Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection Review
Some games were just meant for the Nintendo DS. The dual screens and the touch controls were the perfect canvas for all sorts of RPGs. I honestly thought the Etrian Odyssey series would never work on a different platform. But I’m always happy to be proven wrong. Between the portability and the robust touch screen, the Etrian games work wonderfully on the Nintendo Switch. Better yet, these games still hold up over a decade later. Making your own map? Still totally rules, I’m happy to report.
Every game tasks you with exploring a massive labyrinth. You’ve got to recruit your party, gather supplies, and keep your wits about you. I forgot how cavalier these games are about uhhhh, killing you. Once you get past the first floor, it’s open season, baby! Just don’t forget your Ariadne threads (escape ropes) and you’ll be fine. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you get mashed into paste by your first F.O.E, you’ve got to start drawing that map. This was the first major hurdle for these ports to overcome, and they mostly cleared it.
New Realms of Map-Making
You’ve got two options for map-making: touch controls, and controller inputs. Touch controls are the clear winner, but they’re only available in handheld mode. You can just draw the lines with your finger or a stylus, and switching tools is intuitive and fast. You can drag the map icons into place, and move them around just as easily. Meanwhile, controller inputs were a lot harder for me to learn.
The process isn’t impossible or anything. You use the right stick (not the left!) to select your tool, then hit one of the triggers. Then it’s the LEFT stick to maneuver until you get to the right spot. Then you hold the trigger while moving the left stick over the desired area. After that, you hit the B button to back out and you’re done! Unless you made a mistake. See? Easy.
I know I made that sound like absolute torture. But I promise it’s only sort of awful, and only at first. I did eventually get the hang of it! You’ve got to make a bargain of sorts. Playing on the big screen is way more comfortable, but it means more difficult map-making. Handheld mode means easier maps and playing with joy-cons. I highly recommend playing both ways for a while, to see which one treats you best. Again, drawing your own map is totally awesome, regardless of how you’re doing it.
Flexible Control Options
One thing I’d forgotten about was the music. The soundtrack is a real mixed bag of sonic delights and total bummers. I appreciate the battle tracks, but some of the dungeon music is downright bleak. I normally throw on podcasts or Spotify while I’m level grinding, but it feels extra necessary here.
As a brief aside, the Etrian Odyssey series makes level grinding an almost meditative experience. You get locked in a loop of exploration, cartography, combat, and commerce. Which I love, but also! These games are crazy hard. You can’t space out too much, or you’ll get laid flat by an ambush. You have to walk this delicate line between pleasant escapism and strategic micro management. Assigning skill points is a game unto itself, so much so that the guides online become indispensable.
I start every Etrian Odyssey game the same way. I’m fully confident I can suss out the skill point strategy, the one that will carry me to the end. I get to the first stratum boss. Said boss cleans my clock and steals my lunch money. I turn, hat in hand, to the FAQs. Depending on what kind of RPG gamer you are, this either sounds like paradise or endless punishment. For me it’s a heady blend of both.
Still Tough As Nails
If you’re a returning player, you should know there have been some updates. I’ve discovered several essential fixes so far, all of them badly needed. For example, the ability to browse through the upgrade descriptions of a particular skill. This way, you know how expensive it’s going to get. You can also determine how powerful it’ll be (to an extent) at max level. Also? More efficient item selling. Given how often you’ve got to empty out your inventory, this one is a real blessing. These seem like tiny fixes, but they make a big difference in your gameplay.
Improvements to this series are granular and iterative. This is the same core game, steadily perfected from title to title. So what’s the appeal of playing the first one, when the third one is available? There’s two reasons. One, the first game has an undeniable charm that keeps me coming back. And two, successive Etrian Odyssey games are designed with the assumption that you’ve been keeping up with the series. They get steadily more complex, in other words. You still get tutorial levels, but you also get tougher games. It turns out when these devs get creative, it’s the players who suffer. But in a fun way, I promise!
I love these RPGs. I’m psyched that they’ve come to the Nintendo Switch, and I’m overjoyed that they’ve been improved upon. But still, I recognize that these are difficult, imposing, extremely retro games. To say they’re not for everybody is a slight understatement. Even so, if you’ve always wanted to check out the Etrian Odyssey franchise, this is a perfect opportunity. With a little patience, and an open mind, you might find your new favorite series.
***A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher***
- Touch controls on the Switch
- Lots of little fixes
- Gameplay holds up well
- Controller cartography is brutal
- Games still super hard
- Music is a mixed bag