Only one game this year has the nerve to blend a traditional first-person dungeon crawler RPG experience with the kind of fun that meticulous map-making, restaurant management, stone collecting, and town development can provide. Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is making its way to the West, containing all the swordplay, spellcasting, and hardcore buffing and debuffing strategy gaming the series is known for. Having played a decent amount, it’s safe to say that so far it’s shaping up to please longtime fans, as well as offering newcomers a decent jump-in point to give the potentially intimidating franchise a try.
Fafnir Knight can be played two different ways: if you want to just jump in and get to it, there’s Classic Mode, which is a 3DS remake of Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard and plays like previous Etrian Odyssey titles, with the player choosing from 13 unique classes to form a customized team of adventurers, each with their own specialized abilities and skill trees. For those who need more narrative depth to go along with their cartography/monster killing, the new Story Mode has you in control of a fixed party of fleshed-out characters, each with their own backstory and loads of voiced dialogue punctuating the normal silence of the various strata. Either way you’ll have plenty of large areas to explore, with each stage of twisty forest or dense dungeon presenting a puzzling new maze to navigate.
Drawing an accurate, detailed account of these labyrinths is a key element of the game, and it accomplishes more than simply gratifying one’s inner OCD. Fully completed maps open up fast travel, a very valuable time-saving tool, as well as mark the positions of points of interest that may be necessary to revisit later. Using the 3DS touchscreen and stylus, an array of options are available to customize the grid via symbols such as doors, treasure chests, and stairways, or even different colors and shapes that can represent whatever you want them to. If there’s a pool of water, mark the space blue. A lemon tree? Put a triangle or some other weird sign there if it makes you feel better. As long as you’ve got the borders right, the rest is open for interpretation.
First-time players may experience a fairly steep learning curve, as Fafnir Knight doesn’t exactly start off easy on the standard difficulty, but that can can be adjusted to a gentler (or harsher) setting at any time from the game’s menu. Still, with just a little patience, most players should find themselves getting fairly comfortable with the swing of things, and for those still having trouble with the tougher enemies, like the many FOEs (larger opponents who appear on the map) or challenging bosses, there are plenty of weapons, armor, and items to upgrade your stats, side quests to earn rare items and crucial experience, and the new Grimoire Stones, which can add abilities not associated with a certain class, bolster a character’s current skills, or provide extra buffs that boost specific attacks or defenses. While it may sound complicated for those unused to such specialization, the game does a good job of explaining the basics, and the pacing is steady enough that by the time reasonable understanding of the battle systems is necessary, most players should have a good idea of what they’re doing.
Bosses in the Etrian Odyssey games are always ordeals, and Fafnir Knight is no exception. The first stratum introduces most of the gameplay elements, from the patterns of killer stags to the mining of materials, and while it can be traversed fairly quickly, those unskilled or unprepared will find themselves squashed like pitiful bugs at the hands (or paws) of the merciless beast guarding the exit. Rookies are advised to spend some time getting to know their party’s abilities, gain levels with quests, and make some sweet money to gear up before tackling these deadly behemoths. When the moment comes, knowing weaknesses and utilizing your strengths will be essential for victory.
More than thirty hours in, the strangely satisfying entertainment combo of drawing lines while battling monsters is so far still holding up. Ready your stylus, and look for our full review closer to launch, as Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is set to release for the 3DS August 4th.