"Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight was a joy to play, as it refines the core Etrian Odyssey formula while also offering new and fun distractions outside of it; exactly what a remake ought to do."
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is the second remake for the original Etrian Odyssey games on the Nintendo DS, this time retelling (embellishing even) the story of Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of High Lagaard. Much like Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, The Fafnir Knight offers both a brand new story mode in addition to the Classic mode, which is similar to the original game apart from the dungeon redesigns. Unlike my last review of Etrian Odyssey Untold, where I was familiar with the original game it was remaking, I have never played Etrian Odyssey II on the Nintendo DS. Though my love for Etrian Odyssey is as deep as the dungeons within the games themselves, this was always a gap in my knowledge. While this makes it difficult to tell what is new and what isn't, I'm glad I'm able to offer a review of these games from both sides of the fence: those who have played the original and those that haven't.
Etrian Odyssey is very much a love letter to those old Wizardry-style dungeon crawlers; you pick a class, gender and name for your party of adventures and almost immediately start delving into labyrinthine dungeons for little purpose other than adventure for adventures sake. Personally, though, I've always considered the Etrian games to be designed for people who like the idea of playing a Wizardry-style game, but don't actually like those games due to their often esoteric quirks. What the series of "Untold" remakes aim to do is introduce a more substantial element of plot and character development through a separate "Story" mode, rather than sticking to the more minimalist style of storytelling found in the original game or "Classic" mode. It's a good reason for a remake in my opinion, especially when you also factor in the graphical, sound and control improvements moving to the 3DS offers.
When I talk about the plot of this game, I almost always refer to the way it is told in the Story mode. I've played both modes in this game, and Classic mode's plot is much the same except the way events are introduced are different due to your party being entirely mute and having no recognizable personalities other than those which you ascribe to them yourself. Besides, it seems only fair to judge the games story by the mode that is most dedicated to it.
We are first introduced to the Protagonist (unnamed) and his childhood friend Flavio in the Midgard Library – a familiar name to those who played The Millennium Girl as this was where Simon, Raquna and Arthur were all sent from. The protagonist is being initiated into the Midgard Investigation Team, who explores the land in search of books, folklore and other mysteries to bring back to the library for study. Both the Protagonist and Flavio are given orders to escort the Princess of the Duchy of Caledonia to the ruins of Ginnungagap (I swear Atlus named it that just so I would have to load up my 3DS to make sure I had the correct spelling), so she may complete an important ritual. They meet Princess Arianna in High Lagaard, home to the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, though not the same one found in Etria. This is an entirely different giant tree labyrinth. While exploring Ginnungagap the group meets with veteran Protector Bertrand and young War Magus Chloe, who have their own reasons for exploring the old ruins. Together, the party simultaneously explores the Yggdrasil Tree and Ginnungagap to complete the mysterious ritual and learn more about the titular Fafnir Knight.
As someone who loathes spoilers of any sort, I've only described the bare-bones plot and while it may sound rather par for the course for an Etrian Odyssey game, the plot of this game is really quite good. I found myself rather surprised by some of the twists this game had to offer, and even felt it tug on my heartstrings unexpectedly. What really makes this story good is the characters. I was certainly fond of The Millennium Girl's characters, but I enjoyed the cast of The Fafnir Knight more so. Flavio may seem like the bumbling best friend character but underneath it all he is an exceptionally kind person and while Arianna fits the perpetually upbeat Princess archetype, she shows great determination despite bouts of self-doubt. Chloe, however, is very much what she seems and that never changes. She likes meat and she will always like meat.
I perhaps like this cast of characters slightly more than the previous games cast because I feel like I had more opportunities to get to know them. After reaching a new floor of Yggdrasil, resting at the Inn allows you to talk to a member of your party before sleeping. This is usually a nice insight into their inner thoughts, or at the very least an interesting skit which brings you closer to that character.
As for gameplay, it is certainly still an Etrian Odyssey game but with enough improvements and new additions to keep it interesting. Battles are still first-person turn-based affairs, with plenty of classes to choose from in Classic mode. The famous Etrian difficulty level is still present, though perhaps less so with each incarnation. Luckily, selectable difficulty levels are present for those who enjoy more planning and strategy in their games. What I found was a nice new addition to battles was the Force abilities. Much like the Boost system from the previous game, by taking and inflicting damage you fill the gauge. Once the gauge is full, you enter a Boost state for 3 turns which is completely different depending on your class. Flavio, for instance is a Survivalist, and while in this state he has much higher evasion than normal but also each time he uses one of his bow skills he will follow it up with a regular attack. That's not all though. You also have the option of using Force Break during any of these 3 turns. Force break is an exceptionally powerful skill, but is limited to only one use per exploration — you must go back to the town to refill it, and while broken you cannot build your Force gauge at all. Taking Flavio for an example again, his Force Break is 16 attacks on multiple enemies. Every single class has its own unique Boost and Breaks and they are often very clutch ways of just scraping by in a battle.
Other new additions to the traditional formula include the town development and restaurant management aspects. In High Lagaard you are eventually tasked with helping the Duke's granddaughter expand her restaurant. This includes scouring the labyrinth for ingredients for her dishes, which you can later purchase for varied and potent effects to help you in your exploration. This eventually expands into an advertising campaign where you advertise different foods to different parts of the city to boost the restaurant patronage. This finally culminates in a town development minigame where you spend money on renovating the more derelict parts of the city to attract more people with more money to spend at your restaurant!
Well, the town development and advertising campaigns weren't my cup of Hi Lagaar Coffee. I found them just a little too much work for what they are worth and had no practical use to aid the most interesting part of the game, exploration. Some people may like it as a good time killer, though I'm thankful it wasn't mandatory. The restaurant isn't a total bust however, because developing dishes using the ingredients and recipes you find in the forest is fun and comes with a real tangible reward in the form of a new food you can eat which gives a new passive effect while you explore. Also each time you successfully prepare a dish, you will get another amusing skit of your crew gathering around to eat it.
The restaurant also doubles as your Guild House, which makes a return from The Millennium Girl. The Guild House is where you manage your Guild Cards (SpotPass stuff) but more importantly this is also where you will manage your Grimoire Stones. Grimoire Stones made their debut in The Millennium Girl but they aren't quite the same here. In The Millennium Girl, characters more or less had one Grimoire Stone that they imparted multiple class skills on through alchemy. The Fafnir Knight, on the other hand, takes a simpler but more fun way to go about it. Instead of having one stone with multiple skills, each character can now equip up to 5 Grimoire Stones that each have one skill. This means that you can give your Medic a Grimoire Stone which teaches the Alchemist skill Fire Formula but it also means you can give a Medic the Heal Grimoire Stone. I hear you saying "But what does that achieve? Medics already know Heal." Well, every skill has a level up to 10, Grimoire Stones also have a level on their skills up to 10. That means a Medic that knows level 10 Heal and is also equipped with a level 10 Heal Grimoire Stone, effectively has a level 20 Heal skill. This is mostly what I used Grimoire Stones for. While totally possible, and maybe even better, to give your character a more varied set of skills, I found it more comfortable to boost the skills I already had to obscene levels. There were a few exceptions of course, with some classes' passive skills being just too good to pass up.
You gain Grimoire Stones through battle, where you will sometimes enter a Grimoire Chance state. This state is very important as different Grimoire Chances determine what type of stone you will get. A Grimoire Chance Enemy, for example, will give you a stone imparted with an ability it knows, and yes, you can get powerful abilities from bosses this way. A regular Grimoire Chance will give you a stone based on the skill you just used and a Grimoire Chance Passive will give you a random passive ability you know. There is also a very rare Grimoire Chance Premium that will give you a random skill, enemy or passive stone of an unusually high level. The downside of this system is that you end up cluttered with a lot of low-level Grimoire Stones, mostly of duplicates that you're never going to use. Fear not, because Grimoire Recycle is here to save the day. Grimoire Recycle allows you to trade in your hundreds of low-level Grimoire Stones for random high level ones! Also sometimes high level adventurers will visit the restaurant and you use Grimoire Trade to trade for specific skills. All in all I found this system far easier to understand and ultimately more fun this time around and I didn't even miss the lack of sub-classes in this game. With how comprehensive Grimoire Stones are, you can have great skills combinations from multiple classes while still keeping your original class unique due to their Force Boosts/Breaks.
Exploration is much the same as previous titles, where the bottom screen is used for drawing your very own map which you can make as detailed or as bare as you like. You traverse the dungeon from a first-person perspective and battles are encountered randomly. The only real additions to this traditional system are the little improvements to the map icons you can place and the colour palettes you can choose from — I enjoyed some fabulously pink floors.
If there is one aspect of this game that continually wowed me as I played, it was the soundtrack. Completely phenomenal from beginning to end, the music of Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight was a delight to my ears. From the completely calming town music, to the heart-pounding metal that plays when you enter Force Boost, every track on this soundtrack is exceptional. As with the previous Untold, this game also allows you to flick between the new orchestrated soundtrack or the original DS soundtrack. I personally couldn't decide which is better; the original is so charming with its bleeps and bloops, but the remaster is so well done. I think Atlus decided correctly when they made the original BGM default to Classic mode and the new BGM default to Story mode, as they both fit their tones so well.
If you couldn't tell, I think this is a fantastic game. Is it because Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard was a wonderful game and I just hadn't known until the remake? Perhaps, but I think this game stands on its own merits as well. For me, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight was a joy to play, as it refines the core Etrian Odyssey formula while also offering new and fun distractions outside of it; exactly what a remake ought to do. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some DLC superbosses I have to beat...