I remember my first major ‘Wow!’ moment with gaming was when my brother got a Nintendo DS and he let me play it. I remember the addition of a second screen really blowing my mind. The idea that a single game could be played with a touchable second screen was so futuristic that I couldn’t believe it was real. I wondered if a second screen and incorporating a stylus and touch screen would make it seem like a more sophisticated piece of technology to an older crowd. While I’m sure it might have made people think it was sophisticated and cool, I was mostly interested in what a second screen would do for gaming. As the DS aged, I realized a lot of games used the second screen mainly for menus and not so much for gameplay. My friends and I would play Hide and Seek while communicating via Picto-Chat. You could have a lot of fun with that second screen!
Around this time I had heard about a new RPG on the DS where you were able to draw the map and update the map with the second screen as the game went on. I thought that was such a cool concept, but I never got a chance to play the game. My older brother was obsessed with it though. He’d tell me “you should play Etrian Odyssey!” but I never got around to it. Eight games and sixteen years later, I’ve finally got my hands on this series. While I’m sure Etrian Odyssey thrived on its original hardware, it’s not really a great fit for the Nintendo Switch.
Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection is exactly what it sounds like– a remastered collection of the first three Etrian Odyssey games. A series of first person dungeon crawlers where the story mostly takes a backseat. Each of the characters in your party are entirely up to your design… sort of. You get to pick the class, character portrait (there are 20+ new ones here) and names. If you want your main character to be a lowly farmer focusing on luck, you can do that. You can also play as a hulking defensive spear touting, shield wielding wall of a person in heavy armour. You can also change the position of where these party members are in battle. If they’re up front, they’ll take most of the hits. You typically want the more defensive/melee characters up front. You can place mages, bow wielders, etc in the back. They’re safer there and can provide consistent DPS while they don’t have to worry about taking much damage. Getting to customize your various party members is a cool feature and it allows for replayability. I just personally don’t find the combat very engaging.
Another key aspect of this series I am not super engaged by is the map. If you’re unfamiliar with how the map works in Etrian Odyssey, it’s probably the most iconic aspect of the original release. As you would wander the world of Etrian Odyssey, you would have to update the map as you went, otherwise, good luck getting out. That is still the case. Having that map on the bottom screen with your stylus out was a cool bit of game design. However, there is no second screen on the Nintendo Switch, nor is there a stylus. The solution? A janky and confusing mess of controls and a big fat map covering half of your screen.
I really, really do not like this setup. It’s a garish mess of icons. It’s also very frustrating to scroll the map around while I’ve got a secondary chunk of the screen with icons showing and a whole half of the screen showing gameplay. I found myself constantly halting my gameplay to update the map. There is likely fun to be had here, but I could not find it. I found it akin to doing chores every few minutes and only getting to play after my chores were done. Not my cup of tea.
Having never played any of the games featured in this collection when they released, I don’t have any sort of metric as to how they looked or sounded. I have read that the soundtrack and visuals are all remastered. Atlus did a stupendous job. Easily the best part of Etrian Odyssey is how stunning it looks and sounds. The remastered soundtrack is great, even though it’s typical JRPG fantasy fare. It’s got an undeniable nostalgic sound, and I can’t help but feel very cozy when I hear it. Not only does this remaster sound great, it looks great! The character portraits are so stunning. Each bursts with colour and oozes charisma. While you will never hear these characters speak or see them move, you get the personality from the portraits alone. Imagining these heroes you’ve created going on a journey in an unmapped labyrinth is what makes the games feel special sometimes. The ability to create your own stories and discover things for yourself is a terrific feeling. That is no easy task to nail, but Etrian Odyssey nails that aspect of design. While I may be able to argue the overall enjoyment this series has brought me, I cannot deny its scintillating beauty or its overall sense of adventure.
So where do I stand on Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection?
I can see why there is a large group of people who sees this series as a classic. I’d be curious to see how many of those people played it when it released though. I don’t think many people will become die-hard Etrian Odyssey fans because of this remaster. I’ve heard my older brother sing praises for this series since I was a child. I’ve always wanted to play it myself, but unfortunately, it just isn’t clicking with me. I really like the idea of dwelling in uncharted territory. Look at The Depths in Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The Depths are a completely separate map that exists below Hyrule. You light giant seeds to slowly illuminate the map and the overall pitch black area. You’re never taken out of the game because the discovery happens through gameplay. Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection often feels like a video game for a few minutes and a scheduling/organization app for a few more confusing and frustrating minutes. Etrian Odyssey has charmed the hell out of me, and I’m happy I’ve finally got a chance to give this series a fair shake. Unfortunately, charming doesn’t always equal enjoyable.