Review: Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection puts a trio of classic RPGs back on the map

Etrian Odyssey has been a mainstay of many hardcore DS and 3DS fan’s libraries for years at this point. These games are the closest thing to an old school RPG in the way that they basically let you freely get into as much trouble as you want when putting together a capable – or sometimes hilarious incapable – group of plucky heroes with the simple at first mission of exploring a labyrinth.

Game in game out, Etrian Odyssey’s goal has been to offer up a vastly open gameplay concept wrapped around the many subsystems expected from an RPG, like leveling up and spending skill points, buying and upgrading equipment, picking up quests and fulfilling them while out adventuring, the works. 

But the thing that makes these games so unique is how you actually partake in the exploring part of the equation. In all entries of the series, and even in its offshoot, the two Persona Q games, you are required to map out each level of the dungeon you happen to be in at the moment. In the old days, while playing a game such as Metroid on NES, if you wanted a map, you could very well get a piece of graph paper and draw it on your own; that’s basically the gist of an Etrian Odyssey, but digitally.

Back when they were portable games, the drawing part was done via either the DS or 3DS touch screens, where you could pretty much map out the game any way you wanted to, as long as it was a precise representation of the place you were spelunking in. By freely I mean you could use any manner of symbols you wanted to represent doors, traps, special items, particularly stronger enemies – also known in-game as FOEs, short for Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens, a fancy way of saying “stay away from this guy if you know what’s good for you” – and such. 

etrian odyssey origins collection, atlus, rpg, map making
Every single piece of art has been improved and brought to HD quality, including the oh so dangerous enemies.

As long as the floor was drawn in, you were good. And in later games, even that part could be handled automatically, so for as demanding as these might sound because of their need to represent the map manually, they were anything but, at least in that regard. The real challenge of Etrian Odyssey as a whole, most definitely is getting a good party put together. Like the first few Final Fantasy, you can have a group exclusively composed of healers and still be able to play, but progress, oh, that would be a whole other matter.

Enemies in this series, even the weakest of the weak, do not pull any punches whatsoever. They’re more than happy to wipe out your party in a few hits if you haphazardly waddle into their way unprepared. Then again, Etrian Odyssey isn’t particularly punishing about that either, since any time you manage to get your party demolished, you can pick up from where you left off, only having to pay the cost of reviving all of your friends before you are off and back to the grind.

Every other quirk of an older styled RPG is present in any Etrian Odyssey you might happen to pick up, so be well warned that grinding and farming are a reality for players wanting to dive into these games. But even these repetitive tasks are made somewhat easier by auto battle features that are available, which softens the tediousness somewhat and has your back for when the good stuff is ahead of you in the form of new bosses to face off against, or the next floor and strata in the labyrinth.

You may have noticed the overall generalized tone I’ve been using in this review about the games in the series as a whole. That’s because the main “thing” for Etrian Odyssey remains basically the same throughout the many entries that it has. While that might come off as a negative point for the franchise, it’s most certainly not the case. For Etrian Odyssey, that means consistency. If you’ve played one, you’ll know at least what to expect during the initial-to-mid bits of your adventure, and that’s most welcome when it comes to an otherwise older school of design that these games are based upon.

etrian odyssey origins collection, atlus, rpg, map making
Be sure to have a varied party class-wise if you wish to do well in the game. Or not. It’s your choice!

The general difficulty that serves as a barrier of entry to the first two Etrian Odyssey titles was somewhat alleviated when the Untold re-releases – or better put, remakes, considering the extensive improvements made, especially to the first Etrian Odyssey – were made available on 3DS. The many bugs that were present in EO1 were dealt with and huge swaths of its maps were repurposed and rearranged, for instance. With EO2, a similar amount of reworks were also applied to its Untold version.

Sadly, for the Switch remaster of the first two games, all of what was done for the Untold remakes was brushed aside, only the bug fixes in the original remaining. That isn’t that big of a deal all things considered if you take into account the historical value of having the closest to the original takes as possible while at the same time fixing some of their programming issues, now in HD. 

On the other end of the stick, it’s a bit annoying not being able to have the option to enjoy the niceties brought in by Atlus’ very own rework of these games, thus making Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection the de facto way of enjoying the series’ first two entries, as well as Etrian Odyssey III, which up to this point has been a DS-exclusive title.

There are still some touch controls if you choose to do all of your mapping with a stylus or your finger via the Switch touch screen, but due to that system not having a second screen, the map is instead relegated to the top left corner of the main display. You can then choose to zoom into it and do your doodling directly, or learn to deal with the less than intuitive button controls which make use of the analog sticks and triggers in combination in order for you to control the drawing cursor and get your maps done that way. 

etrian odyssey origins collection, atlus, rpg, map making
The game’s map controls are a little hard to get used to on a controller, but they get the job done.

It takes some time getting used to the button controls, but it’s very well possible to get them down, and for those playing this collection don’t want to have rely on touch controls for whatever reason, it’s something they’re just gonna have to live with. I honestly don’t know how I would do it better than what was done here, other than having the entire map drawing part of the game be completely automated, which in part is already an option down in the main menu, but that would sort of defeat the purpose of Etrian Odyssey and its unique map mechanic, now wouldn’t it? 

If you are new to Etrian Odyssey and don’t want to have to go through the motions of dredging through online marketplace listings for overpriced used copies of these games, then this compilation does an adequate enough job of offering an avenue for playing these as close to as legally possible in the highest resolution yet available. 

I for one have been loving the chance to revisit these as someone who did not invest in the already mentioned remakes of EO1 and EO2. The versions within this collection are exactly as I remembered them, with a generous dose of rose-colored nostalgia, knowing the number of fixes that have gone on under the hood of these games. Yeah, it’s still not the ideal way many would like to have the collection done, but it’s what we have, and in a way, it remains a really sweet package, all things considered.

etrian odyssey origins collection, atlus, rpg, map making
Watch out for them and try to be prepared for when you encounter beasts such as this.

And hopefully, if Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection sells well, we might even get another one containing the rest of the entries, spanning the 3DS games which are by far the best ones in the series, with Etrian Odyssey IV standing high and above my top RPGs for that particular console, with V trailing closely behind it, no doubt. We can only hope so, anyway. 

As it stands, this collection is well worth picking up if not only for the convenience of having this amazing little trio of RPGs at hand and portably, but for the already mentioned historical significance and not letting them be tied down by console exclusivity and the used retro market which we all know has been escalating prices non-stop for a long while, showing no signs of stopping.   

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