Atlus has really milked the Etrian Odyssey series. Since the first game came out in, in 2007, they have released 8 games in the series, depending on how you count them. I am counting both Etrian Mystery Dungeon and the very conceptually close Persona Q. It isn’t a series that has undergone much of an evolution either; it started as a throwback, which left it little space to really grow. There has been consistent incremental improvement in interface and playability. That is enough forward momentum to keep the series in many players’ good graces. The Untold games have seen the biggest changes to the formula, remakes that optionally replace the player generated blank slates with a pre made party and add in a story. Etrian Odyssey Untold 2: The Fafnir Knight follows the same recipe as The Millennium Girl, but manages to improve on it in all ways, save one.
Etrian Odyssey 2 was the one game in the series that felt the most like a cash in. The others all featured improvements and changes of some kind, as small and incremental as they may be, but EO2 was absolutely just more of the same. It had a full new dungeon to explore and a few new classes, but otherwise not much was new. It is the black sheep of the series, not because it does anything wrong but because it lacks the unique traits that make EO3 and EO4 stand out. EOU2 is easily the most polished of the series in a lot of respects and it fixes the biggest problem that EOU1 had: Grimoire Stones. Grimoire Stones were an interesting idea, if inferior in every way to sub-classing, that just didn’t work in the first game. Getting them and managing them was always a hassle. The systems just didn’t make sense and in the end I simply ignored them and used the skills that my characters naturally possessed. In this game they have been altered enough that became useful, vital parts of my strategy. You can get stones for skills that you already have, making them even stronger, or like general sub-classing to get extra skills. It took a completely worthless and cumbersome system and turned it into something actually useful.
As much as I’ll tell you that I prefer default Etrian Odyssey, with its absence of story and free party creation, when given the choice in these last two games I have chosen story mode both times. While I enjoy the old school vibe of this series, I am a player that grew up on SNES Final Fantasy and Lunar games. I love goofy RPG stories. The ones in these two games haven’t been great, but other than a tendency to slow the pace of the game to a crawl for stretches I have actually enjoyed them. I liked the cast and tenor of this game more than the previous one, though not by a wide margin. Each games male and female leads are a wash, but while I really liked Raquna, but Flavio and Betrand are both really interesting characters. Betrand’s big secret actually gives a reason for his presence that previous game’s party seemed to lack. My biggest problem with EOU1’s story was that it spoiled the big twist at the end early on, but there is no such twist in this game.
My problem with EOU2’s story mode in its party set up. I hate that party. Not the characters, the classes. I don’t tend to use Protectors and while I might use one character for buff or debuffs, I wouldn’t have two devoted to that. Also, as great as the main character’s Fafnir class is, I really don’t like having all of my elemental attacks on my primary physical attacker. I know there are ways to get those classes to work, but it was not any party that I would have ever put together and trying to make a group I didn’t like work caused me a lot of frustration.
The frequency of these games have not lessened my enjoyment of them. I still really enjoyed Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 despite fighting through Etrian Mystery Dungeon earlier this year and Persona Q last year. This series has found a niche that it can effectively exploit. There are others that try to hit this same niche, but none do it better than EO, and EOU2 is the best so far. It is just a little better than what came before it, but that is enough to keep me coming back every time. With Etrian Odyssey V on the horizon, I couldn’t be happier that this series keeps chugging along.