The brainchild of former Atlus designer Kazuya Niinou, Etrian Odyssey (Sekaiju no Meikyuu, or Labyrinth of Yggdrasil, in Japan) is a turn-based first-person dungeon crawler. It draws inspiration from older dungeon crawlers like the Wizardry franchise. The series is known for using the DS's touch screen as an interactive map, where players can draw out their own maps, and its punishing difficulty. The first game, Etrian Odyssey, came out on the Nintendo DS on May 15, 2007 in America, and the latest game, Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond The Myth, was released on the Nintendo 3DS Oct 17, 2017 in America.
Center to Etrian Odyssey are its massive multi-level dungeons, known as the Yggdrasil Labyrinth. Players descend (or ascend) through the various strata of the Labyrinth, eventually finding out its secrets and defeating the master of the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth itself is tile-based, and the dungeon layouts are not randomly generated. Players navigate the dungeon in a first-person perspective, and each step takes a turn. There is a constant day-night cycle, and some events and enemies are time-based.
Etrian Odyssey IV shakes up the formula by introducing a full overworld that players travel across with an airship. Dungeons are now spots in the world, and are not connected with each other. There are also optional mini-dungeons to find, food to gather and cook, and special F.O.E.s to fight in the overworld.
The main unique feature of the Etrian Odyssey games is its map creation. The games use the DS (and 3DS) touch screen to map out the dungeon as the player navigates it, and players can add additional icons, notes, and reminders to it at any time. The map allows players to keep track of their position and previous discoveries, without needing the use of outside tools. The map design was replicated in another Altus DS game, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, although without the creation and annotation tools.
From Etrian Odyssey III onwards, players can also add auto-pilot arrows in their maps, which, when activated, automatically moves their party in the direction the arrows point to. Players will still encounter enemies on the way, however. Millennium Girl adds a Floor Jump, which unlocks when the player has mapped most of the corresponding level.
The Etrian Odyssey series features a traditional turn-based menu-driven RPG combat. Encounters are somewhat random, and is determined by the proximity gauge on the bottom right corner of the top screen. Each step increases the chance of an encounter, and when the gauge turns red an encounter is imminent.
A party is made up of up to 5 characters, and the player can pick between the different classes available and mix them to their own desire. The party is arranged into 2 rows, the front and the rear, with a maximum of 3 characters per row. Melee weapons work better in the front row, but characters take more damage, and vice versa. When defeated, enemies will give experience points and will drop materials which can be sold to the shop for money.
Etrian Odyssey features a special type of debuff called binds. There are 3 types of binds: Head, Arm, and Leg. Every skill used, both by the player and the enemy, is associated with one of the 3 parts; head usually with magical skills, arms with physical skills, and legs with leg-based skills. Binding the associated part will disable that skill until the bind wears off. Furthermore, head binds lower accuracy and magic, arm binds lower physical attack, and leg binds lower speed and evasion. Once binded, enemies will gain additional resistance against further binds of that type.
Each Etrian Odyssey game thus far had special skills which allowed the characters to perform a special action when a bar is filled. This bar is filled by performing actions in battle, but will drop if the party runs away from battle or rests at an inn.
- Etrian Odyssey and its remake featured Boosts, which increased the power of the action taken by the character that turn.
- Etrian Odyssey II had Force Skills, special pinch skills unique to each class. Fafnir Knight expanded on the system with Force Boosts and Breaks, which allowed you to either boost your skills or activate a powerful skill at the cost of your Force bar for the rest of that trip in the Labyrinth. Force Boosts and Breaks also return in Etrian Odyssey Nexus.
- Etrian Odyssey III used Limit Skills, group skills used by more than one character to boost the party or damage enemies.
- Etrian Odyssey IV introduces Burst Skills, which taps into a shared Burst Gauge to unleash special skills based on the charges needed.
- Etrian Odyssey V uses Union Skills, race-based skills which uses a character's union gauge. Unlike the other games, characters start each journey in the labyrinth with a full gauge.
Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens, more commonly known by its acronym F.O.E., are minibosses that appear in the Labyrinth. They are much tougher than the normal enemies on their floor. F.O.E.s either patrol a set path or guard certain spots, and some will aggressively track the player while others are content to do their own thing. An F.O.E can invade a player's ongoing combat, turning a normal battle into a much more dangerous one, and players can only escape from an F.O.E. battle with they have a tile to retreat onto (except in Etrian Odyssey IV).
Etrian Odyssey had two types of F.O.E.s: a normal orange type, and a much stronger red type, while Etrian Odyssey II adds a blue flying type that ignores terrain, and a purple stealth type that does not appear on the player's map. F.O.E.s in Etrian Odyssey IV and later do not appear as their glowing ball designs of the previous games. Instead, the F.O.E. is fully rendered in 3D.
The Etrian Mystery Dungeon games have instead D.O.E.s, which have a similar function to F.O.E.s from the mainline games. D.O.E.s can occasionally attack player forts and the player must repel them or stand to lose valuable items stored in the town.
Etrian Odyssey features a item unlocking system, where all materials sold to the shop goes towards unlocking new items and equipment. Materials can be dropped by enemies after a battle, or harvested through item resource points found scattered about the Labyrinth. Resource harvesting requires investment into Chop, Take, and Mine skills (except in Etrian Odyssey IV), and are limited to a certain number of tries in a day. Some special materials can only be gathered by killing monsters in a special way, like using a specific type of attack or killing them within certain turns. Almost all equipment and items are limited to the amount of materials gathered and sold by the player.
For games after Etrian Odyssey II, players can further enhance their weapons through forging. Players collect special hammers through quests and treasure chests, and those hammers can be used to add new effects to player weapons. Each piece of equipment has a limited amount of forge slots, some more than others. There are also weapons that come with slots used, and these slots cannot be forged over. Players need to use money and materials (taken from the materials sold to the shop) to forge their weapons.
All Etrian Odyssey games feature a post-game stratum, a maze with devilishly hard enemies and fiendish traps, more dangerous than the main game. At the end of the stratum players fight a hidden ultimate boss that is much tougher than the final boss of the main storyline. Players also gain access to many other optional bosses, hidden within the different strata of the Labyrinth. Etrian Odyssey III also introduced many optional bosses as part of its Sea Quests, which are unlocked through the sailing minigame.
Etrian Odyssey III also introduced a New Game Plus mode, where players can start over the storyline with their leveled characters, equipment, and drawn maps. This allows players to see all the different endings without having to grind through the entire game again. New Game Plus returns in Etrian Odyssey IV, with all the quests, key items, and class unlocks reset, and the only equipment carried over are those equipped on the player's characters.
Etrian Odyssey was first announced in 2006 in Famitsu, after being shown behind closed doors in E3 2006. The first game was led by Kazuya Niinou, but from the second game onwards, story writer Shigeo Komori took over as the lead of the franchise. The character art for the franchise is done by Japanese illustrator Yuji Himukai. For Etrian Odyssey IV, Daisuke Kanada took over as the game's director as Komori was busy with other projects that the time. The Untold games are directed by Komori again.
The game was originally planned to be released as "Yggdrasil Labyrinth" worldwide, but was renamed to avoid confusion with Yggdra Union and Deep Labyrinth, both also published by Atlus USA in the year before.
Each of the games has an image that inspires the style the game and its Yggdrasil Labyrinth. Etrian Odyssey was based on the green sea of trees, Etrian Odyssey II, the chill sky of North Europe, and Etrian Odyssey III, the warm southern seas.
Etrian Odyssey Untold
On 25 March, 2013, Komori teased on Twitter a "new experiment" for Etrian Odyssey, and a few days later, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl was announced on Famitsu. This game was a remake of the first Etrian Odyssey, but with a greater emphasis on story, including fully animated story cut-scenes. It introduced a premade party with set characters, a first for the series. Players could still play with a created party with Classic Mode, and there are 3 difficulty levels: Picnic, Normal, and Expert. The game was released in the US on Oct 1, 2013, and on May 12, 2014 in Europe.
On Aug 5, 2014, the remake of the Etrian Odyssey II, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight, was announced. It follows the precedent set by Millennium Girl, with a premade party and more emphasis on story. It also features an upgraded grimoire system, and a restaurant minigame where players gathered ingredients and made food based on recipes found throughout the game. Fafnir Knight was also the first Etrian Odyssey game to feature DLC, with new quests and bosses available to puchase. It was released Nov 27, 2014 in Japan, Aug 4, 2015 in the US, and Feb 12, 2016 in Europe.
Etrian Odyssey was scored and arranged by renowned video game composer Yuzo Koshiro, known for his works in Streets of Rage and ActRaiser. Koshiro was specifically picked by Niinou due to his ability to create nostalgic-sounding music.The first 3 games featured an frequency modulation (FM) synthesized soundtrack, composed via music software Cubase, with sound samples pulled from the PC-88. The soundtrack was mixed with FM sound sources from Cubase, as the PC-88 tunes would sound flat played back on the DS soundchip. The official soundtracks features both versions of all tunes. Etrian Odyssey IV discards the synthesized soundtrack for a fully orchestrated one, as Kanada wanted something new with the change in platform (DS to 3DS). The Untold remakes keep both the original FM music, and provides a new orchestral arrange for both old tracks and new tracks, with the ability to switch on the fly.
The popularity of Etrian Odyssey's soundtrack led to the creation of several arranged albums, both official and fan-made. Atlus has released arranged albums for all the games, featuring Japanese composers like Motoi Sakuraba, Norihiko Hibino, and the music company Basiscape.