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The Whole Game in My Hand #6

by Michael J. Anderson, 2007-08-30

Welcome back to another edition of handheld RPG fun! Last month was clearly the tale of the good, the bad and the ugly! The time since has been pretty thin in terms of releases so I have stretched it across much of the summer - but contains one of my favorite games of the entire year! After dumping tons of hours into it, I am very excited to talk more about another entry to the 'all that is old is made new ... on a Nintendo handheld' roster! So look for that at the end of the article. We are also abandoning using dates for the titles of articles - they just don't line up well enough with reality. I'll still note the months covered in each release section, as it provides some context around what is covered and what is not.


Nintendo DS – May / June / July Releases

Etrian Odyssey (My Score 4.5/5, Rated E-10)

This time the featured game is ... another dungeon crawler! (that makes three in a row ... hmmm ... ) You will get the full review below, but suffice it to say that I love this game. I have been frothing at the mouth since getting it, as you would know from the forums - despite the fact that I have gotten my butt kicked to the curb more times than I care to admit by all sorts of enemies.

Nintendo DS – Coming Soon and Outlook

The dog days of summer are here early, as the single release for June - a more RPG-like Harvest Moon game called 'Rune Factory' - has been pushed back to mid-August. Coming in June ... errm ... July ... uh ... August (as of right now) is The Settlers, the port of the PC classic strategy / city-building game. Also set for August release is the strategy RPG Luminous Arc which looks to have an interesting blend of tactical combat and story, but which has gotten pretty mediocre reviews from the EU release. Indeed, despite the amount of love DS games have gotten here and the statements made that the DS has many more high-profile RPG's coming, none of them are coming in the next few months. But alas there is some very good news ... I had gotten some information from a certain well placed source later confirmed by him at E3 that one of my favorite GBA games 'Mazes of Fate' is being updated and revamped and is coming to the Nintendo DS. Currently the game is scheduled to launch in the US in October, with no publisher announced yet for other regions. No further information is available at this time, but I will keep you informed as I learn more.

Sony PSP – May / June / July Releases

Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon (My Score 3/5, Rated E-10)

One of my big complaints with Lost in Blue was that you were so busy with menial tasks that you never got to *do* anything. This game felt like answer to my prayers for the first several hours - you start off as a robot boy who has to learn everything about running a farm, because your creator has set you up with a farm of your own on a very inhospitable section of an island. So you learn your lessons and then get turned loose to work your own farm doing things like planting, watering, harvesting and selling - which is great.

Until you can automate nearly everything using helper robots. Then it becomes a complete bore - there is so little left to do that you yearn for the good old days of busy work watering plot after plot after plot ... something to keep you occupied! There is no romance, no struggle to gain enough money, none of the challenge of making it from season to season. You don't even need to eat! There are lots of areas to explore, but they are not very interesting or rewarding, so it feels like more busy work - but pointless. Without the charm and interaction of other Harvest Moon games there feels like there is nothing to do but increase your farm size and keep your little bots busy - but why bother? There is nothing of interest to buy, and everything you need to get anywhere in the game is given to you! It is still not terrible, but there is a constant feeling that the developers failed to find a balance that would make the game challenging but in a relaxed way, a grind but a FUN grind; and most of all they failed to give our little robot boy the humanity the good doctor tried to instill in him.

Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition (My Score 3.5/5, Rated E-10)

There are a few games that stand out as true classics in every genre, and certainly the original Final Fantasy is on that list. The game has been imitated, copied, and remade more than perhaps any other in history. And for good reason - the game has a nice, simple but effective story with fun characters and an engaging battle system. It is challenging but not too hard, and it provides you plenty to do. In terms of the basic game, there is no question in my mind - Final Fantasy is a game that every gamer with any RPG interest should play at one point in their career. But the question is not if you should play the game but if you should pay full price for this version of the game ...

The version of Final Fantasy made for the PSP is essentially the same as the one released for the GBA in the Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls package at the end of 2004. It also melds in some of the stuff that was changed for the Playstation port and adds on a new dungeon. The graphics, sounds and effects have all been overhauled, making it the most modern and appealing version of the game ever released. Yet it still looks dated compared with similar PSP games such as Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion or even Final Fantasy VI Advance on the GBA! And that is ultimately the problem - the game is pretty much the same game that people have been playing for twenty years, given a fresh coat of paint and sold as a new release. That distinctly divides my recommendation - if you have already played this game there is absolutely no reason to play this version. But if you have a PSP and want to experience Final Fantasy for the first time this is the ultimate version (for now).

Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground (My score 3.5/5, Rated E-10)

I had recently done a preview at another site for for Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground. In it I wondered whether the fun mix of building and battling could last through the entire dungeon, or if this was bound to become a boring and repetitive grind. The simple answer is 'a bit of both', but fortunately the good outweighs the bad to the depths of the dungeon and the discoverable secrets add a nice bit of spice to keep things interesting all the way through.

Before we get to the conclusion of whether the game is worth buying, let's step back and remember what it is all about. You play as an apprentice Dungeon Maker who has come to town looking to hone your skills and build a dungeon in the hopes of eventually trapping the horrible 'Wandering Demon' that has been menacing the region. But you are not the first - through history many novices have tried to create the ultimate dungeon, but all have failed. The backstory to WHY you need to build a dungeon to accomplish this goal is presented simply and in a way that makes sense as an impetus to get you into the game: monsters threaten humanity in the region, so the desire for all dungeon makers is to lure those monsters away from people and into dungeons where they can kill them off. Of course, this is where it all gets interesting - certain monsters like certain environments, and some appear only in certain sized rooms or when your level reaches a certain 'score' or at certain levels of the dungeon.

Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground is essentially two games in one - an action-RPG and a dungeon creator. Of course, the overall success depends on how each component works as well as how the combined effect blends to create a compelling gaming experience. Because this is a 'dungeon crawler', you will not be carried along by pervasive story elements or romance threads or side-quests involving escorting civilians to safety - it is all about buildin' the dungeon and killin' the beasties!

The technical elements - graphics, sound, controls, and load times - are not all that interesting to describe. That is not because they are particularly bad or good, but because they keep out of the way enough to let you get dragged in a very natural way into the game. OK, so that vague and nonsensical statement pretty much forces me to describe each of them and then tell you why the sentence actually DOES make sense!

I have refined my load-time ranting to focus on the way in which load-times in PSP games impact the way you play. For example, in Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony, I would regularly avoid using portals because of the agonizingly (pun intended) long load times associated with portal travel. So something that had been integral to the way I played the PC game was largely removed from the PSP game. The reason this is important to Dungeon Maker is that there are many opportunities for load-times to ruin the game: since you design every part of every dungeon level, you already know the game needs to load every level and write back any changes as well as loading specific assets from the game disc. As I built up complexity of levels I expected this to potentially become an issue - but it never did. All loads, whether between town and dungeon or between dungeon levels, are quick and will not impede you making any choices. Similarly, there is little to no apparent overhead to adding elements to a dungeon - you simply place it and move along. It is simple and fun and gives you incentive to continue.

The sound and controls are similarly unobtrusive. There is a decent soundtrack that provides a nice background without being either annoying or compelling (well, given how much you will listen to it, the battle music does get annoying after a while, but the rest is fine), and the amount of voiced dialog is fairly impressive - and well done. The sounds of battle are similarly well done, but again are neither annoying nor compelling. The controls look terribly complex on paper, yet are completely intuitive in-game. This is because there are small labels to help you through every situation - this is one of those little things that you can read and say 'sounds good', but you won't REALLY understand the impact until you understand that there are dozens of menu possibilities that are context sensitive based on whether you are building or exploring, making new areas or changing existing ones, or even removing stuff you have already built!

So what about the graphics? They are very nice. Oh, I can hear the PSP graphics fanboys hooting now! Calling the graphics 'nice' is truly damning with faint praise on a system rooted in handheld graphics superiority. But again, it is not criticism - is truly is praise. You can see the details of how you decorate each room and hall in every level and know without question what materials are used. Similarly the characters in town all have personalities that shine through their graphical representation as well, and the overall town is very well done. The game doesn't have the intense graphics of some of the race games (like Test Drive Unlimited), nor the HDR of Death Jr. 2, nor even the bloom and lighting effects of the Legend of Heroes series, but it still manages to produce some nice visuals. If anything, NOT having the best graphics serves the highest possible purpose - keeping you playing the game as much as possible. In a game of this sort I will always trade off better graphics for shorter load times.

So, that covers all of the technical items, and hopefully it now makes more sense why I say it is a good thing that they all just stay out of the way. They allow the gamer to focus on the important stuff - building dungeons and destroying monsters. And since those are the two real reasons to play the game, and are very different in how they are carried out, I'll look at each one individually. The third element - time spent in-town - is where you gain quests and trade and have other important interactions. The town uses an 'overworld' map style and you just move from location to location with the cursor. Each location is important at one point or another, and there are few enough that they are all worth checking out on every visit back to town - just to make sure you don't miss anything. Trading for items has a very nice interface with plenty of information provided and a simple 'item for cash' system is perfectly suited for the PSP. As I mentioned in the preview, there aren't really dialog 'options' - people either ask or tell you things, and you go from there. That doesn't mean they are insipid ciphers - far from it. Indeed, the varied personalities of the people you meet in-town and the way they slowly build up trust in you and hope for your dungeon are major factors in keeping the game interesting. Quite often the townspeople want an item, and when you find one in the dungeon and bring it to them they will reward you - usually the reward is disproportionate with the item. These often include critical and very rare items - such as rooms to trap key monsters and stairs to advance to the next level of the dungeon. One of my concerns was whether or not you would become so rich later in the game that these quests would become meaningless - fortunately that doesn't happen. From start to finish you are working to build your supplies and resources. For example, stairs are a complete necessity to progress - and extremely hard to get. They require you to focus on building quality levels and frequently speaking to everyone around town to get a quest that will reward you with the stairs you need. This is another great way to keep you engaged!

Dungeon building and combat both utilize the same basic 'dungeon interface' with important distinctions. The dungeon interface is at once simple and 'deep'. Basic exploration is quite simple - you move around using the analog stick or directional buttons, and attack or use items by pressing one of the shape buttons. When you approach an undeveloped area of the dungeon the buttons swap to dungeon-maker mode, so that you can simply add elements on the fly. Beyond that, the large menu I mentioned while discussing controls provides access to everything - your inventory and equipped items, magic and potions, and also the ability change architectural elements such as adding new appearances to areas or erasing places you did a lousy job designing. Building dungeon levels is another of those deceptively simple tasks - you outfit yourself with plenty of hallways, turns, room types and structural change elements and then place them in unused areas or apply new styles to bare areas. This is not a simple thing where you make pretty designs and move to the next level - each level has a 'score' which impacts the monsters that will visit, the loot you can obtain ... and the possibilities of the subsequent levels. Monsters tend to like complex mazes, with plenty of twists and turns to surprise unsuspecting adventurers (that would be you). Certain monsters favor large store-rooms and others more cramped quarters. Each monster type has a certain type of architecture they favor - from bare dirt to stone to wood to ornate marble and more, there are plenty of subtle variations to exploit to design the best possible level. And if you get far into building a level and realize that you have done a poor job? Just choose to remove elements - or even clear the entire floor - and Poof! all of the elements are back in your inventory.

The combat system is an interesting system that is at once familiar and different - the actual combat will be familiar for anyone who has played an action-RPG on their PSP but the motivations are entirely different. To defeat enemies, you can use special ranged attacks or standard hack-n-slash tactics. Combat is in real time, and enemies will attack you once you wander within range. All of the attacks are mapped to the triangle, circle or X button, with the square button calling up the menu to unleash other attacks, use items or change which attacks are mapped to which buttons. You don't get experience from killing enemies - except for the occasional recognition rewards from the town. So it would be more precise to say that you do not get direct experience rewards from killing enemies. Yet you will run around killing them all because you either need them to drop something for a quest you are pursuing, or you need whatever loot or gold they might be holding. Or you just want to make sure that the dungeon is clear so you can continue building and expanding the level. As you progress the monsters get tougher and some do much more damage than others, but there are none that you can't take down with some small effort. When you hit a 'challenge bump' - suddenly getting a new type of tough monster to deal with - you will likely die once or twice. The game lacks any sort of 'you are about to die' warning flash or other system that most action-RPG's feature. Fortunately the 'death penalty' - the consequences for dying - are pretty light. You wake up outside the dungeon, but all of the work you did and items you collected are intact. You cannot return to the dungeon that day, but instead need to rest up and trade and prepare to do battle again the next day. This ends up being an annoyance more than anything - you will die thinking 'if i realized that I was about to die I would have stepped back and used a health item', but since you can just return the next day it isn't a major issue - of course, the dungeon will be restocked with monsters to battle once again. However, the challenge is never so great that you will fall into a 'die and retry' loop, and since your dungeon has an 'elevator' that will take you to whatever level you choose you are not faced with an 'Etrian Odyssey (DS)' like trek from the start of the dungeon to the point where you fell.

The fundamental problem with the game is that while the impetus to build and explore and rebuild and visit town and slay demons will keep you enthralled for perhaps a dozen hours or so, the 'Lite' nature of both the dungeon building and combat wears off over time. This is a real problem in a dungeon crawler, where you depend on the addictive nature of combat and minor twists and turns to keep you going. In Dungeon Maker you are doing the same basic thing for twenty levels, and hoping to find some of the hidden bonus dungeons along the way. The quality balance between the three aspects - town, building and combat - is clear: building dungeons is best, spending time in town is also satisfying, but the combat is what drags the game down. It is incredibly repetitive and feels like level-grinding from the very start. Perhaps an additional reward - some other experience point alternative - would help drive you to keep at the game for hour after hour as with other dungeon crawlers released this year (Izuna DS, Etrian Odyssey DS, and Puzzle Quest DS / PSP). In those games the addictive nature never seems to let go of you - you don't seem to be able to shut the system off until you fall asleep playing, and can't manage to take the cartridge or disc out of the system. With Dungeon Maker, once you've played for 10-15 hours, you will find it pretty easy to put it aside for a couple of days to play something else.

But you will return - the dungeon building is fun and will bring you back, which is a credit to the quality of the game. It is a good and solid effort, but not a great one. Perhaps if they decide to make another game in the series they can focus on the combat - now THAT would make for an incredibly addictive experience! Until then, Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground is a solid game with a number of innovative features that is fresh and fun, even if it ultimately falls a bit short of the mark. This is the sort of game that PSP owners should buy to support the efforts of developers trying new things and making something other than just another generic hack-n-slash or ‘Final Fantasy’ clone.

Sony PSP – Coming Soon and Outlook

July saw two more 'highly original' games (grrr! Where is the 'sarcasm' emote!) - Final Fantasy II: Anniversary Edition (another 'souped up' NES port) and Riviera: The Promised Land (a port of the fun 2005 GBA game - GamerDad review. I've not looked at those yet and will review them next time. Coming at the end of July is Brave Story, a fairly traditional sounding turn-based jRPG with a number of innovative features. This game has been permanently loaded in my PSP since I got it and I'll finish it and will have a full scale review (possibly the feature review depending on D&D Tactics). Another game coming in late August is another 'tactics' based strategy game called Jeanne D'Arc, which had gotten a lukewarm response from the Japanese release but has apparently been highly polished ever since. Delayed once again to mid-August is the game I have personally been anticipating highly since announcement, and the one you can count on as the focus of the next article - Dungeons & Dragons Tactics.

Well, this has proved an interesting few months, with some reasonably good releases on the PSP for a change as well as the start of almost complete dominance of the PSP in terms of RPG releases ... now let's move on and take a look at Etrian Odyssey in some more detail.

Handheld RPG Review - Etrian Odyssey (DS)

There seems to be something of a RPG revival happening on Nintendo's handhelds recently - at the end of last year there was Mazes of Fate for the GBA (DS version in progress as noted above), then earlier this year there was the rogue-like Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, and now we have Etrian Odyssey. This game hearkens back to classic party-based dungeon romps such as the early Might & Magic games and The Bard's Tale as well as many others. It is one of the best games I have played this year, but also one of those experiences sure to split opinions - it is brutally hard, extremely long and unforgiving, and is basically a dungeon crawl. I would term this a 'narrowband release', as it is really not made for the audience who are the growth crowd of Nintendo's 'Touch Generations' playing Cooking Mama or Brain Age, nor is it for younger console-centric folks who see Final Fantasy as the origins of the role-playing genre.

So then, who is it made for? It is made for us - long-time fans of western RPGs and PnP RPG sessions from before the internet existed outside of government labs and universities. It is a labor of love that will hurt you, punish you, send you reeling ... and then have you thanking it and begging for more. If you are a fan of true old-school RPG's and are wondering what happened to your genre - it is here on the Nintendo DS. I know I have said that in passing before, but this game goes way beyond being a sentimental way-back machine, it is rock-solid excellent and one game that I don't plan to let wander too far from my DS. If you have a DS you need this game, and if not perhaps you should reconsider your resistance to handheld gaming.

What's in a name?

When you hear the name Etrian Odyssey what do you think? ... yeah, me too. Would it have more sense as it was originally titled - Yggdrasil Labyrinth? Perhaps not for you, but certainly for me - there was a GBA sRPG last year called Yggdra Union which set forth the name and a region and a fantasy setting. Etrian Odyssey is not directly related as it takes place in the town of Etria and has nothing to do with princess Yggdra ... but the general purpose is clearing the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, which is the tie-in.

Regardless of what you think of the name, few gamers are prepared for the challenge that awaits them. You take on the role of a new guildmaster in town and are helped to form your first band of adventurers to take into the labyrinth. After creating a series of characters from one of several archetypes you much place them in party format and leave the guild hall. These include fighters, rangers, mages, paladins, clerics and bards to start - though they are given different names in the game it is simple enough to play 'connect the archetype'. You have a front and back line to your five-person group, and when you decide you are ready to leave you are asked if you are really sure. Your adviser asks in a way that gives you pause - and for good reason! You need to be extra careful about forming a balanced party from the very start because as I said the game will simply obliterate you without pause at every turn if you are not prepared.

Of course, you could just head into the labyrinth, but as with any RPG it is better to spend time wandering town and talking to everyone possible. The 'town' in Etrian Odyssey is more like a menu - you choose which location you want to visit from a list and then you are in that building speaking to the proprietor. You don't need to worry about shopping very much at the start - your characters all come with a basic set of equipment and you have very little money to spend! The main goal is to get acquainted with the people and town mechanics and to grab a couple of quests before heading in - the first time you leave the game will actually stop you from leaving without any active quests, but after that you are on your own.

Do I have to draw you a picture?

Your objective on the first mission - map the first level of the dungeon. That is right - the bottom half of the screen looks like a blank sheet of quadrille paper when you enter a new level of the labyrinth! You add the paths, doors, stairs, monsters, events and so on. You can even fully notate any square on any level of the dungeon. This might sound like a gimmick, but it is not those things that starts out as 'the best thing ever' and quickly becomes a tired necessity. No, this becomes part of your dungeon crawling experience - making you one with the labyrinth and helping to distinguish this game as something fun for new players and a time-warp for more ... eh ... seasoned players.

While the bottom screen is showing the map editor the top menu shows you a first-person view of the world ahead of you. You see the lush trees and foliage surrounding you as you tramp through the levels of the labyrinth, lighter in areas where the sun can pierce the canopy and shaded in other spots. The visual style is consistent and pleasant without becoming stale become it changes periodically. The developers took advantage of the DS hardware without pushing too hard - so everything looks very nice without either feeling crammed into the system or impacting performance. Each stratum in the labyrinth consists of several levels of increasing difficulty, laid out in twisting maze-like patterns that ensure you will spend plenty of time exploring before making it to the next level.

The design of the dungeons consists of a large maze populated by hidden enemies that pop out occasionally with a likelihood that increases with each step you take. There are about thirty total levels, divided up into different strata. There are hidden pools of health or mana reserves as well as locked doors and secret traps and loads of other goodies scattered throughout each level. But then there are the enemies you CAN see. These are called F.O.E.'s (roughly translated as 'field on enemies') and are mini-bosses who move once for each move you take. They can see you just as you can see them and will pursue you over a limited distance. They will do something else - kill you. Pretty much the first time you see a particular FOE you won't be up to the task and your party will die. Then you will return and have enough experience to kill it the second or third time and reap the massive experience rewards.

Without music, life would be a mistake - Nietzsche

There are a variety of songs that play as you explore the various levels of the dungeon, and I never tired of hearing any of them. The music for the game was done by famed Japanese composer Yuzo Koshiro. These songs are simple and lifting melodies that play out with strikingly high fidelity for the portable system. In town each of the different houses has an individual theme that all blend together yet provides a unique flavor for each. Similarly each new stratum presents you with new themes and songs and battle music to keep you entertained. In a world filled with an endless stream of hack-n-slash games with supposedly sweeping orchestral scores, this simplicity is very welcome as it gives the game even more personality. Sometimes it is the little things that matter, and for some reason the music in this game greatly enhanced the overall feel of the experience. I felt warm, comfortable and at ease (yes, even as a single monster wiped out my entire party), the way I feel playing old favorite games from years past.

The combat system warrants extra attention as this is a dungeon crawler and therefore combat is where you will spend most of your time. Your party of five is arranged in two lines - three members in the front and two in back. As is typical for these formations, front-line characters are the ones giving and taking melee damage and back-line characters are typically mages, clerics and characters using ranged weapons. Combat is fully turn-based, with turned dictated by each character's initiative and agility. During each round you can choose to attack, defend, use a 'skill' such as a special or magical attack, use an item or flee. There is also a 'boost' meter that builds up and allows you to occasionally unleash a very powerful normal attack ... something you'll need when facing a FOE.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...

The player can best be thought of as a 'guild master' as you create your party of heroes and send five out adventuring on your behalf. However, you will quickly learn that five adventurers won't be enough - the group you choose to entrust to clear out the deepest reaches of your current exploration will not be the same group you want mining for elements or chopping down trees or otherwise increasing your cash reserves. Frankly there aren't enough skill points to allow you to generalize in that way. You really need to specialize - you're not building battlemages or fight-clerics or ranger-rogues. You are lucky to have enough skill points to gain decent fire and lightning skills for your mage!

So what do you do? You make a 'farming' group. Give then some muscle to survive (perhaps a mage and a healer) but mostly survivalists who can just focus on gathering materials up at the sites you find on each level. You take out your main party, kill loads of stuff, descend as far as possible, then return. Then take out your 'farming' group to a safe area and gather up as much as you can manage in a day before heading back and selling it all off to buy new stuff for your adventuring party.

Can you hammer a six inch spike through a board with your ... ?

Time for another monthly quiz - you are on the first level of a dungeon having played a game for about fifteen minutes. Everything is wonderful - cheery graphics, flowing music, excellent interface. You have even made it through a couple of battles and perhaps even leveled up. Then you meet a single monster who defeats your entire party in a single round of combat. Do you (a) swear at the game for cheating and never play again, (b) cry and head to GameFAQs or (c) think 'whoa!' and regroup back at the inn to rethink your strategy?

Yeah, it is pretty darn tough. But as someone told me - once they knew it was going to be hard and that they would die often, they were ready and didn't die so much. But the bottom line is this - you cannot drift through this like the latest jRPG Final Fantasy clone (or the above-reviewed Final Fantasy remake) and not worry about things. This a PARTY-based game, not just a bunch of individuals floating around together. If you don't use buffs and heals and other party tactics you'll die early and often. But I hope that if you are still reading you will realize that this is a good thing - this is the reason why this game should be so appealing to fans of this site and one of the many reasons I truly love this game.

Is this an Odyssey of the Mind, or an Odyssey that is One of a Kind?

Is it a strange thing to call a game that will mercilessly kill you 'charming'. Perhaps it is, but that is a feeling I associate with this game. The nice graphics, draw-your-own dungeons and sweet music playing everywhere all just draw me in immediately whenever I start playing. I love the challenge, the feel of the game, and the ability to lead a party and have my choices matter. I enjoyed the characters in town, the way they change and grow. But everything comes down to the dungeons in a game like this, and that is where the game shines brightest - the balance of you against your environment is perfect, and the execution of making a massive dungeon that is challenging at all levels is simply sweet perfection.

Pros and Cons

+ Captures the essence of classic Wizardry and Bard's Tale games.
+ Fun combat system.
+ Brutal difficulty
+ Massive dungeons.
+ Fun drawing system for maps.
- Massive amounts of retracing required, especially early on.
- Only one save slot.

Final Score and Game Info

(Score: 4.5 / 5) Everything I heard about this game before release told me I would like it. But I expected it to be one of those games like Tao's Adventure or Izuna - something that I have to recommend with a bunch of caveats. This game carries a single caveat - it is really tough and completely unforgiving. The game is very well designed and the execution is highly polished. This is one of the best games I've played all year and has been the default game in my DS since May when it shipped - whenever I don't have another game I need to play Etrian Odyssey goes back in for more fun. It isn't a flawless experience, but it is pretty close - don't believe the reviews you've read, as they are down on this game for all the wrong reasons. I would rate this as a 4.5 / 5 on full scale - and my tilt would make it a 5 / 5 if I was reviewing it for a 'no half star' RPGWatch review.

Box Art