Etrian Odyssey, Nintendo DS

This pioneering Japanese RPG was first released in 2007 and paved the way for one of the greatest series in the history of level-grinders… The Etrian Odyssey series.

Number three is my favourite, but one and two are excellent too (see also the Nintendo 3DS fourth instalment), and all follow the same credo. Which is: to base a game around exploration, mapping, and turn-based combat. And to make the party system flexible, so that adventurers can take out different parties and experiment with character skills.

Of course this first Etrian Odyssey is not quite as finessed as the second and third (or fourth) games. It’s missing some important features of the later games, like some of the usability features that make this type of game easy to play on a handheld (for example: it hasn’t got the ability to cycle through your characters using the L&R shoulder buttons, which is available from game two onwards, which makes a significant difference). It doesn’t have ‘auto attacks’, which saves time with low level monsters; and the boost system is clumsy. Also: the layout of the text isn’t right in this first game either – it’s kinda misaligned inside the dialogue boxes, which Atlus fixed in the next game.

Etrian Odyssey also doesn’t quite have the breadth of variation as seen in the second, third and fourth games, although it does establish many of the series’ staples, such as character classes Landsknechts and Dark Hunters (specialised fighters who can excel with certain weapons, like swords and whips). It also establishes front and back rows and allows some classes to specialise in either, which is a nice feature (because you can choose to take a single character in a radically different direction to the norm, which is always interesting). A lot of thought has obviously gone in to Etrian Odyssey and the way it plays, and it is good to see how many great ideas were included at the start.

Etrian Odyssey is a beautifully-produced game by Atlus. The art is wonderful throughout and the music and menu system are highly polished.

If you’ve played the later Etrian Odyssey games before this one then you might get tired of it quickly, simply because it lacks the control/menu shortcuts of the sequels. That’d be a pity because this first game has a tremendous amount of content to play through and is technically a great piece of programming. The stylus controls on the mapping system were pretty much nailed with this first game. In fact: the mapping element – as a whole – was this game’s gift to the RPG world. It is such a great feature and works brilliantly well in this – and every other Etrian Odyssey game that followed it. It’s the game’s USP, and it’s also the series’ USP.

More on The King of Grabs:
Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Odyssey II, Etrian Odyssey III

More: Etrian Odyssey on Wikipedia

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