Etrian Odyssey HD Origins Collection Review – Your Dungeon-Crawling Starter Kit

    Title: Etrian Odyssey HD Origins Collection
    Developer: Atlus
    Release Date:
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Atlus
    Genre: Dungeon-Crawler RPG

The problem with games that take advantage of unique console designs is that they can be very difficult to move elsewhere. Not every platform gimmick remains forever, and nowhere was this more impactful than the Nintendo DS. Due to the existence of the second screen, titles released on the DS and 3DS family of handhelds are much more difficult to port to other platforms. The Etrian Odyssey series is a great example, and it’s sad to think they are locked to these consoles.

However, it seems developer Atlus has seen a viable concept in remastering some of them for the Switch in the form of the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection. While I was incredibly excited, titles from these consoles, when ported, will often require changes that make them not quite as good as their DS originals, as seen in some of my other favorite titles. I’m looking at you, the combat of The World Ends With You: Final Remix, or the implementation of the second screen ‘gimmick’ in Zero Escape: The Nonary Games’ version of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. With this remaster of the first three games, would Atlus be able to make Etrian Odyssey viable outside the DS?

Etrian Odyssey HD 1

For those here who aren’t in the know, Etrian Odyssey is a series of dungeon crawlers styled after those of yore, like Wizardry, Bard’s Tale, or the non-dungeon crawlers of Atlus’ other first-person RPGs in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Basically, in Etrian Odyssey, you’ll make a party of customized characters out of a selection of classes and venture into the long, dangerous, and complicated maze of a Yggdrasil Labyrinth, filled with deadly creatures but also treasures.

In Etrian Odyssey 1, the town of Etria has a booming tourism industry thanks to the Yggdrasil Labyrinth. Everyone wants the fame and glory of plundering its depths. In Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard, adventurers have discovered a castle in the sky, and it should be reachable by scaling a Yggdrasil Labyrinth. Why is it there, and what secrets does it hold? And in Etrian Odyssey 3: The Drowned City, the city of Armoroad was filled with powerful technologies in days long past, but ever since an earthquake, it has been lost to the ocean. And then someone discovered a labyrinth…..

Etrian Odyssey II HD 2

In each game, you can have a party of up to 5 members made from various classes, each playing quite differently. The first game’s selection of 9 classes is expanded upon, with two more added to use in Heroes of Lagaard, bringing the total to 11. The Drowned City then throws out those classes in favor of 12 entirely new classes.

Create your own original characters and then give them one of the five available portraits for that class, or mix it up with one from a different class. This team composition is split between the front and back lines, with no more than three on each. Backline characters will deal reduced melee damage but also take less damage themselves, so there are pros and cons to every single one of your decisions.

Etrian Odyssey HD 3

Ordinarily, there’s no way you’d, for example, put a medic on the front line in another dungeon crawler. Still, Etrian Odyssey’s classes have vast skill trees allowing you to find such unique roles that you can even double up on classes without feeling like you’re repeating characters. So, for example, a medic in this game could be geared towards offense, with attack-up boosters and the melee skill caduceus.

You can build your Protector to do nothing but defend your team with shielding skills or try to give them a provoking-based set that nulls hits with En Garde while doing significant damage with Smite. A sovereign can focus on healing, defensive buffs, or offense; the choice is yours. And that’s not getting into combos like your medic and Protector using immunize and defender. The zodiac, arbalist, and sovereign can use their volt attacks with a buccaneer’s volt chaser for a sweeping spread of attacks that will decimate an enemy group, and that’s not even getting into the litany of status effects you could make use of

Etrian Odyssey has a lot to play around with to create your perfect party. And then The Drowned City adds subclassing, allowing you to further support your character’s role with skills from other classes. It’s insanely fun. And you’ll need it because these games can be rough.

Etrian Odyssey II HD 1

The series’ main gimmick was that you could use the second Nintendo DS screen to map out the labyrinth as you explore it. Take notes, mark out landmarks, and give it your own special flair. The labyrinth is full of special events you’ll need to mark down, like harvestable fruit, materials, resting points, and varied monsters that roam the depths that will spell death for even the most experienced player who hasn’t prepared.

Obviously, with the DS family of systems out of commission, this isn’t naturally feasible in the same way. But there’s been some decent modifications to fix this process. The map of the labyrinth can be brought up at any time to take up half the screen, and on the Nintendo Switch, it is touch-screen accessible. I did run into the amusing muscle memory problem of constantly reaching for the non-existent stylus, but it works like a treat there.

It’s a bit trickier on a controller, with extra button presses needed to maneuver around it with a cursor. But it works. When in a store, the second screen showing your party composition and item loadouts neatly takes up the second half of the screen with some good-looking menus.

Etrian Odyssey III HD 2

Combining your highly unique party of original characters with a very immersive and compelling dungeon system makes for an incredible emergent narrative experience, where you can flesh out your group as they explore and challenge the Labyrinths. The narratives aren’t terribly complex or deep. One of my favorite ways to describe the first game’s story is that ‘the plot twist is that there is a plot.’

They’re functional outlines that you can project your character stories onto, but Heroes of Lagaard and The Drowned City build upon and improve the concept. Especially in the case of The Drowned City, which has a narrative more inspired by Shin Megami Tensei games, as the development team had just concluded work on Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, and it shows.

Etrian Odyssey III HD 1

One thing that is a bit annoying with this release, though, is how the rest of the world itself feels, not in 3, specifically in 1 and 2. It’s especially egregious in 1 because Etria is currently going through a huge tourism boom, something very important to the overarching narrative, but it doesn’t feel that way.

Sure, there are a few shops and some quests, but every quest goes directly through the bartender, and the only people you’ll run into in the labyrinth are some of the reused portrait knights and the mayor’s bodyguards. It’s a bit empty.

Etrian Odyssey HD 2

This is, of course, something that was fixed in later games, starting with The Drowned City in fact, which fills its quest hub, the bistro, with other adventurers exploring the labyrinth, and the high seas, who will comment on their own discoveries and your progression.

1 and 2 have remakes on the 3DS in the form of Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl and Untold 2: The Fafnir Knight. These remakes backport the expanded bar areas and add extra quests with recurring characters, some even with portraits, and it all really helps make their worlds feel much more alive. Unfortunately, they backported the easy mode difficulty, picnic, to the Origins Collection, so it feels strange they couldn’t do this.

Etrian Odyssey II HD 3

The Drowned City also has unique multiplayer features, allowing you to trade items and guild cards with your friends, along with the ability to embark on co-op quests. These are also in the Origins Collection release, which is super rad. While the co-op wouldn’t reappear in future titles, guild cards and trading would continue to show up, even in the Untold games, along with new classes, dungeon areas, and grimoire stones. These stones were essentially a method of backporting the subclassing to these games.

It made sense for extra dungeons to be missing because this collection is all of the original DS titles in 2D, while Untold is in 3D. However, what’s missing are the extra classes, quality-of-life changes to existing classes, subclassing mechanics, and additional music. These releases are fundamentally identical to the original DS games. This is annoying because as much as I really like these games, I’ve played their better version already.

Etrian Odyssey III HD

The Etrian Odyssey HD Origins Collection is an excellent way to start your expedition into the dungeon-crawling genre. All three titles are excellent, but the first two entries are missing some of the major quality-of-life updates found in the Untold remakes. It’s sad to think those versions were left out, given they greatly improve the experience. Regardless, the dungeon crawling system, character classes, and overall enjoyment of this collection come to a head with the inclusion of Etrian Odyssey III, which takes all the best mechanics and provides a memorable adventure to cap off an addictive and fun collection of titles.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.

Pyre Kavanagh

Senior Editor - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so they can buy more murder mysteries. @PyreLoop on twitter