Etrian Odyssey is very much a “love it or hate it” sort of game. Sometimes it could be ridiculously cruel and most of the time it was entirely rewarding. Unquestionably, however, the first game had a stellar soundtrack that thankfully was not tiring to listen to even when you visited that one particular stratum for the umpteenth time. This set a pretty high bar for the second game to surpass. This is a bar I was completely oblivious to. I played Etrian Odyssey 2 first. After having played the first, I was forced to conclude that the second suffers from a fairly acute case of sequel-itis. The music mirrors this flaw pretty much exactly, both in song layout and in composition. That’s not saying the music is bad, it’s just a copycat most of the time and feels uninspired compared to Etrian 1.
You get the same fare for EO2’s soundtrack as you got for EO1, just with one more disc to hold all the music. The first half of the set, spanning disc 1 and half of disc 2, contains the DS sound chip version of the music. The rest of disc 2 and all of disc 3 is devoted to the original PC-88 sound version. This doesn’t sound like much since both versions sound fairly primitive, but there’s some fun aural differences between the two that makes up for it. Chances are if you don’t like one version, you’ll enjoy the other, and I know there are more than a few people that actually prefer PC-88 sound to what’s generally heard in modern games.
Getting down to the nitty gritty of the music, it becomes pretty obvious right from the beginning that the tone is different for EO2 than in EO1. It’s based less on creating a sense of mystery and curiosity, skewing more towards the majestic and adventurous. This fits a little more with the plot, since in EO2 you’re basically put on a Grail quest, whereas EO1 was all about finding out what was at the bottom of the labyrinth. The music also does a pretty good job of lulling you into a false sense of security in the first stratum and is comparatively peppy in feeling. Likewise the battle theme for the first three strata is a little more confidence-building, where in EO1 the goal was to put the fear of Ragelope almighty into you. Speaking of Ragelopes, the FOE theme for EO2 is positively groovy in its beat. There’s still the element of danger, but overall it’s been really tamed down.
Just like in EO1, the game takes a pretty stark change in tone and plot at the end of the third stratum. No spoilers here, but it adds a tinge of the sinister to what was previously just an ordinary dungeon crawl for a Holy MacGuffin. This means the end of the third and all of the fourth strata are where things really start getting interesting, both in the game and in the music. You get two battle themes right in a row, the plot boss theme and the main boss theme, both of which are really good and the latter of which could not have been placed better. The nod, though, goes to the former which is entirely epic and haunting in nature. If you played EO1, however, then you’ll start noticing some really huge similarities between the both of them and their counterparts in the original. That’s the sequel-itis kicking in.
The fourth stratum, though, is thankfully entirely unique. “Cherry Tree Bridge” is one of the more beautiful songs to grace either of the EO games, which is a bit misleading because the danger level suddenly jumps so high that you get a boot to the head. Still, it’s really delightful to listen to and is one of the real reasons you don’t want to leave the stratum behind. “Cherry Trees and Wings” is, likewise, an excellent melody. Bringing back the sense of mystery associated with the first game is a breath of fresh air that really helps bring you back into wanting to grind your way through the rest of the labyrinth. Unfortunately, the battle theme for the fourth and fifth strata wasn’t as lucky. There’s no gentle way to put it other than it is completely inferior its counterpart in EO1. It’s not a bad song, but it is utterly outclassed. Fun trivia, though! This actually showed up on the Sekaiju no MeiQ Prototype soundtrack as “Battle Prototype Music” and in a much more arranged format. I’m a little curious if the song got recycled due to time restraints or if Koshiro ended up just liking it that much.
The climax event theme from EO1 shows up again for the fifth stratum in EO2, only this version is much, much better. It actually sounds like there’s a real acoustic guitar playing in the background, despite the sound quality. I can’t say I’m as fond of the fifth stratum theme at all, though. Likewise the final boss themes, while quality material, don’t really strike my fancy. If you like the final boss theme from EO1, though, you can roughly expect more of the same here. And just like in EO1, the main ending theme is about as ’70s cheese as it gets.
The sixth stratum theme itself departs dramatically from the first game and harkens back more towards the EO2’s first stratum theme. Very fitting with the “ascent to heaven” motif it’s a beautiful song that fits the surroundings perfectly. The secret boss theme, though, is a total cop-out. It’s not completely identical to the version on EO1’s OST, but it’s just an instrumental change. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Shiver” is friggin’ amazing. Yes, the same musical style as EO1, but holy crap this song gets the “you are now going to die terribly” point across. “Shiver” is pretty much the last of the good music, though, and the rest is really boring or made of jingles.
So, overall, I enjoyed EO2’s soundtrack, but it seems to fall under the shadow of its predecessor. Without that basis for judgment, on the other hand, there is a lot here that makes for great listening. I’d call it a recommended soundtrack, with the stipulation that if I were you I’d get the OST for the original game first. “Destruction Begets Decay” is just that good.