Etrian Odyssey made its debut in 2007 as a first-person RPG dungeon-crawler on the Nintendo DS. The game was cleverly adapted to the console’s limitations, notably through its map drawing mechanics. Players were tasked with drawing their own maps of the labyrinths, making excellent use of the DS’s dual-screen setup. The franchise quickly gained popularity for its challenging and enduring gameplay. Additionally, it spawned a catchy fan song by IOSYS titled “FOE!” based on the game, which has become an unforgettable earworm for many, including myself. While the series did see life during the Nintendo 3DS era, such as higher-budget remakes of the first two games, a subsequent set of three games, and a highly memorable spin-off duology known as Persona Q.
Being built with the dual-screen setup of the DS and 3DS consoles in mind, the franchise seemed to be over once these consoles were replaced by the Nintendo Switch. Fast forward to 2023, the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection has been released for PC and Nintendo Switch. This collection includes re-releases of Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard, and Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City, introducing the original trilogy to both series veterans and a fresh audience alike. But do these remastered ports do the series justice? Read on to find out.
While the development team at ATLUS attempted to introduce fully voice-acted narratives and properly named characters in their Etrian Odyssey Untold releases in 2013 and 2014 respectively, the remastered ports for the three games are all based on the original release, where players explore the labyrinths with their party of completely customised characters. An overarching, linear story unfolds in bursts and is somewhat influenced by your actions. Your characters serve as blank canvases for your imagination, as you mentally weave your own story in your head, or are simply a set of 5 character portraits helping you progress.
For all three games, while each has a few differences between them, for the most part, share the same core gameplay loop. As an unnamed adventurer to the game’s region, nestled around a labyrinth of some kind, you create a guild of your own to lead, and in turn, adventurers of the guild that you can lead into battle. Each game has a set of base classes filling key RPG roles including tank, swordsman, lancer, magic dealer, healer, and buffer – in addition to some more niche classes which tend to have higher-risk, higher-reward styles of gameplay, or otherwise are team members you might bring into the party for specific reasons. Players can create a guild of 30 characters, with five active at any one time. While you can opt to complete the whole game with your favourite group of five characters, you can add distinctness to a much larger guild by favouring the development of certain weapons and elemental proficiencies. Each class allows you to use skill points, which are incrementally unlocked at a rate of one point per level, to make your character either a versatile jack-of-all-trades or highly specialized in certain abilities. Each character is typically represented by four or five character portraits for their chosen class, although thankfully with the remaster, they allow you to optionally choose any portrait from any class (or DLC portrait) for your character.
Etrian Odyssey HD Screenshots
Exploration is still done exclusively from a first-person perspective, tasking you to navigate the increasingly dangerous halls of your chosen labyrinth: finding your way through, completing objectives, and taking down the mobs of enemies which frequently get in your way. The labyrinths are designed to be relatively nondescript, with many winding side paths, shortcuts and secrets which hold rewards, chance events and a chance to progress… or have you stuck in a loop unsure where to go or where you have been before. Enter the game’s main unique feature: the map system. Reminiscent of classic RPGs, one of the only ways to fully know where you are in the dungeon is by looking at the in-game map. The only thing is that while it auto-draws the paths you take… the specifics that would make the map a functional map, from walls to points of interest to charting routes – all need to be done by the player. This used to be an accessible set-up when you were playing on the DS/3DS, where you always had the map on the bottom screen and with a stylus in hand (provided you didn’t lose yours) it was an easy and seamless experience creating your map. However, this system doesn’t translate as well on the Nintendo Switch…
The mini-map is now positioned somewhat awkwardly at the right-hand side of the screen, and while functional, unless you have the optional Nintendo Switch stylus, I found the touchscreen very finicky to accurately plot walls and even icons on. Ultimately, I tended to give up, and just recall the routes through each level as best as possible, putting the bare minimum of icons to help me navigate to the end of a floor again. I would argue that this was the best way to deliver the map system all things considered, but its awkward positioning and free-draw mechanics both saw it as more a hindrance than a boon to the overall experience. A shame, since with the original releases, the mapping systems were a highlight of the experience. This system is shared across all three games, so these comments are relevant to all the titles in the set.
Etrian Odyssey II HD Screenshots
Combat is your typical no-frills turn-based RPG experience, with your characters split between two rows (front and back – with classes preferring one or both rows) as they use standard attacks and a range of specialised, incrementally unlocked skills to take down enemies that are in front of them. There is a good variety of foes, and F.O.E (highly-levelled over-powered bosses compared to others in the area) to go up against, and provided you don’t set your difficulty levels to the lowest settings, can offer a satisfying challenge – especially when you factor in above-expected encounter rates. The combat is again, not shaken up too much between instalments, however with the increased number of classes in Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City, the added diversity of character options is noticeable. But as I said, it is a no-frills experience that makes use of nothing but enemy portraits and the small portraits of your character. So if you prefer RPGs with lots of stylish, fancy combat – you may find yourself quickly drifting from Etrian Odyssey early on.
At its core, Etrian Odyssey is an enjoyable RPG experience from the early years of this decade, and it is nice to see that ATLUS has taken the time and effort to bring it to the next generation of gaming consoles, even if its implementation is still a little more haphazard. If they look at porting across other games in the series, which they most certainly should consider, I feel they would be best to offer a more automated mapping system, with the option to turn it off for a classic experience. As while a charming unique selling point on the DS/3DS, it just wasn’t doing it for me in this setup. In terms of porting the game across, regarding audiovisuals, they do a solid job – while not completely revamping the assets they do well in upscaling them to suit larger modern-day televisions and monitors. Furthermore, the music continues to be iconic and slightly retro-style, which never gets too dull during long-winded jaunts throughout the labyrinths. The games themselves are pretty much direct ports of the original releases, and I can’t help but feel disappointed they didn’t at least splurge on porting across the later Untold releases with a formal storyline and voice acting – but they are solid at least.
Etrian Odyssey III HD Screenshots
What may not be as welcoming is the game’s price point, as for games more than a decade old, you are looking at paying $59.95 AUD per title, or as part of a complete ‘Origins Collection’ bundle for $119.95 AUD. Granted the longevity of each game may justify the price, but for something niche, the price point may not help welcome newcomers to the series who want to tip their toes in the not-so-commonly-explored-nowadays genre of first-person RPG dungeon-crawling. Even having the first game available at a reduced price, might have served as a good hook to get players into the later, slightly more feature-rich experiences.
Is it worth checking out the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection? Yes, most certainly. They are solid experiences that deserve to be appreciated by a new audience of RPG fans, as they offer a nice anime-style aesthetic, challenging gameplay and a lot of replayability. But I feel the development team could have gone further with the porting process, making the experience a lot more accessible, and also at least giving us arguably the definitive editions of Etrian Odyssey and Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard which would have given players more value for their buck.
A review code for all three games in the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection were provided by Australian distributor, Five Star Games, for the purpose of this review.
This review was conducted on the Nintendo Switch version of the games.