Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection Review

Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection Review Image

I have pretty fond memories of the original three Etrian Odyssey titles, with them being some of the first traditional dungeon crawlers I ever dived into. I didn’t play them as many probably did, wetting my feet with the Nintendo 3DS “Untold” remakes of the first two games before then diving into all the other ones. The original Etrian Odyssey trilogy dropped on the Nintendo DS, quickly developing strong cult followings for modernizing a relatively outdated genre of games without losing too much of the crust that defined them. They’re genuinely fun, in-depth, and meaty RPGs that anyone with a fondness for the classics could probably appreciate. 

It’s no surprise why the series went dormant for so long after the 3DS was sunset, because the series’ identity was strongly tied to being able to utilize both screens of the DS. Map Making is a key feature of the game, requiring users to use their stylist to craft accurate maps on digital grid paper to ensure their own survival while dungeon crawling. The Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection seeks to preserve these games in spite of the lack of a second screen. It’s an admirable endeavor, where most first-person dungeon crawlers of the Nintendo Switch generation just decided to make the map screen feel like an afterthought. 

While each game seeks to add to the formula incrementally, there is a lot of shared DNA here. You need to build out an adventuring party consisting of five fully customizable party members, with their role in combat and position in battle being left entirely up to you. The games in general have a pretty hands-off attitude in how they design game progression, letting you more or less discover things at your own pace and fight your own battles. You are expected to live and/or die by your own actions, rising above mistakes and becoming efficient by the challenge. Even basic, the “Normal” difficulty will offer a considerable challenge for most players.

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In that same regard, I’d say you might want to stay away if you’re allergic to grinding in RPGs. DRPGs in general are grindy, and Etrian Odyssey is no exception. There’s a lot of time spent, especially early on, making only small progress through the first couple floors of the labyrinth and needing to retreat back to town to keep yourself alive. Resource management is key as well, with you needing to spend a lot of money on gear to keep yourselves equipped, sleeping at an inn to restore your health, and buying items to give yourself an edge in the dungeon. These games want you sweating and taking care, and reward you long term for engaging with each system. They’re a joy to play, a fun challenge for those who crave them, and pretty long for those willing to dive into the depths. I would have liked some rebalancing, as I started to wonder if I was aging out of this genre a couple of times while playing through them, but I can see the value in how they’re designed. You feel true ownership of both your party and experience, even if the pacing suffers at points because of it.

Every class is given an expansive skill tree exclusive to them, with a point given upon level up to be spent in it. You’re encouraged to really think hard about how you want to spend these, with the consequences for those choices being felt right away until the next level up. Do you want to spend your skill points on buffing a previous skill? Unlocking a new one? Improving proficiency in a certain weapon? A stat? Hell, the ability to gather more? With five of these choices to make every time your party levels up together, there’s a lot of mind games you’ll need to make to play efficiently and I think it goes a long way in making battles rewarding.

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Every single art asset and model seems to have been updated, and each game looks gorgeous. Backgrounds seem to be either source art or redrawn, character portraits are crisp, and the 3D dungeons look breathtaking. The most impressive thing I’ve seen however seems to be how the game has been designed around the Switch’s touchscreen, but doesn’t mandate it if you want to play docked. There’s a reason why the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection is only offered on PC and Switch, and that goes back to the focus on mapmaking. Maybe a new Etrian Odyssey game will ditch this feature to keep the series fresh, focusing on the immaculate vibes over mechanics, but you can’t bring these old DS games back without the intricate map systems. 

There are two different presentation styles available: widescreen exploration with the map being relegated to a separate screen, or a side-by-side screen similar to the original game’s aspect ratio. In the latter option, it’s rather easy to manage your map in real time and even though it might seem awkward at first I found it to be pretty intuitive. All of the various icons that can populate your maps are responsive when drawing it, and I don’t feel like much was lost in the transition. There really isn’t a wrong option here, and I think the fact that the games work either way just goes to show how well-thought-out these remasters are. 

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With three games on offer here, with all three being very similar mechanically, I understand if newcomers might not know where to start or if they really want to dive in on all three games packaged together. Because they are offered individually on the Nintendo eShop, I’d say that if you’re just looking for the best on offer with no interest in seeing how the games grow then play the third entry. That’s where the series started making large efforts into innovating itself, with a whole ocean to explore via boat alongside typical labyrinth exploration. It is limited by what the DS could do, so don’t expect anything like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but the vibes are incredibly charming and you can tell they realized they struck gold with this since IV took the concept and ran with it.

I will say though, the lack of Untold content is incredibly disappointing. I appreciate the Shin Megami Tensei fanservice portraits for letting me play as characters like Joker, Ringo, and Demi-fiend but it seems strange that there’s no bone thrown for fans of the 3DS titles. 2 Untold, the remake of the second entry, did a lot to make the experience of playing it a lot more engaging to me with its added classes and lovable cast of main characters, so to not even offer the gameplay improvements to it as an option feels weird. I understand the importance of preserving the games as they were on DS, and that Etrian Odyssey III never even got an Untold remake so it would then be inconsistent, but more content is always better than less. Etrian Odyssey II is probably the weakest of these entries on offer now, which is a shame when 2 Untold is still my favorite Etrian Odyssey game ever made.

Just like Etrian Odyssey’s identity exists to modernize classics, the Origins Collection successfully modernized Etrian Odyssey. It’s easy to be sad about what isn’t there, but I understand that I have a minority viewpoint in the fanbase and those remakes added a lot of things people didn’t need. These games were always meant to focus on gameplay over all else, and what was preserved has been done so in stunning quality. The games themselves are not perfect, but I think these remasters are as perfect as you can get to recreating them today. They’re simple at their core, and these remasters are simply great. If Atlus decides to bring back more of its extensive DS and 3DS catalog to modern systems, I sincerely hope they continue with this amount of effort going forward.

Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by ATLUS

Total Score
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