Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 3DS Review: Conquering the White Whale

Jeremy finds lots to love in Atlus' latest (and biggest) portable dungeon-crawler.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

Etrian Odyssey took me by surprise when it debuted in 2007: Somehow, it took a seemingly humdrum genre, the first-person dungeon crawler, and transformed it into something I couldn't stop playing. Sure, I love classic games and I love RPGs, but this style of game had its heyday in the early '80s and never really evolved once the RPGs I enjoy began to take form. And yet, despite all expectations, Etrian Odyssey proved to be an addicting masterpiece.

The original Etrian Odyssey II [source].

It also proved to be a huge, huge time sink, one that took me the better part of a year of on-again-off-again play to conquer. The sequel arrived soon after my triumph, and I took that one even more slowly. Over the course of several months, I slowly wore a grid of grooves into the lower screen of my poor DS from the constant map-making; after all, one of the greatest things about the Etrian games is their emphasis on drawing virtual maps, an integral rendition of the cartography essential to besting those old PC RPGs that brilliantly makes use of the DS and 3DS touch screen feature. I developed a rhythm of sitting in bed for a little while each night, slowly charting out progress into the labyrinth before falling asleep.

I did a lot of dumb things while playing Etrian Odyssey II. I ruined the lower screen of a limited-edition DS Lite. My late night play sessions caused my brain to develop an association between portable RPGs and sleep, so now it's hard for me to play handheld adventures without feeling drowsy. But worst of all, I played like an idiot.

I never finished Etrian Odyssey II, despite making it all the way to the 23rd floor of 25 — a task that represented dozens of hours. I made the terrible mistake of hitting the level cap with my tank character upon arriving at 23F. Unlike its predecessor, EOII offered players the opportunity to respec a character by reverting their level to 1, and I had an important strategic revelation once Ellysia the Protector dinged max level: Rather than squander experience with a maxed-out character, I should send her back to level 1 and enjoy the resulting skill point bonuses and heightened level cap. So, I returned to the dungeon with a low-level heroine leading the party, her frailty somewhat compensated for by all her sweet, high-level gear. Upon my return, I immediately opened a door in the center of the dungeon level and met the Colossus.

According to the Etrian Odyssey fan wiki, Colossus is "absurdly powerful, possibly the strongest foe the heroes will face during their journey." Surprise! Every other boss in EOII appeared on the fifth floor of a stratum, leading me to expect I still had a couple of floors in which to buff up my fresh-faced paladin to fighting shape. But instead, I essentially approached the game with the strategic equivalent of trying to defeat a wheat thresher by throwing babies at it. Things went poorly in less than two turns, and the realization dawned on me that I had irrevocably screwed myself over by making a bad, permanent choice literally steps in front of the toughest battle in the normal game.

After a couple hours spent attempting to grind poor Ellysia some extra stats, I eventually had to face facts and accept defeat. While she was returning to competence, her teammates were hitting their own level caps, and I could feel my soul evaporating at the prospect of entering some endless cycle of asynchronous grinding.

To date, Etrian Odyssey II remains my white whale of the series — the one that defeated me. Or at least the one that provided the medium in which I defeated myself, anyway. And so, Etrian Odyssey Untold 2, which debuts today on 3DS, offers me my shot at redemption. Here at last is my opportunity to put right my terrible failing.

I haven't pulled it off yet, though. While Untold 2 offers a fairly faithful remake of EOII, it also incorporates a comprehensive remake mode that shuffles things around considerably. It won't be completely unfamiliar to anyone who played through the first Untold; while the new story mode hits similar narrative beats and transpires through a labyrinth mirrored after the classic mode's, it's not the same experience at all. Nor does the difference lie entirely in the added dialogue — the entire concept of your character party is radically different from one mode to the next.

The classic mode of EOII allows you to recruit a guild of generic characters: You select a warrior's class and one of a handful of available portraits, give them a name, and build their skills and traits as you see fit. You have more than enough space to create one guild member of each class, including the downloadable Highlander (the special class to which Untold's protagonist belonged), but you can only strike out with five party members at a time.

The story mode, on the other hand, hands you a predetermined party of named characters, each of whom has a defined personality and role in the game. It's a far more limiting setup, as you can only work with the balance the designers have provided. Some limited customization is available through the use of Grimoire Stones, which thankfully are much more straightforward here than the mess that appeared in the first Untold; each stone allows a character to equip an additional skill, and the more you level up the more stones each party member can hold. You can also swap stones with folks you Street Pass, which means that if you luck into a connection with a high-level player you can exchange your pile of garbage stones (they accumulate quickly!) in exchange for some super-boosted skill.

Still, even this feature is inherently limiting: The Grimoire Stone system pushes you toward loading down party members with powers they already have. While you can give, say, your durable Protector stones that let him cast elemental magic, you could instead choose to give him stones spawned from his own abilities, which then add a level bonus to his powers. That approach is hardly mandatory, of course, and the stones do offer a flexible way to generalize, min-max, or alternate between the two approaches on the fly.

Nevertheless, the party mix is much more specific in story mode than in classic; much of the fun of Etrian adventures comes from making choices about how to balance your team — do you go with classes that offer straightforward combat skills, or do you prefer more supporting roles to flesh out the ranks? — and that's far more difficult in story mode. For example, you don't actually have a standard healer skill option — you have to rely on the princess' Monarch-class passive healing buffs or the war magus' quirky approach to health restoration. Again, the Grimoire Stones compensate for this, but you really have to play the game's way.

The story mode compensates for its party limitations with unique skills. The protagonist — the Fafnir Knight mentioned in the subtitle — has a fairly bizarre class setup with tons of specialized skills, but the complexity of his fundamentals is balanced by the straightforward ass-kicking approach that his transformation ability offer. The hero can choose to metamorphose into an alternate form for three turns, massively increasing his damage output and durability; a strategically timed transformation can tip the balance of a tough battle in the player's favor, and the Fafnir form also offers a sacrificial option in which you can temporarily give up the option to transform again for the remainder of a dungeon outing in exchange for a high-powered ultimate attack.

The protagonist isn't alone in his emergency skills; each party member possesses his or her own Force skill — a limit break — which have been greatly enhanced over the Force powers in the original EOII. Each character has an individual Force meter rather than sharing one among the party, and each Force skill also offers a Break option that ends the three-turn Force status early in exchange for some kind of major boon. The princess' Break skill, for example, is an absolutely invaluable party buff that restores both health and precious Tech Points to every character. It's practically easy mode, since the challenge of most major Etrian Odyssey battles isn't so much the raw damage numbers being thrown around but rather enduring drawn-out fights. Sure, your guild can hold its own against a boss or F.O.E.... until they run out of TP, at which point there are no more buffs, heals, elemental skills, or binds and the battle quickly goes south. When you can recharge your entire party in a single move right as the tide of the fight begins to turn against you, things feel far less daunting.

Speaking of F.O.E.s, they put in an appearance in both modes as well. The story mode really changes things up, making the process of dealing with these wandering monsters reminiscent of the puzzle-like mini-bosses that appeared throughout last year's Persona Q (an Etrian game in all but name). EOII began developing F.O.E.s into more elaborate exploratory challenges, playing with the concept of the creatures by giving them the ability to pass through walls and even fail to appear on the party's radar, and Untold 2 expands on this considerably. The first stratum, for example, forces you to lure raving dinosaurs into handy traps, while the interstitial dungeon unique to the story mode features massive pig guards who have to be evaded through cautious use of drawbridges and circular paths. These chases grow in complexity pretty quickly, and it's always a good idea to carry an extra Ariadne Thread to escape the dungeon in the very likely chance you get yourself trapped.

There's a lot to recommend in Untold 2. While Etrian games and spinoffs are coming a bit too quickly even for a super-fan like myself, this is balanced out by the fact that each one improves on the last. Untold 2 is practically two games in one, given the massive differences between the straightforward classic mode and the narrative-driven story mode, which throws in all sort of meta-game elements like a town-building sim (taken straight from this spring's Etrian Mystery Dungeon) and a cafe where you can develop recipes that grant your party semi-permanent boosts and buffs.

It's as smart a game as I am a foolish player. While I haven't done anything as blatantly idiotic as EOII's quest ending re-spec, I'm still fighting my way uphill here. Untold 2 offers a huge number of save slots — a welcome change from the single slot of the DS days — so I've been playing both classic and story mode in parallel rather than rushing through one for my review. I still have a way to go before I can fully weigh in on the game with a proper, scored review. But I can certainly say that from the few dozen hours I've invested so far, Untold 2 ranks up at the very top of the Etrian series. I'm not sure if I like it quite as much as Etrian Odyssey IV, but it's a magnificent dungeon crawler that offers two wildly different play modes, a wealth of customization options, and multiple difficulty levels — very much a game for any RPG fan, whatever their tastes and personal sense of grit and determination.

Update: Final thoughts (for now)

A week later, I still haven't beaten any version of Etrian Odyssey II — though it's not for a lack of interest or desire. It's more due to a lack of focus, as I've split my time between both the classic and story modes.

After putting a few dozen hours into my dual journey up the world tree, I'm declaring this the best entry in the Etrian Odyssey series to date. I have a few minor complaints about the game, but nothing serious. On the contrary, Untold 2 offers a wealth of options and features to position it as the single most playable and approachable entry in the entire franchise: A continuation of the trend that has defined the Etrian games since they made the jump to 3DS.

Where Etrian Odyssey IV may not have made itself quite accessible enough for the average player and Etrian Odyssey Untold arguably went too far, the second Untold strikes a perfect balance. From the high-level perspective, Untold 2 is a remake of 2009's Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard for DS, but I'm not sure the word "remake" entirely does the breadth of the revisions on display here justice. Untold 2 revisits the second Etrian Odyssey in the broad strokes, but everything has been revamped to the point that it may as well be an entirely new game even for veterans.

Perhaps "remix" better describes the game than "remake." The dungeon maps have changed completely, with familiar details popping up in new, scrambled layouts. The redesigned maps feel more in keeping with the sensibility of later games than Etrian II; thorough exploration yields extensive shortcuts to reduce the tedium of subsequent visits to the dungeon, whereas the original game tended to offer fewer and less conveniently placed shortcuts. Boss-like F.O.E.s appear in different locations, with different abilities, and demand more diligent play in order to avoid or counter their rampages.

Don't be led astray by the soundtrack cover: Respeccing your story party entirely into the Troubadour class is not recommended even in "picnic" mode.

While the new story mode offers more content — frequent story sequences and dialogue, a bonus dungeon, town-building and shop management minigames — both story and classic modes play out almost like entirely new games. Atlus has rebalanced the difficulty level, which was preposterously high in the DS version. Here, the "expert" mode remains soul-destroyingly difficult, while "normal" is tough but not unrelenting, and "picnic" has been nerfed so comprehensively you can defeat most bosses with a stern look and random button-mashing. It really does a fantastic job of running the gamut of accessibility, with something for everyone from absolute gluttons for punishment to the pathologically timid.

In a sense, story mode may actually be more difficult than classic, since you're given a far more limited team to work with. Grimoire stones help mitigate the preset party you take along in story mode, but ultimately your team is designed with a single heavy-hitter (the titular Fafnir Knight) with everyone else serving in more of a support role. On the other hand, classic mode gives you an astonishing array of potential classes to choose from and enough guild slots to make multiple characters of each role; not only are the original Etrian Odyssey II's bonus classes unlocked from the beginning, you also have new options in Etrian Odyssey III's Sovereigns and the optional Highlander from the first Untold. If story mode is arguably too limiting in its party options, classic errs in the other direction — not that choice is bad, exactly, but with only five active party slots, choosing an optimal team can be paralyzing. For example, there are no less than four front-line damage-focused classes to pick from; do you main your main the classic Landsknecht, the fragile Ronin, the life-extending Sovereign, or the mighty Highlander?

The upside is that Untold 2 moves at a much faster clip than the original Etrian Odyssey II did, so you don't necessarily have to commit; there's enough variety here, and substance, to justify a second playthrough. In fact, that's part of the design; my dual-play approach is actually a foolish way to experience Untold 2, since completing the game opens a New Game + that allows you to jump into the alternate play mode with a few bonus perks under your belt.

The original Etrian Odyssey made me into a fan of first-person dungeon RPGs, though the difficulty and pacing turned off many people. Untold 2 goes a long way toward smoothing over those rough patches; it's an excellent RPG that any fan of the genre (not just of dungeon crawlers) should be able to sink their teeth into. With a huge array of party/combat options, inventive and devious foes, and your choice of either maximal or minimal narrative, Untold 2 brings a brilliant degree of accessibility to the series' addictive fundamentals: The map-making, the team-building, and all that wonderful music. The dungeon crawlers has seen quite a revival over the past decade, thanks in large part to this series, and you have plenty to choose from these days... but for my money, Etrian Odyssey is still the one to beat. Untold 2 simply secures its lead for a while longer.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Interface: The most straightforward yet flexible frontend for the series yet: It easy to use, but offers a ton of features.
  • Lasting appeal: With two modes, multiple (freely changeable) difficulty levels, and tons of player choice, there's quite a time sink waiting here.
  • Sound: Yuzo Koshiro's score is glorious in either modern orchestrated or retro chiptune modes. The only sour spot are the dubbed voices.
  • Visuals: While the graphics won't astonish you, they're still several cuts above most games of this genre.

The latest, and greatest, refinement of Atlus' Etrian Odyssey series, Untold 2 really manages to weave a ridiculous number of options into and around the basics of the franchise. All its best trademark elements — F.O.E.s, great tunes, map-making — remain intact, while elements that tend to be more a matter of taste (its difficulty level, its minimal story) can be tweaked to the player's preferences. A huge, thoughtful, and all-around well-made addition to the series that belongs in every RPG fanatic's collection.

4.5 /5

Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 3DS Review: Conquering the White Whale Jeremy Parish Jeremy finds lots to love in Atlus' latest (and biggest) portable dungeon-crawler. 2015-08-11T21:30:00-04:00 4.5 5

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Comments 23

  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #1 SatelliteOfLove 3 years ago
    Oh man, Floor 23. Mean SOB of a floor. Mean SOB of a boss. Its like a taste of 5th stratums.

    I heard they nerfed Revenge, nerfed Force supers, and fixed Beasts' loyalty, so that's good. The original is the best EO game, it shouldn't mess that up. :D
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  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #2 renatocosta90 3 years ago
    I got into Etrian Odyssey by reading Jeremy's old Etrian Odyssey 1 review, that was peppered with the exploits of the Toasty Frog Guild (IIRC). To date, it is the single most beautifully written treatise in a game I've had the pleasure to lay my eyes upon.

    A few years later, after graduating, moving to a new place and landing a corporate job that took me two hours to commute from and to, I read a piece on IGN about a certain RPG called Etrian Odyssey IV on the rising handheld, the 3DS. The pieces aligned, my budget allowed me, and so I ventured forth in this superb RPG.

    A couple months ago, an infection leaves me bedridden. I dust off my 3DS in order to finally finish Etrian Odyssey Untold on Classic Mode.

    And now we've come to this. I grabbed my EOU2 copy as soon as I could, and I'll be steadily carving new ground, mapping and battling in whatever free time I can get my overworked hands on.

    This is just a madman's rambling at this point, but this series is powerful and profound. It has left a mark in so many crucial moments of my life and it just continues to get better. I hope Jeremy can finish it this time, and here's to, hopefully, reading your words on the forthcoming fifth title.
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  • Avatar for jihon83 #3 jihon83 3 years ago
    M.O.E.? Heaven help us if a Hyperdimension Neptunia-Etrian Odyssey happens.
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  • Avatar for Kadrom #4 Kadrom 3 years ago
    This too is the only Etrian game I didn't beat in its original form. I still haven't played the story mode of EO1 Untold, and I'm debating whether I'll go classic or story on this one. I kind of like that the Story mode party doesn't have a Medic and instead forces you to rely on the War Magus and Princess. I usually roll direct healers in my games so it will take me outside of my comfort zone.
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  • Avatar for Dastuun #5 Dastuun 3 years ago
    Hmm. I have to say, I'm definitely getting a little burned out on EO, but I really enjoyed EOII and EOU. Did they bring over any of the mapping features from Persona Q? I liked some of the "quality of life" modifications they added in Q.

    I suppose they'll do a EOIIIU and a EOIVU before we get a localized EOV. Not sure I can keep up with the pace.
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  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #6 renatocosta90 3 years ago
    @Dastuun Yes, they did. We still have the Floor Jump at the end of floors, and now the icons are smarter (the treasure chests show if they are open, it shows when you can take/mine/chop on the spots and the shortcuts change colors to indicate that you can pass freely), the auto walk arrows are drawn rather than placed, so you can trace the line where you want it to be and there are around 8 colors for the floor pallete (and I use those a lot for things).
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #7 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    Loved this game, so I can't wait to get the newer version of it. I don't mind at all paying for it again.
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  • Avatar for manny_c44 #8 manny_c44 3 years ago
    I can't get into this series. Just so much grinding and cartography. It is mental though, love the look...I guess I'll give it another go.
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  • Avatar for AlxndrNevermind #9 AlxndrNevermind 3 years ago
    I have been very excited for this game, and am ecstatic to hear such positive impressions from an avowed EO fan such as Jeremy Parish. If you happen to read this Mr. Parish, I have one question. How is the music in this game? EOIV and Untold had fantastic soundtracks, and I hope this game does as well.
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  • Avatar for boatie #10 boatie 3 years ago
    @Dastuun I doubt there will be an EOIVU as they are bringing 1-3 up to IV level with the Untold series.

    At least, not until the 3DS successor and then we'll get Etrian Odyssey 1 Untold 2 ;)
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #11 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    @drdoctor Grimoires are a lot less fussy this time. Basically, one can either spawn from your skills or an enemy's, and that's it. No mixing, no blending, just one fixed skill per stone.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #12 pdubb 3 years ago
    @jihon83 A party full of Mikus?

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  • Avatar for IPA #13 IPA 3 years ago
    Defeating EOII was one of the high points of gaming for me; there's simply no way it can be one-upped, although I'm very happy others who missed out on it the first time around can experience something similar.

    As others have said, your evangelism got me started with EO back in 2009 (I think). And for that I am forever grateful.
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  • Avatar for mganai #14 mganai 3 years ago
    The original EOII was way too brutal. There was too little leeway with party skills and combos therein, as certain ones were favored far above others. I did restart the game after getting to floor 23 (!) so I could have another hack at party composition, and made it to the final boss.

    Great to hear that this one has upped the ante once more. Considering that EO3 still holds up, I would definitely look forward to a 3rd Untold if it indeed happens.
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  • Avatar for HTraffic #15 HTraffic 3 years ago
    This game is fantastic. The new cooking system is a very worthwhile addition to the series. I'd say this hangs with Etrian III for my top pick from the series.
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  • Avatar for cyrilthethief #16 cyrilthethief 3 years ago
    In story mode you can change the class of all the characters except the main one by way of the explorers guild alter class option. Although their stats will still reflect their old class limiting it's realistic applications.
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #17 Exhuminator 3 years ago
    Mr. Parish, are you playing on Standard or Expert difficulty?
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  • Avatar for metalangel #18 metalangel 3 years ago
    I burned out on EO1, getting to the final boss and then realizing how much grinding I'd need to do to beat him.

    Now I'm burned out on EO4, I mean, I love the idea of the game but you invariably hit a huge difficulty wall and have grind to overcome it. Perhaps I'm just doing it wrong. Even with all the shortcuts and stuff you get access to, the time-consuming nature of getting all the way down there, making a slight mistake or having some bad luck and realizing you've basically blown this trip (and for me, on the subway, I don't have time to do it again before I get to work) is very frustrating.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #19 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    @Exhuminator Mostly standard, expert when I feel like being sad about my RPG skills.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #20 SatelliteOfLove 3 years ago

    That's a good Dungeon Crawler alright.
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  • Avatar for PlatypusPlatoon #21 PlatypusPlatoon 3 years ago
    Holey crikey, have to go out and get this game, after reading that glowing review. Haven't played an Etrian Odyssey before, because I never felt I was 'hardcore' enough, and this one wasn't on my radar at all... until now. Really excited!
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #22 Exhuminator 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish I appreciate your reply and honesty. "Soul-destroyingly difficult" is exactly how I would describe playing through the first Untold on Expert, which was an insane thing I actually did.

    Why? I got hung up on people claiming; "You're not really beating the game if you play on anything less than Expert." As in playing on anything less than Expert is playing Untold (or Untold 2) with its hands tied behind its back. But since Atlus has never officially came out and said what the truth is about the difficulties (insofar as their relation to the original games), everything is just speculation. I would love to ask Shigeo Komori himself what the truth about that is, but alas I don't have the connections.

    Anyway man, I really appreciate your review of Untold 2, easily the best and most informative review I've read for the game.

    Looking forward to your review of Dungeon Travelers 2 next!
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  • @Exhuminator The thing is, there's not likely to be any clear answer on that, because both remakes have had nearly everything about their games rebalanced in relation to the original game. Some of the changes you could easily ignore to give an experience closer to the original (Floor Jumps, Grimoire Stones, the restaurant outside of its storage options), but everything about building each class or navigating the dungeon is easier now (check the dungeon maps in GameFAQS - the first two games have a lot less shortcuts than the more recent ones).

    To give an example: in this game, there's a monster called the Rafflesia spawning on the fifth floor. It hits hard, casts party-wide ice spells... definitely the sort of stuff expected of a monster that attacks alone. In the original game, the Rafflesia can ambush you while you're collecting stuff on the gathering points as early as on the first floor (you can still get ambushed in the remake, but only by monsters native to the floor you're at). Needless to say, it might as well be an FOE at that point, only one you can't see coming.
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