Editorial: Back to the Labyrinth

Old school is best school in this case.

Forgive the Japanese.

The Etrian Odyssey series is a surprise favourite of mine, LusiFOES. Perhaps slightly less surprising in the face of my love for the first half of The 4 Heroes of Light, but surprising nonetheless.

For you new readers, first off: welcome and beware! Secondly, I, Ethan “Ethos” Pipher, am known around these parts for being a pansy. And with just cause! I refuse to play games like Dead Space, I was scared of movies like I Am Legend and I generally like RPGs because I can just grind my way into over-powered oblivion and tackle my enemies safely in the no-skill zone.

Therefore even I do not understand my passive enthusiasm toward accepting CatFancy’s commission to review the second entry in the series. I was warned on multiple occasions of the notorious difficulty that the games were known for and how even some of the more hardcore gamers on staff avoided the first game. I honestly have no idea why this did not scare me. It did not even make me want to prove them wrong. I just shrugged my shoulders and said “gimme dat game, yo!” Then I slipped on my shades and skateboarded into the sky.

Anyway, whatever the reason for my apathy, I am thankful for it because I had a great time with the game. The last section kinda blew, but the rest of the game was more than worth it. I loved how it did not try to be anything it was not and thrived on simplicity of premise and presentation. But that simplicity was just the context to not distract from the complex gameplay. The gameplay that made me feel like I was actually exploring a world in a way I had not experienced since Ocarina of Time. There is something incredibly thrilling about plunging into a labyrinth with no map except for what I have already charted. Thrilling because I knew I was responsible for my own survivial, and careless mapmaking or reckless exploration was a swift way to the game over screen.

YOU WERE WRONG

Thought cartography couldn’t be fun?

For likely financial reasons, I never played Etrian Odyssey III, but I downloaded IV over the weekend through the 3DS eShop and let me say that it has been a long time since I have been so excited playing a video game. I am having a wonderful time with Ni no Kuni and Sly 4 and both are certainly giving me wonderful gaming moments, but remembering just how little the Etrian Odyssey series holds gamers hands was genuinely exciting. I create the name and class of every single party member. I am given missions, but there is no mercy, even early on.

And while the series appears to be taking more care to explain premise and mechanics, there are no laborious tutorials or extensive cutscenes. It is with games like Etrian Odyssey IV that I am more eager to explore every corner and uncover every word of dialogue. The minimalism makes me hungry for more. The premise and art style instantly create a vivid world, so it makes me feel like it is my job to explore it.

It is an increasingly rare experience in modern gaming and I am incredibly thankful for it. I was watching my girlfriend start a new game in Metal Gear Solid 3 and while I have seen that game in action and it looks like a lot of fun, I was blown away by not only the bad script, but the insulting repetitive nature of it. Snake is thrown into a jungle and instead of letting the player soak in the mood and nature of his surroundings, the game descends into unnecessary radio dialogue that would have said just as much and been more effective if it were shortened by ninety percent. It was such stark contrast to the game I had just downloaded to my 3DS.

Not to say that hefty scripts and epic cutscenes have no place in gaming, but Etrian Odyssey IV is a reminder of how effective the medium can be when it really embraces the factors that make it unique. And games do not even need Etrian‘s throwback sensibilities to accomplish this. The prime example being the almost cutscene-free Bioshock.

The fact that I love the Etrian Odyssey series is actually somewhat of a relief for me. It means that I do love a lot of the factors that makes an RPG an RPG. I love customization and battle strategy and really taking my time diving into a world. Because although grinding is somewhat possible in the games, there are always more difficult foes begging to be challenged. And boy how satisfying it is to win a tough battle in that series.

What about you, LusiMazes? Are there any games that you are both surprised and thankful that you are a fan of?

16 Comments

  1. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2013.03.12 at 14:07 | Permalink

    Accuses MGS3 of bad writing –> loves Indiana Jones 4.

    Winning.

  2. Ethan 'Ethos' Pipher
    Posted 2013.03.12 at 14:09 | Permalink

    Aw! It’s not often you see Julian butthurt. It’s cute!

  3. Scott 'Imitanis' Mundy
    Posted 2013.03.12 at 16:29 | Permalink

    EO 2 and 3 were never available in the UK, so I was forced to import them. I was suprised when Nintendo announced EO 4 for the UK. Yes, we won’t see it for another month, but I’m just glad I won’t be missing out on a series I love.

  4. Ethan 'Ethos' Pipher
    Posted 2013.03.12 at 16:53 | Permalink

    Nice. You’ll notice a lot of changes then, most of which I view as good. There’s an overworld of sorts, and multiple labyrinths, and most notably and helpfully, all the stuff in town is so much easier to deal with. Equipping, buying/selling, etc.

  5. Lusipurr
    Posted 2013.03.12 at 19:37 | Permalink

    @Ethos: I don’t know if I would call it ‘butthurt’. The man has a point.

  6. Ethan 'Ethos' Pipher
    Posted 2013.03.12 at 19:43 | Permalink

    I suppose. Except I never praise Indiana Jones IV for good writing. Plus, I didn’t say there wasn’t reason to love MGS3 despite its faults. It seems like a great game. I can love IJ4 and Julian can love MGS3 and they can both have horrible, horrible writing.

  7. Matt Dance
    Posted 2013.03.12 at 21:58 | Permalink

    Since you mentioned that you downloaded the game, I had a question about that I wanted to know more about while deciding whether to purchase a 3DS. What do you think the pro’s and con’s are for purchasing titles on the eShop versus a physical copy? I think I’ve read that they are tied permanently to your system, but the ease of portability might be worth it. Also, do you know how large the file size is? I want to get a 3DS mainly for SMT IV, EO IV, and Fire Emblem Awakening, and I’d like to know if they all would fit on the 4GB SD card.

    I’ve played EO II, and only got through the second level on multiple attempts and party configurations due to its difficulty. I liked it a lot though. Could you comment as well on its difficulty compared to before?

    By the way, did anybody play Sword Of Hope on Game Boy? That was the last portable first person dungeon crawler I’d played until EO II, and I enjoyed it a little but at the time. It was kind of interesting in that you only had one character, there really wasn’t any towns, just rooms where someone might sell you something (and then you could HIT them), and it also had a sort-of map and a way of warning you if any enemy would be in a certain direction. Give it a try if you haven’t!

  8. Mel
    Posted 2013.03.13 at 00:03 | Permalink

    If I could offer my own two cents on the subject, Matt, I’d say that what you lose in downloading the game is the collectability of having the case and the ability to lend it to a friend. What you gain is not having to get off your ass to buy it some place or wait for it to come in the mail. On release day, I downloaded Fire Emblem Awakening and have yet to regret it.

    Fire Emblem uses about 8577 blocks (plus some for addons and save data, but not much), and the 4 gig card that comes with the system has a little more than 30,000 blocks to start. Just to give an idea.

  9. Julian 'SiliconNooB' Taylor
    Posted 2013.03.13 at 10:22 | Permalink

    MGS3 has some of the best writing in games. (and is the only Kojima game that I’ll unreservedly praise in this regard)

    It’s OK not to like how long-winded it is, but that is a stylistic decision rather than a deficiency.

  10. Ethan 'Ethos' Pipher
    Posted 2013.03.13 at 10:45 | Permalink

    Dude. Unless the rest of the game changes (which it totally might), in this case, the long-windedness IS a deficiency not a style (which long-windedness can be sometimes). To make a point about a concept – albeit an interesting one – and then to repeat that same point a thousand times is not good writing. The bad voice acting may have contributed to my thoughts, but I went in expecting good writing and ended up exchanging awkward glances with my girlfriend as we winced through the dialogue. And not just because it went on for too long. A good premise and interesting concepts do not make good writing. It’s bad, Julian. It’s bad writing. At least the first hour is.

    @Matt Dance – will respond to you after work!

  11. Mel
    Posted 2013.03.13 at 11:58 | Permalink

    But, Ethos, I’m ~STIIIIILLLLL IN A DREEEEEAAAAMMM~~~……(snake eater).

  12. Ethan 'Ethos' Pipher
    Posted 2013.03.13 at 12:23 | Permalink

    @Matt – I’m usually a guy who downloads when I can, but I was hesitant to with this. Mostly because I don’t trust Nintendo not to fuck up this sort of shit. I love the convenience and that I can switch easily between Fire Emblem, Etrian Odyssey, and the Professor Layton cart in the system without fumbling or carrying anything extra, but I had to delete a lot of the virtual console games to make space on the card that came with the system. Fire Emblem is about twice the size of Etrian Odyssey.

    I only downloaded because it was late and I just remembered the game and I really wanted to play it. If it were the middle of the day, I honestly probably would have purchased a physical copy.

    I beat EOII (surprisingly) and so far the difficulty seems comparable if not a little easier. But that could be because I was prepared for the style, and I’m playing extremely cautiously. There is also an easier difficulty (which I am not playing on) which I think is a first for the series.

    From the classes I chose, it seems difficult to screw up ability configuration. The worst seems to be spreading too thin, but even that seems to me like it wouldn’t screw you over or anything.

    Never played Sword of Hope! Don’t know if I will, I don’t really even have time for a game like Etrian Odyssey, but apparently I do like the genre!

  13. Matt Dance
    Posted 2013.03.13 at 22:09 | Permalink

    Thank you Mel and Ethos for your comments! I’ve never owned a portable system with downloadable games before. FA and EO are games I’d probably care a little less about not being able to play again years from now in case the 3DS screws up, than having a lot of convenience the first time through. Also, having an easy option makes my mind up a little better – being able to get through a game with some challenge is more fun than an immense challenge that takes longer. Sword Of Hope is not *must play*, but I mentioned it because I rarely see anything about it, not being considered a classic like Wizardry or something, but was nonetheless a fun little example of a similar kind of game from back in the day.

  14. Julian 'SiliconNooB' Taylor
    Posted 2013.03.14 at 03:28 | Permalink

    OK, so MGS3 has bad voice acting now too…

  15. Jahan 'The Legendary Zoltan' Honma
    Posted 2013.03.14 at 06:47 | Permalink

    I have always wanted to play an Etrian Odyssey game because the cartography looks exceedingly fun to me. Too bad I never will.
    I remember an old computer game like this called Bard’s Tale as well. Making your map is definitely a part of the fun and if you don’t make one, you will never be able to keep track of anything at all.

    As for MGS3, Ethos I think the reason they don’t let you soak up the atmosphere of the environment is because Hideo wants you to soak up the atmosphere of being the secret agent on the hidden communication device. After all, the codec has always been one of the main components of Metal Gear games. Do you really dislike the voice acting, though? That surprises me.

  16. Lusipurr
    Posted 2013.03.17 at 13:31 | Permalink

    I want to make a video game that absolutely does not hold the player’s hand. No maps. No tutorials. No ‘easy mode’. Just pure gameplay and leave it up to the player to sort his own shit out.

    I think they call it ‘tabletop gaming’. Someone should really find a way to market that.