(Nintendo 3DS Review) Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: Marcus Way

Overall: 9 = Must Buy

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl represents a surprising step for Atlus’ dungeon-crawling series. Released within the same year as Etrian Odyssey IV, The Millennium Girl is itself a reimagining of the first Etrian Odyssey, updated with the mechanic improvements introduced in EOIV and expanded with an entirely new mode that follows a cast of pre-created characters on an adventure to save Etria. Returning players haven’t been left out either, with a traditional mode that will keep the diehards reaching for their kit and heading for the next stratum. As unheard of as it may be, Atlus has managed to release two worthwhile titles from the same series within the same year.

The Millennium Girl is more than just an update, though; it’s practically a different game. Series veterans will recognize enemies and area themes, but the maps that comprise the various dungeon levels have been completely redesigned. The visual sense of familiarity is helpful in getting back into the swing of things, but the new layouts add a reinvigorating jolt to the old formula. Additionally, combat has been upgraded as well. Now, each character of the five-member party can build up a Boost meter to unleash a stronger skill-based or regular attack, as well as augment their repertoire of abilities with those from allies and enemies by using Grimoire Stones. However, regardless of which mode is played first—the new narrative-driven Story Mode or the more traditional Classic Mode—players will quickly realize that The Millennium Girl goes well beyond being a run-of-the-mill re-release.

The game recommends playing through the story first, and I would second that. Not only does it introduce players to what will most likely be a continued feature of the series but also allows for the two new classes, the highlander and the gunner, to be playable in Classic by importing them over for a new post-victory game. The new classes are so prominent in Story because they are the roles of the two key characters: the player, who is a young highlander from a tribe known for their sense of justice, and Fredericka, the titular Millennium Girl who awakens from cryostasis at the beginning of the game and steps in as a gunner. Shortly after their introduction, the two meet medic Simon, protector Raquna, and alchemist Arthur (who looks like a dead ringer for Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes). Despite their classes being set from the beginning, each character can switch to a new role at level 30, at the cost of experience. I did not find their predetermined roles to be a hindrance, and instead found that the characters worked best in them, especially as each was heavily augmented by a wide variety of other classes’ skills that were attained by use the Grimoire Stones.

The Grimoire Stones are another significant addition to the series, as their introduction marks a break from the subclass system last seen in EOIV. Now, instead of being able to adopt another class’s abilities at a set level, players will have to attain them by creating and synthesizing stones. These are created in the wild by defeating an enemy during a Grimoire Chance, which are moments that randomly occur, and are at times encouraged by the use of special items that can result in a chip of the player’s stone breaking off to form a new stone comprised of abilities from the player and the defeated enemy. The stones become increasingly important because they not only make characters more versatile but also improve their weapon skills and class-based abilities.

Combat alone won’t produce the number of powerful stones necessary to outfit the entire party; instead, many will need to be created through synthesizing. This process occurs in a mansion run by a Guildmaster named Rose. The mansion is both a home and a sort of base of operations serving as a guild headquarters for the party in both modes. Rose is a helpful servant to have in the party’s employ as she not only offers treats to aid them, which confer boosts for health points and tech points (re: mana), but she also has her own sidequests and story that can lead to her bonding with the team and offering newer, more potent confections. She also facilitates the synthesizing of Grimoire Stones by taking three of the stones that have been handpicked by the player and combining them to create a new one. The process is simple, but it can be challenging to find enough of them capable of significantly enhancing a character’s skill set and combining them to ensure that certain abilities are retained. The first two stones carry over their associated abilities, while the number of ability slots is taken from the first and the weapon or item proficiency taken from those associated with the third and final stone. The more high-level abilities there are available and the more slots there are to equip them in, the more potent the stone. I didn’t have to spend a lot creating powerful stones until around the halfway mark, so it’s easy to come to terms with the system given the amount of time allowed for experimentation, but they do eventually become essential components in the party’s arsenal. While I missed the simplicity and predictability of the subclass system, there is something to be said for the excitement engendered by the random nature introduced by the stones: players never know when the next encounter will net a skill that becomes an integral part of their strategy.

And there will be plenty of opportunities to gather stones because, as with previous EO titles, there is a significant amount of combat. Unlike EOIV, there is no overworld to venture around in; however, Millennium Girl operates under the same triangular progression system of reaching an area’s exit, reporting your findings back to the authorities in town (in this case Radha Hall), and then taking the reward and further assignment from said authorities to explore the new area. Instead of going back and forth between labyrinths and an expanding overworld, players now bounce between a labyrinth and ruins. In this case, there is a single Labyrinth comprised of five multi-story stratum, each housing a Geometric Pole that can teleport players back to town or to new areas within the ruins, which are actually all part of four-area futuristic-looking complex called Gladsheim. Each area is filled with the all manner of creatures that can very quickly down even the stoutest adventurers. As with the earlier titles in the series, most enemies are simply reskinned versions of a core set of creatures, but they are still quite dangerous, especially the patrolling FOEs. These massive creatures are the only ones actually seen by the player, with the other, smaller encounters monsters attacking during random encounters. These more frequent battles are telegraphed beforehand by an enemy indicator that changes from green to red, depending on how soon the enemy is to attacking, but the notice is short and the conflicts unavoidable. Fortunately, there are items to whisk injured players back to town, and one of the pre-set characters has spells that can make fleeing from battle easier, but it’s best to be well prepared, especially in Classic.

Combat utilizes the same turn-based system that players have come to expect. The party forms up in a front line, typically consisting of the fighters and tanks to absorb and deal damage, and a back row, where the weaker characters buff allies, debuff enemies, and deal ranged damage. Characters can be one of nine classes (landsknecht, survivalist, protector, dark hunter, medic, alchemist, troubadour, ronin, and hexer), which covers a wide enough spectrum that most players should be satisfied. Of course, there is also the new highlander, who sacrifices health points for powerful melee attacks, and gunner, who can infuse their shots to deal elemental damage. There are six slots for a party but a limit of five characters per party, allowing for players to shift their units around and adjust their tactics depending on the situation. Raw materials that are scavenged from defeated enemies along with those mined, chopped, or taken from the environment are sold in Etria to Shilleka, the local shopkeeper, who then uses the same materials to create new weapons, armor, accessories, and items for purchase. This revolving system remains surprisingly addictive, with new areas leading to new enemies which lead to new gear; the small thrill of defeating a new enemy and possibly receiving a new powerful sword or staff is a strong incentive to push forward, even when common sense is saying otherwise. There is also something very satisfying about going back into a stratum and defeating a once-nigh-unbeatable foe using a sword made from the claw of their brethren. Sweet, sweet victory.

The areas are almost as dangerous as the enemies that inhabit them. Fortunately, weary explorers are given a respite from constant backtracking with a new fast-travel feature. Instead of having to traverse maps to go from the entrance to the exit, players can now unlock a way to jump to entrances and exits once an area has been mostly mapped. There is even a side menu that has the staircases next to the floor number for even faster selection. These save a lot of time and, as it turns out, life. I noticed a marked increase in both environmental hazards and long, winding paths to nowhere in Millennium Girl. The small narrative bits still occur whenever players stumble across a tile with an object on it, but this time, if an item looks too good to be true, it probably is. Even if a potion or fruit lies at the party’s feet, there is a good chance that picking it up will result in an ambush; in many instances, the entire setup is a ruse, and the only thing that waits is battle. This increase in danger is matched by a more melancholic tone. There are still elements of humor sprinkled throughout, but much of what’s discovered is now the discarded gear of long-dead heroes. It’s not difficult to understand how they died, either, with the increase in traps and long, encounter-filled one-way paths that frequently lead to other encounter-filled one-way paths or terminate back where the party started.

Several of these sprawling stratum feature special tiles that make the series’ famous cartographic element all the more crucial because progress would be impossible otherwise. By marking out the number of one-way shortcuts and tiles, connected passages, and linked transit points, players will be able to navigate a wide array of areas that will have them traveling across water on lily pads, sidestepping patches of lava, and winding around pathways cut off by debris. Fortunately, mapping out areas is one of the game’s high points, giving the game a true sense of exploration and danger as players cut out on a new path and label their discoveries for the inevitable second (and third) expedition before reaching the exit.

Players who jump straight to Classic Mode won’t have the new classes to import, but other than that, the game plays just like a traditional EO. The story isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s a decent first step and the characters end up being fairly likable, thanks to a handful of cutscenes and decent if minimal voice-over work, but it isn’t necessary to enjoy the adventure. For those who just want to dungeon crawl, over 20 party members can be created and registered at Etria’s Explorer’s Guild. For those worried that the game might be too easy given the conciliatory steps towards new players, they can bypass the Picnic and Standard difficulty levels and go straight to Expert. I beat the game on Standard, and while I didn’t have to grind as much as in EOIV, I still spent several cumulative hours circling areas in order to level up, so worry not: there will be plenty of desperate near-runs. But even then, the system’s activity log shows that I put over 100 hours in Millennium Girl, and that’s using the ability to continue once per session, most of which was from the initial playthrough. Even if the pace feels brisker, the game certainly delivers a long adventure. Atlus made the right call in including both modes, though; they offer a great way for new players to become adjusted to the series before trying the traditional system and offer older players a nice change of pace.

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is a welcome addition to the series as well as yet another great role-playing game for the 3DS. The ability to play either in Classic Mode or Story Mode offers something for everyone, and while the single save slot means players cannot bounce between both, each is worth playing through in their own time. As a means to introduce new players to the series and give older fans a reason to dive back in after the fantastic EOIV earlier this year, The Millennium Girl delivers.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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