The release of the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection allows veterans and newcomers alike to once again delve into the depths of the Yggdrasil Labyrinth by giving the first two games in the series a fresh coat of HD paint. You set out from the little town of Etria or the bustling peak of High Lagaard with a finely tuned party of adventurers, ready to face the fearsome monsters and devious traps that await you, stylus (or mouse-like cursor) at the ready to chart your journey. Atlus has retouched both the 2D and 3D visual elements, making them crisp and vibrant on your monitor, TV, or Nintendo Switch screen. The original MIDI music compositions by Yuzo Koshiro are of higher quality, keeping your blood pumping as you inspect every corner and passageway for secrets. It’s faithful to the original experience on DS, but much easier on the eyes and ears. What’s not to love?
Well, unlike Etrian Odyssey III HD, this is not the first time players have had the opportunity to return to these labyrinths. Etrian Odyssey I and II have been revisited by Atlus before on the 3DS, with Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl and Etrian Odyssey Untold 2: The Fafnir Knight. The Untold releases introduced a wealth of new content and revisions to the DS classics: an original story mode with a predetermined party of characters, new character classes, new ways to customize your party, rebalanced mechanics, and presentation in line with the other 3DS releases in the series. These games also allowed you to play in classic mode, cutting out the storyline and party restrictions while maintaining the mechanical changes and new content. Unfortunately, none of the content from the prior Etrian Odyssey I or II remakes is present in the new Origins Collection release. HD I & II instead opt to keep these classics mechanically identical to their original iterations.
Etrian Odyssey I HD is by far the least refined game in the collection. It has the smallest number of classes in the series, with a total of nine, two of which are not unlocked until much later in the game. Balance between the classes also leaves much to be desired. Roles are much more rigid, and the gap in viability between certain classes is much more stark than in later entries. Protectors and Medics are the foundation of a party, serving as tank and healer, respectively. While later entries would introduce more hybrid classes to allow for more flexibility in party composition, these two classes are practically necessary in EO, especially if you are playing for the first time. The rest of your party will be comprised of damage classes, for which there is a rigid hierarchy. Survivalists and Landsknechts are the strongest physical damage dealers, and Alchemists are the best at dealing multi-target elemental damage. This is the optimal party composition, and most parties will look very close to this.
Skill balance is similarly flawed, as most classes have a fair amount of skills that are either functionally useless or totally outclassed by a few overpowered ones. The best example of this issue is the combination of the Protector’s Defender skill and the Medic’s Immunize. Defender substantially reduces incoming physical damage, while Immunize reduces ALL damage received even more. Now, this combination sounds incredibly broken — and it is — but the game is also designed with the assumption that you will be using it, making Protector and Medic essentially mandatory and forcing a particular build with each. Damage classes face a similar issue, where specific skill paths are incredibly powerful, leaving others severely underpowered in comparison. The core loop of exploration, cartography, and combat remains fun, but the rigidity of the systems in EO I HD simply don’t allow for the variety in party composition the series’ later entries are known for.
Etrian Odyssey II HD thankfully addresses these mechanical problems fairly well, both by adding a handful of new classes and rebalancing the existing ones. All of the EO I classes are available from the start, along with two of the three new ones (Gunner and War Magus). The skill rebalances for each class go a long way in improving what was broken in the previous entry, and party compositions can get far more creative while still remaining viable, even on higher difficulties. Some of the underpowered classes in EO I like Hexer, Ronin, or Dark Hunter, are at their best here, and the Medic & Protector duo is not nearly as necessary. Status ailments and debuffs are more reliable (benefiting Dark Hunter Hexer immensely), and support classes like Troubadour and War Magus have their unique niche for healing and buffing the rest of your party. The unlockable Beast class remains underwhelming, but at least it’s available early, so you have ample opportunity to experiment with it. Both games lack subclassing, a feature that wouldn’t be introduced until Etrian Odyssey III, leaving the character builds rather limited in scope and potential. The Untold games addressed this with the Grimoire Stone mechanic, equipable items that give characters access to skills from another class. This solution was not as elegant and balanced as subclassing, but did provide at least an approximation of the variety offered by true subclasses. The absence of any subclassing system is palpable in EO I and II HD, especially compared to EO III HD and later entries.
One major strength of both Etrian Odyssey I and II are their respective settings. EO I starts in a familiar forest location but quickly branches out into different biomes as you progress through the dungeon Stratums, culminating in a surprising twist in the game’s final act with compelling implications about the world. EO II opts for a beautiful set of forest Stratums based on the four seasons as your party climbs ever upward, eventually reaching the skies. The dungeon floor layouts lack the complexity of the layouts in later games in the series, but are well-executed and fun to explore without being too frustrating to navigate.
All the cartography gripes I mentioned in my Etrian Odyssey III HD review apply here. Atlus tried their best to translate the map controls from the unique dual-screen setup, and the result is functional but flawed. Your view of the beautifully remastered visuals is hampered by your need to have the map up at all times to navigate, and the button controls are so woeful that I can’t recommend playing these games on a TV under any circumstances. A mouse cursor, stylus, or even a finger will get the job done just fine, but it’s still not as enjoyable or seamless as having two separate screens. This is another point in the Untold games’ favor, since they retain the dual-screen setup.
Etrian Odyssey I and II HD are best enjoyed as a visually and aurally improved recreation of the DS originals, mechanical warts and all. It’s nice to see the originals preserved for a modern audience despite their flaws. However, the decision not to include the additions from the Untold remakes, even as an option, is disappointing and prevents this release from being truly definitive. While I prefer the music and aesthetics of these HD versions, for new players, there is ultimately less on offer here unless you really want to experience the series’ humble beginnings. Otherwise, the rigidity of the systems and the hamstrung cartography mechanics make these remasters hard to recommend over the 3DS remakes.