Into The Labyrinth
May 15, 2008 – For gamers whose eyes grow misty with nostalgia at the sound of rolling dodecahedrons or the sight of graph paper, last year’s Etrian Odyssey provided a blissful cornucopia of dungeon crawling and monster slaying fantasy exploration in the Yggdrasil Labyrinth. The game’s retro appeal made it instantly familiar to players who grew up with the likes of Wizardy, Bard’s Tale, and other classics, but it was not without its faults. That’s why Atlus has set out to trim the fat and make the second installment a lean, mean RPG machine.
At a quick glance, some might say Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard looks a little too much like its predecessor. Indeed, the sequel will be building on the solid foundation already laid out in the extremely niche RPG without changing much of what made the first game so enjoyable. It won’t be making enormous leaps in the series’ formula, but it seeks to refine various aspect of the original gameplay that dragged the initial experience down while adding in some new features fans are bound to enjoy.
In Etrian Odyssey, players were tasked with forming a guild of able warriors and exploring the perilous depths of the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city of Etria. Heroes of Lagaard has basically the same concept only your party will be ascending through the treetops in a different locale in search of a floating castle that holds the key to an ancient civilization. The dungeon environments will appear similar to those in the first game, but there’s new dangers lurking around every corner and fresh rewards waiting for those who’re steadfast in their resolve.
A good deal of enjoyment in the first game was derived from plodding through dungeons and mapping every nook and cranny with the touch screen. Heroes of Lagaard retains that guilty pleasure and upgrades the experience for ease of use with additional icons, different draw colors, and other small touches. Movement through the dungeon will also be slightly easier with the inclusion of a side-step control option, and regular warp points in each level of a stratum will cut down on the tedious backtracking that hampered the play experience in the original. Just because navigating will be less cumbersome doesn’t mean players will have an easy time surviving the expanded bestiary that roams the wooded corridors in search of adventures to feast on. Be afraid.
The massive, fear inspiring FOEs will be making a return in even deadlier form. As hulking beasts that appeared on the map as swirling orbs of fiery chaos, the original FOEs in Etria were capable of single-handedly leveling an entire party of well-equipped warriors. This time they’ll appear more frequently and as a broader variety of slathering creatures. To make matters worse, some will disappear from the map altogether or travel through solid surfaces as they shamble forward to attack.
Fortunately, players will have some new options for outfitting their five-member party. All the previous classes will be available from the start, but their ability rosters have been greatly adjusted by removing some and adding in others to provide better balance. Three new classes will complement the existing ones and offer players some variety in stocking their guild. The War Magus combines swordsmanship and warrior traits with healing and offensive magic, making them versatile additions to the front line. The Gunner class specializes in long-range attacks that can inflict status ailments on the enemy or grant bonuses on allies. The Beast class (available in grizzly, panda, tiger, and wolf forms) is perhaps the most unique addition to the ranks. Beasts will automatically dive in front of incoming attacks to soak up damage, but they also can dish out some hefty damage in combat. They can also take a nap in mid-battle to heal their injuries or lick the party’s wounds to repair the whole group.
The Boost system – featuring a meter that took way too long to fill only to bestow a temporary bonus to a single character – is thankfully getting a complete overhaul for Heroes of Lagaard. Players will accrue energy which can be used to purchase force skills that provide unique and powerful abilities for each class. The tweaked skill set will be a welcome power-up when facing some of the game’s more rigorous challenges.
Most of the major changes found in Heroes of Lagaard come in the form of adjustments designed to improve the overall play experience. There’s no reason to mess drastically with a good thing, since the first game was fairly well received among the particular niche of gamers it’s aimed at. Those who didn’t get their fill the first time around are in for another protracted and enticing cartographical battle-romp through the maze-like forest dungeons of Lagaard. Will the game’s new additions mark a decided improvement or will the changes not be enough to sway more than the hardcore crowd? Next month players will be able to suit-up and trek into the labyrinth to find out for themselves.