Thursday, April 17, 2008

Etrian Odyssey - Reached B5F

This is the second old school-inspired game I've started playing recently. While Shiren was based on Rogue, Etrian Odyssey is based on other original computer RPG - Wizardry.

Wizardry was another of the original computer role-playing games and described a formula that many other early role-playing games would use. It was basically a dungeon crawl - start in a town to procure supplies and equipment and then head down into the dungeon. Each floor of the dungeon has its own unique layout and the deeper you go, the tougher the monsters get. The dungeons are presented to you in a first-person view and you move on a grid - going forward or backward one square with 90 degree turns. This formula inspired many classics like Might and Magic, The Bard's Tale, and Ultima.

One of the key meta-activities these games required was drawing map. Since all the corridors pretty much looked the same in these games, you had to play them with a piece of graph paper next to you, drawing in the walls as you saw them as well as any special features.

Obviously, requiring players to make their own maps, especially with a portable game just wouldn't fly in this day and age. But instead of having the game automatically create the map, the creators of Etrian Odyssey decided to make map-making part of the game. Taking advantage of the DS' touch screen, the game gives you virtual graph paper on the bottom of the screen where you can draw walls, and make notes of stairs, items, and powerful enemies.

This is all pretty awesome. Making the maps is completely easy to do and it feels really satisfying to be the cartographer.

There are two other aspects of this game that are causing me to enjoy it so far.

The first is that it has some great customization for your characters. You start with seven different classes with which to make up your party of five. Each class also has over a dozen skills and you have skill points with which to assign to these skills and configure your characters. These skill points are precious too, as you only get one additional skill point for each level that you gain. It's quite a deep system.

The second aspect is the sense of dread it gives you. In old school RPGs, you knew that if you stumbled into the wrong enemies, your game could be quickly over. You had to carefully preserve your health and resources and be sure to get back to town when injured. This game is a little easier with the standard enemies you can face, but it has special enemies called FOEs that are significantly more powerful than normal enemies you face. Most of the time, the first time you encounter an FOE it will completely own you. You need to serious strategy and strength in order to face an FOE. The thing that makes these super-enemies fair is that you can see them before encountering them and know when to avoid them. But the sense of dread when you know one is near and are low in resources and then it starts chasing you is great.

1 comment:

Jenn said...

I'm not familiar with Wizardry, but I sure do love cartography.

I never picked up Etrian Odyssey, but I totally intended to -- I'm a big Atlus fan, here. Sounds like I need to go hunt this one down.