Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard

When Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey for the Nintendo DS saw its North American release, most gamers found it to be a throwback to old-school role-playing games, given a fully-customizable party, first-person dungeon exploration, and sometimes-punishing difficulty. Given its success, it was only natural that a sequel would see its release soon afterward, entitled Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard, which builds upon its predecessor’s mechanisms, for the most part a good thing.

Upon starting a new game, players can use a long password acquired from completing the first game to obtain a special accessory and references to the previous game, although these are hardly necessary to make it through the sequel. Before entering the labyrinth towering above the main town, the player must create a party consisting of five characters of diverse classes, with some new selections in the sequel such as the Gunner and War Magus. Before choosing a party, it’s a good idea to give their skill sets a once-over to ensure that whatever party the player selects can work in harmony.

Battles in the labyrinth are randomly-encountered, with an indicator gradually turning red to indicate how close the player is to encountering enemies, a feature that, like in the first game, alleviates the typical tension associated with random encounters. Fights themselves follow the traditional turn-based formula of inputting commands for the player’s party and letting them and the enemy beat up one another in a round, with agility likely determining turn order, although it is still inconsistent at some points, occasionally leading to instances where, for instance, the player may command a character to use a healing item or spell on a character near death, only for the enemies to kill the weakened character before the healing occurs.

The player puts their characters into a formation consisting of a front and back row, with each able to hold up to three characters, with characters in the front row dealing and taking more damage, and back row characters taking and dealing less damage. Commands include attacking with an equipped weapon, defending, using items, attempting to escape (with up to five opportunities and an increased chance of success with a certain skill all characters have), changing the front and back row formation (if all characters in the front row die, the back and front rows will switch), or using a unique Force skill when a character’s Force points are maxed out, a rare opportunity against tough bosses since they can easily slaughter the player’s characters, and death, not to mention sleeping at the inn in town, resetting Force points to zero.

Defeating all enemies results in the player acquiring experience for all participating characters, not to mention monster parts that the player can sell at the shop in town for money (since monsters don’t actually drop money themselves). Sold parts gradually unlock more powerful equipment with which the player can outfit their party, not to mention consumable items. In some cases, equipment and consumables are of limited stock, in which case the player must acquire parts from monsters to unlock the equipment and items again for purchase. Death in battle results in a Game Over screen and the opportunity to save the created map so that the player doesn’t have to redraw it.

Leveling results in the player acquiring a skill point they can invest in a character class’s various skills, with many powerful skills requiring weaker skills to have a certain number of points before the player unlocks them. Bosses end each Stratum, and are typically daunting, requiring a few tries to defeat in some cases, although sometimes, binding their head, arms, and/or legs with special binding skills can disable some of their nastier attacks, providing occasional opportunities where the player can freely wail on the boss while the boss occasionally pisses away turns trying to use a disabled skill. In the end, the game mechanics, in spite of the daunting difficulty at times, helps the game more than hurts.

The interface is largely the same as it was in the first game, with a linear structure and a hub town where the player can perform various tasks such as buying new items and equipment, recovering health, and so forth, with some improvements such as the ability to see how equipment increases and/or decreases stats before purchasing it while shopping. There’s also a heavy amount of cartography via the DS’s touchscreen that may turn some players off, although there are some improvements in dungeon navigation such as magnetic poles every couple of floors to provide shortcuts to said floors without having to traverse the previous few floors over and over. In the end, interaction is well above average.

Like the first game, the sequel is somewhat light on story, what with a noticeable lack of character development for the player’s party, typical in titles with fully-customizable allies, and doesn’t really pick up until near the end of the game. The translation, however, is largely flawless, as one would expect from Atlus.

Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack, like in the first game, is one of its high points, with plenty of catchy, memorable tracks for each Stratum and battles, with the main battle theme changing midway through the game. Sound effects could have used more diversity at times, however, but otherwise, the sequel is definitely easy on the ears, and enjoyable, to boot.

The sequel uses more or less the same visual style as its predecessor, relying on anime character portraits for the player’s characters, people in town, and occasional people in the labyrinth, with three-dimensional dungeon visuals that look nice, and while the monster designs in battle look nice, they’re still inanimate, making the combat graphics feel somewhat dated. Still, the game is far from bad-looking.

Finally, the sequel is fairly long, with lucky players able to finish it in a little over fifty hours, although playing time can be much longer, given an extra Stratum after completing the main game, and plenty of sidequests such as Quests from the bar and monster, item, and monster part compendia. Ultimately, Etrian Odyssey II is a solid sequel that successfully builds upon its predecessor in most aspects such as the game mechanics, cartography, and sound, although there are some areas that leave room for improvement such as the story and graphics. Nonetheless, those who enjoyed the first game will most likely enjoy the second, as long as they’re up to the challenge.

The Good:
+Solid game mechanics.
+Large labyrinth to explore.
+Excellent soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Some bosses are punishing.
-Story doesn’t pick up until late in the game.
-Graphics are somewhat dated.

The Bottom Line:
A solid sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 6/10
Localization: 10/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 50-100 Hours

Overall: 8/10

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