronin, who began as classes that had to be unlocked in the original Etrian Odyssey. In addition to those returning classes, you're also joined by three new classes: War-Magus, Gunner and Beast. The War-Magus is a combination attacker and healer. It doesn't do as well at healing as a medic, nor does it attack as well as a Ronin or Landsknecht, but it serves as an admirable middleman with a variety of special sword skills. A Gunner is a new long-range fighter who functions as a sort of physical combat Alchemist. They have a variety of powerful gun skills and elemental skills that they can use, and while they can't hit quite as hard as an Alchemist can, they're much easier on the Technique Points (TP). Finally, the Beast, which is the only locked class in Etrian Odyssey II, functions as a sort of super-Protector. They have extremely high defense and hit points, as well as a number of powerful skills that can be used to defend your party from attack by absorbing the hits. Naturally, this comes at the cost of the Beast likely being the first character to die messily if an enemy uses an area-of-effect attack against which the Beast has to defend your entire party.

Once you've created a few characters, you can take up to five of them into the labyrinth, which isn't really complex, even if it is exceedingly dangerous. A large 30-floor hell dungeon, the labyrinth isn't randomly generated. You in go, explore, fight monsters, search for items, and complete quests for the various townsfolk, all while seeking a way to get lower and lower into the dungeon. This sounds simple, but actually doing it is a real challenge. First of all, there are the monsters, who attack you every step of the way and make your life difficult as you try to balance your resource consumption with defeating enemies quickly.

In combat, your party has two rows: a front row and a back row and a front row. One row can have three characters, while the other has two. Characters in the front row do full damage with all weapons and are the first enemy that most monsters will hit, so it's a solid place to put your strongest physical fighters. The back row has higher defense, but can't use all weapons to their full effect, although weapons such as bows and guns remain unhindered. If your front row is killed, your back row moves into the front row, making them easy pickings for the eager enemies. Aside from the front row/back row mechanic, the battle system is fairly easy to learn. Both sides attack each other in a turn-based battle and try to bring the opponent's HP to zero. Spells and special abilities are cast using Technique Points, and whoever is still alive at the end of the fight wins.

Combat in Etrian Odyssey II may sound simple, but it actually requires a lot of forethought and planning to succeed, even more so than the original Etrian Odyssey. Skills and abilities have been rebalanced, so some are more effective now and others have been weakened. Even beyond that, you can't just pick abilities willy-nilly and run into the dungeon waving your swords around. You have to create a team that complements each other in their skills. Four guys with strong swords and a medic may sound like something that would work in any other RPG, but in Etrian Odyssey II, it's a quick way to an early grave.

You've got to make sure each character serves a sensible purpose that works with other members of the team. One of my favorite combinations includes a Gunner, Ronin and Landsknecht. Gunner and Ronin both have elemental attacks, and the Landsknecht has a "Chaser" skill that allows him to attack instantly whenever someone uses one of those aforementioned elemental attacks. Other useful combinations include Hexer and a War-Magus, or a Beast and Protector, both of whom have similar, but complementary skills. The important thing is that your team must function as a team, not as a group of powerful badasses that happen to be fighting together like so many other RPGs would do.

As you explore the labyrinth in Etrian Odyssey II, you'll be required to use the touch-screen on the bottom of the DS to map it as you walk, much like in Etrian Odyssey. Returning gamers will be very glad to hear that the map screen has been improved for much easier functionality. You can now make a number of alterations to the map that you couldn't easily do in Etrian Odyssey. Specifically, you can mark if secret passages move you back and forth or only in one directly, individually mark each item farming spot on the map, have a wider variety of icons to place to depict what you're trying to mark, and perhaps most importantly, you can now alter the floor color for the areas you've already explored. That last one sounds rather pointless until you realize that by mixing and matching various floor colors, you're able to draw specific paths for your party to take, including making F.O.E.-safe routes, easy ways to item nodes, or simply the last area you explored on the map. It may seem like a small improvement, but you'll be quite thankful for it when you return to a level you haven't explored in a while and find that all of your routes are well marked.

Returning from Etrian Odyssey are the super-powered "Formido Oppugnatura Exsquens," or F.O.E, a monster from the depths of hell. They're incredibly powerful, decked out with some of the hardest-hitting skills in the game, have tons of HP and have more than enough power to devastate every single member of your party without taking more than paltry damage in return. Even worse, if you get into a fight in a bad location, a F.O.E can actually intrude on the altercation, something that would surely spell the end of your party without a lucky escape.

What can you do about a F.O.E.? As in the first game, they appear on the random map, and almost all of them have set movement patterns. Some may remain where they are, some may wander randomly around the map, some may try to ambush your party, and some may only activate if you go near them. In addition, a number of your characters get skills, some new and some tried-and-true from Etrian Odyssey, which can be used to alter the F.O.E. in some way. A Dark Hunter can lure F.O.E.s to certain spot, a Gunner can use a long-range sniping ability to halt them in their tracks for a few moves, and so on. The challenge here is that investing too heavily in anti-F.O.E. maneuvers means you'll be reducing your combat capability, so eventually, you'll have to go for the third possible method of dealing with F.O.E.s: fighting them. They're not quite on the level of boss battles, but they're close. If you win, you're rewarded with rare items and more importantly, the F.O.E. remains dead for a few days of game time, which allows you a small period in which to run through that dungeon level unmolested.

One warning about Etrian Odyssey II: It is harder than the first title, and that wasn't exactly an overly forgiving game. Etrian Odyssey II is like playing Etrian Odyssey on Hard mode for newcomers or returning veterans alike. One thing returning vets will notice is that a lot of the exceptionally powerful skills have been weakened or flat-out removed. Of particular note are the Medic's immunize and the Protector's defender skill, both of which were staples of most parties in Etrian Odyssey, and both of which are completely removed from Etrian Odyssey II, leaving you to discover new methods of defense to keep your fledging team alive.

Furthermore, you'll find a few "traps" for returning players. For example, on the first floor in the original Etrian Odyssey, there was an easy-to-access Item Node that was located close to the dungeon entrance, which could be accessed via a shortcut; it provided quick, easy and safe access to money for the first half of the game. A similar location in Etrian Odyssey II seems poised to do the same, until you suddenly get ambushed by an F.O.E. called the Raffelsta, who promptly casts a high-level freeze spell that devastates any low-level party. If you're not someone who enjoys a high level of difficulty in your games, Etrian Odyssey II isn't for you, and this is probably the game's biggest "flaw." Of course, if you're looking for a game that is going to challenge you, then be glad, because Etrian Odyssey II won't let you down.

Etrian Odyssey II is still a simplistic, although nice-looking game. The 3-D environments are nice and more detailed than their predecessor, but still won't blow anyone's mind. They're bright and cheerful, and they certainly give you a nice environment to explore. The enemies are still stock pallet-swapped pictures and there are still only four portrait choices for each class, but those are minor complaints at best, since Etrian Odyssey is not really a game focused on mind-blowing visual presentation. One area where Etrian Odyssey II does excel is in its excellent soundtrack. The subtle and soft music while you're exploring the various stratums, the pulse-pounding battle anthem, the chipper town theme — it's all fantastic. My only real complaint is that I feel that the F.O.E. theme in Etrian Odyssey II is a bit weaker than the phenomenal "A Sudden Gust of Wind Before Your Eyes" from Etrian Odyssey, but even then, the new song isn't bad, just not as good as the original.

Etrian Odyssey II: The Heroes of Lagaard is tough. It is not always fairly tough, it can be frustrating, it can be aggravating, it can make you want to drive your stylus through the DS and throw it out a window. It's also unbelievably fun, quite challenging, and a fantastic game for fun or travel. It isn't a game for everyone, since the lack of a detailed tutorial, the unforgiving difficulty, and the simplistic plot could easily turn someone away. However, if none of those things bother you, you'll find Etrian Odyssey II to not only be one of the better games on the DS, but also one of the most enjoyable RPGs to hit the system in recent memory. If you consider yourself a hardcore RPG gamer, a fan of the first title, or if you simply miss the days of Ultima and Wizardry, you owe it to yourself to give Etrian Odyssey II a try.

Score: 8.0/10

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