Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard - Reader Review  

Lagaardian Odyssey
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

More than 80 Hours
+ Endless classes, customization, and strategy.
+ Intuitive dungeon cartography.
+ Excellent music.
- Bosses can be punishing.
- Paper-thin plot.
- Dated battle graphics.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   In the Grand Duchy of High Lagaard, the legendary tree Yggdrasil watches over its central city, Lagaard, with its branches reaching into the sky, forming a path to a floating castle. Recently, a labyrinthine dungeon has been found in Yggdrasil's interior, with the Duke sponsoring research expeditions into the maze to find the truth behind the legends of the floating castle. Atlus's Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard saw its development and release about a year after the original, mostly inheriting its predecessor's gameplay mechanisms with some touchups and heightened difficulty, sure to please those who truly enjoyed the original game.

   After starting a new game, the player has the option of inputting a password gained from completing the original game, which grants an extra accessory and some links to the first installment. Before exploring the labyrinth of Yggdrasil, the player must create a party of up to five characters from about a dozen different classes, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Since money can be very tight early in the game, the player must carefully choose his or her party, though there might be some points when experimenting with different classes is a must, with some even being necessary to explore secret areas of the labyrinth.

   Once the player has formed his/her party and organized their formation (with front and back rows having three slots each), they're free to explore the labyrinth, with a glowing indicator gradually changing from blue to yellow to red to indicate how close a random encounter is during exploration. Once an encounter does occur, the player naturally faces off against an enemy party, and can input various commands from each character, such as attacking normally, defending, using TP-consuming special abilities, using consumable items, or trying to escape. After inputting commands, the player and the enemy naturally beat each other up in a round, with fights like in the original game being surprisingly fast-paced (especially if the player holds down the A button), and a turbo mode even being available where all allies automatically attack normally at an even faster pace, with enemy turns going by just as quickly in this mode.

   However, since Etrian Odyssey II, like its predecessor, is harder than the average RPG (even more so than the original), recklessly attacking is in most instances a terrible idea, and since no continue system is available, the player must play very conservatively. Thus, it's always a good idea to keep a Warp Wire or two (in case of event spots where tiny animals purloin them) during exploration so that the player can instantly return to town to recover once his/her party is exhausted. Whenever the player wins a battle, their party nets some experience and a bunch of useless junk to sell back in town for money, which also occasionally makes new consumable items, weapons, armor, and accessories available to purchase.

That's the inconvenient truth Al Gore honors Etrian Odyssey for recycling gameplay

   Whenever characters level, they naturally increase stats yet also gain a skill point that the player can invest into various innate abilities and special skills that have up to five or ten levels. Some skills must be at a certain level to unlock more powerful abilities, with experience levels having an initial cap of seventy, thus making it mostly impossible to learn and max out every class's abilities. In certain instances where victory against bosses, as well as the acquisition of various conditional item drops from enemies, depends upon certain skills, the player can "Rest" a character at the cost of five levels to redistribute that character's skill points however desired.

   Players can also "Retire" characters to have them replaced by another character from either the same class or a different class, with the new character having greater base stats and, depending upon the previous character's level, some bonus skill points. If the prior character's experience level was at its maximum, moreover, then the new character's maximum level will be increased by one. Since said extra skill points can really come in handy, given the endless variety of skills each class can learn, it's usually a good idea to retire characters with maxed experience levels at least once for that bonus.

   As in the first game, moreover, special enemies called FOEs (an acronym for Foedus Obrepit Errabundus) wander dungeons, and take one step for each step the player takes. If the player is near them and/or is fighting enemies nearby, they may take notice, being able to enter the battle themselves, and being far more powerful than normal enemies. Unlike in the first game, however, FOEs yield no experience, sometimes only parts the player can sell back in town. Special items and class skills can either put FOEs to sleep for a few steps or draw them to a certain space, with FOE avoidance sometimes being necessary to advance through the labyrinth. FOEs and bosses that do indeed give experience respawn after fourteen in-game days.

   The typical flaw of character and enemy turn order in battle being unpredictable and inconsistent at times recurs throughout the game, alongside the punishing nature of many bosses, which can sometimes be literal walls preventing the player from advancing the game (and speaking of which, FOEs can pin the player against dungeon walls and make fights with them inescapable). In these instances, the player must really think about each character's abilities, among them being special Force skills that require characters to take enough damage in battles to perform; every character's Force gauge resets whenever the player leaves the dungeon or they die in battle, although special items, and maybe a few weapons, can increase Force more quickly.

Beware their evil flashes of doom! When inanimate enemies attack

   As mentioned, experimenting with different classes and party formations is a must at times, with said bosses sometimes being the right moments for this. One thing that players hoping to make it through the game must keep in mind is that certain classes and abilities work well with one another; for instance, the Landsknecht has special elemental follow-up skills that work well with elemental attacks from other classes, and the Dark Hunter has a special skill that deals large damage to enemies completely bound, working well with their Force skill that completely binds enemies. Overall, combat in Etrian Odyssey II can sometimes be daunting, yet has enough variety to prevent players from becoming bored.

   Interaction is just as solid, with the sequel inheriting its predecessor's innovative system for mapping dungeons with the DS stylus and the touch-screen, with some new map icons available in this installment. As in the original game, if the player dies in the dungeon, they can save the dungeon map that they created up to that point. Other areas of interaction are slightly better than in the first game; for instance, when shopping, the player can instantly see how new gear affects each character's stats (although being able to access the game menus while shopping like in the first game would have been nice).

   In another improvement, certain floors of each Stratum of the labyrinth have Geomagnetic Poles to which the player can instantly teleport after activating them, alongside Geomagnetic Fields at the beginning of each Stratum other than the first where the player can save the game or teleport back to town (with teleportation to the Poles being one-way). Non-battle gameplay, however, isn't perfect, because while the game offers endless extra quests the player can perform for items and/or money, some might require a guide to finish, with completion of the monster, monster part, and equipment compendia being the same, with some conditional enemy drops similarly hard to discover sans a walkthrough. Otherwise, interaction is generally solid.

   The second Etrian Odyssey is in essence a rehash of its predecessor, mostly inheriting the first game's mechanisms in and out of battle with occasional tweaks. The game setting is different, although the goal of exploring a vast labyrinth remains the same, with the graphics and even the music also mostly resembling those in the original game. All in all, pretty much anyone who played the original Etrian Odyssey will be all but familiar with its sequel.

Escargot Must be a French snail

   Since whatever characters the player creates to explore Yggdrasil's labyrinth have no backstory or development whatsoever, the plot naturally leaves plenty of room for improvement, with the narrative itself consisting mostly of background, and story scenes being scarce throughout the game. A few of the tavern quests do add slight depth to certain parts of the story, although Etrian Odyssey II, much like its predecessor, is far more about gameplay than plot.

   The music, again composed by Yuzo Koshiro, is the sequel's apex, with its style mimicking that of the first game, not that this is a bad thing, as it helps enhance the franchise's feel, with just about every track having some kind of catchy interlude and decent variety. Each Stratum has its own unique theme, with the battle music also changing midway through the game, always a good idea since most time in RPGs is typically spent in combat. Some may protest the instrumentation of the music, although headphones enhance its quality somewhat, and the sound effects could have been more diverse, but Etrian Odyssey II is still a superb-sounding game.

   Also preserving the feel of the original Etrian Odyssey are the visuals, which, aside from some different-looking Strata and new character portraits, are more of the same. Two-dimensional stills and character portraits again accompany menu-based town exploration and occasional cutscenes, while dungeon exploration remains three-dimensional. Battle scenery is again static, as are enemies, with inanimate foes being a dated relic of the 16-bit era of RPGs. All in all, the second Etrian Odyssey, like the first, has neither best visuals on the Nintendo DS nor the worst.

   Finally, the second installment can potentially be a lengthy game, with this reviewer, for instance, being stuck for a few weeks against the penultimate boss of the main quest, and thus taking more than eighty hours to finish the game. Post-game material like an extra area to explore, revealing every monster, monster part, and piece of equipment for the in-game compendia, and completing all tavern quests, can add at least another hundred hours to the game.

   Overall, Etrian Odyssey II is a decent sequel that largely adopts the "same crap, different game" school of design, preserving its predecessor's feel with some slight adjustments, such as a few interface improvements and heightened difficulty, the latter of which certainly won't make it a great diving board into the series. Only those who truly enjoyed the original game will enjoy its successor, while those who didn't like the first installment certainly won't enjoy its sequel. Those unfamiliar with the series, moreover, would be better of playing through the original game, which is actually less punishing, instead before considering its more masochistic sequel.

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