Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection Review
It's already been nearly five years since Atlus teased the "next stage" of Etrian Odyssey around the release of Etrian Odyssey Nexus — which currently still stands as the final game in the series. Since then, we haven't heard much at all from the dungeon-crawling RPG franchise, and fans have been holding onto a fleeting promise that a new entry would materialize sooner or later. With the impending release of the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection, not only do longtime series fans once again have hope that Atlus will continue on with Etrian Odyssey, but new players also have a convenient place to jump in for the first time.
Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection is a trilogy pack of remasters for the first three Etrian Odyssey games, which originally released between 2008 and 2010 on the Nintendo DS. Note that this collection is indeed based on the original games, not the Nintendo 3DS remakes in The Millenium Girl and The Fafnir Knight. Personally, I think this was the correct decision, as the original games felt like classic PC dungeon crawlers to begin with — just on DS at the time —and now the trio actually makes their way to PC, well suited for the platform. I'm also just a grognard for the classics anyway.
The Origins Collection is available for both Nintendo Switch & PC, and I played the PC version for review. Given that the games were originally created with a dual-screen setup, they featured the player's first-person viewpoint for exploration & battle on the top screen, with the drawable map placed on the bottom touchscreen. With only one screen available now, concessions had to be made in how the game was displayed. How it works now is, essentially, you can press a toggle to pull up the map on the right side of the game interface, while your exploration perspective sits on the left.
I personally ended up playing the game with the map more-or-less permanently fixed on the right side of the screen. You can toggle the map to shrink to a mini-map, giving you more visual real estate of your first-person perspective of the dungeon itself, but I felt you spend so much time looking at the full map anyways, that the minimap option is never nearly as useful. On a 4K PC monitor, I was perfectly comfortable with this screen setup, although I cannot speak to how this may feel on the Switch in handheld mode, or on a portable device like the Steam Deck.
One of the key gameplay components in the Etrian Odyssey series is how you draw your own map, which was done on the lower touchscreen on the Nintendo DS and 3DS. Obviously, this is no longer an option on PC, so map drawing is now done when you have the map pulled up to the right. There are controller inputs available for the map drawing features, but I found them too unwieldy to use. Perhaps they work well once you get used to them, but I opted to simply use the mouse cursor to draw the maps and place icons, which works very similarly to the original Etrian Odyssey touch interface. Of course, the mouse cursor option won't work if you were hoping to sit back on a couch to play.
There is also an automapping feature new to these games, which will at least draw about 90% of the map for you as you trek through the Yggdrasil labyrinth. You just may need to pop icons on the map here or there for stairs, chests, etc.
I simply swapped from using a controller to navigate the menus and dungeons, while grabbing the mouse cursor nearby when I needed to draw maps, and that worked well enough for me. There are also full keyboard and mouse controls available for those who want to play the entire game that way, and in my experience, this works quite well. You can even use a mouse cursor alone to play the entirety of the game, although I feel this is somewhat sluggish, though nice for accessibility.
Taking a game from a 256×192 DS screen resolution to widescreen high definition is no easy feat. Not only do all the character art, background art, and dungeon aesthetics need to be upgraded, but also the game's user interface is overhauled as well to fit a new aspect ratio. Some UI elements have also now been made uniform across the three games, such as the class skill trees. For the most part, the work done here is admirable. Character portraits look quite nice on a 4K monitor, and I think various background art in shops is well done, considering much of this was obscured by the UI in the original release. Anti-aliasing functionality in the PC version also helps, of course, removing some edge artifacts. The dungeon aesthetics themselves are colorful, though visual fidelity is not necessarily Etrian Odyssey's strong suit.
However, there are a few font issues that take a little getting used to. Namely, the fonts seem a little bit mismatched, with the character name font at the bottom of the screen being especially offputting. I'm sure on PC that font mods will arise for people looking to customize their own tastes. Font weirdness is honestly one of the bigger problems with the remaster; not significant enough to disregard it entirely, but it still takes just a little getting used to, at least.
One especially notable new component is that, while not remixed entirely, all the synth FM music in the Origins Collection has been remastered by original composer and living legend Yuzo Koshiro himself using a PC88 (YM2608A) sound source. I'm certainly no sound expert to tell you exactly how this is different from the original implementation on DS, but I adore the FM synth style, and the music in this remaster is excellent overall. The music is clean, punchy, and there are a few tracks that I greatly prefer with the tuned-up sound.
Etrian Odyssey has just about everything you'd want from a dungeon-crawling RPG: flexible class and party-building, tough bosses, good art & music, labyrinthian dungeons, and a lot of loot. Personally, my favorite in this set is Etrian Odyssey III, which I think still has the pinnacle art design for the series, fun dungeon gimmicks, plus the addition of subclasses greatly expands player options in building their team, even if it means it's easier to break the game's difficulty curve. Etrian Odyssey II is probably my least favorite of the three, mostly due to its tedious sidequests. It still has excellent music though.
Etrian Odyssey has never been highly focused on narrative elements, outside of the 3DS remakes. Even so, the stories in these three games are present enough and compelling enough in their simplicity. EO3 has the most outward narrative of the trio, for those who need a bit more of a narrative hook to attach to an RPG. Just be aware that dungeon crawling and round-based battles are at the forefront here.
Besides the visual facelift for this remaster, which is considerable, the most significant other addition to the Origins Collection is probably the additional difficulty modes. The original games were actually quite challenging, especially the original Etrian Odyssey and Etrian Odyssey II. According to Atlus, this original difficulty has now been labeled the "Expert" mode, with Basic and Picnic modes being added, and both being easier. These are welcome additions of course, making Etrian Odyssey more palatable to those outside of the diehard dungeon crawler fanbase that relishes challenging battles, Other additions include an automapping feature to have the dungeon map made mostly for you as you move, plus more save slots and some new portrait options. The games move faster overall, too, which is pleasant.
I usually don't place too much consideration on a game's pricepoint in a review. In fact, I've written nearly 100 reviews on RPG Site, and I'm not certain I've ever specifically mentioned price before, because value-for-cost is an extremely subjective component that every individual weighs differently. But the price of the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection caught my attention, and not necessarily in a favorable way. Each of the three titles is priced at $40 individually, with the collection priced at $80 (meaning a notable discount when bought as a trilogy pack). It's also worth noting the western release of these games is digital-only, although a physical English edition is available in Asian regions.
I don't want to diminish the hard work that went into remastering these three games and the costs required for that, but this price feels like a potential misfire. Diehard fans, like me, may not mind the price so much since we already know we like these games, but I imagine $40 or more is a hard barrier of entry for someone unfamiliar with the series who may not know if they will enjoy the games or not, also knowing they are more than 10 years old. It's also just strange to me that, released by the same company, you can purchase modernized versions of both Persona 3 and Persona 4 for the price of a single Etrian Odyssey title.
As for the PC version itself, for a dungeon crawler, you don't need numerous graphical options, but there are a handful of nice selections to make. The game supports resolutions of at least up to 4K, as well as high framerates above 120fps, which makes navigating the game's dungeons and menus exceptionally snappy. There are anti-aliasing and VSync options, as well as a borderless mode, and that's about it. This is a low-intensity game that should run fine on lower-powered machines and laptops.
Etrian Odyssey is an excellent dungeon-crawling RPG series, and the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection is commendable. Besides an eyebrow-raising pricepoint, some minor font weirdness, and getting used to a single-screen interface, this collection is an impressive remaster that the series deserves. Now let's hope the wait for Etrian Odyssey VI isn't too long.