Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight review: bread and butter

Game Info
Platform 3DS
Publisher Atlus
Developer Atlus
Release Date Aug 4, 2015

Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold adds just a few new ingredients to the series, but you might be surprised just how much flavor it gains from them.

2013's Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl recreated the first game in the series, focusing on the addition of elements that felt unnecessary. The deeper plot with defined player characters never grew past some boring cliches, and the increased character customization felt more sloppy and confusing than anything else.

Both of these elements return in Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight, but they're better developed and don't get in the way of what's always been great about the series. More impressively, The Fafnir Knight brings a new system to the series that feels absolutely essential. With tweaks that are welcoming to new players and longtime fans alike, this quickly proves itself as the best introduction to Atlus' notoriously challenging series so far.

Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold relies on its characters to find some much-needed light
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I worried in Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold's first few hours that it would fall into the same traps as the previous Untold. It begins with an almost excessive amount of dialogue, its story an exercise in cliche: Arianna is a princess of a distant kingdom who has journeyed to the city of High Lagaard. Her goal is to perform a ceremony that's said to protect the land from great evil. To complete the ceremony, she needs support from the player-named main character, his childhood buddy Flavio and a couple other party members encountered along the way.

It's pretty generic anime stuff, in other words, and it doesn't get much better as the heroes discover a long-buried ancient evil that just happens to be tied in directly to the main character's destiny.

But where the last Untold dug its hole deeper toward mediocrity with its characters, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold relies on them to find some much-needed light. Arianna and Flavio are anime trope standbys, but Bertrand and Chloe, the duo who fill out your five-person party a few hours into the game, are two of the most interesting and likable characters in a Japanese role-playing game in years.

At first Chloe and Bertrand seem cold, distant and frankly a little boring, but that's a hidden strength of the game's writing. They reveal their personalities over the course of hours of adventuring. As they warmed to the main character, I felt like I was getting to know them in the way that I'd get to know a friend while on a weeks-long road trip; each brief conversation in the inn at night or each reaction to a decision I made in the wild peeled back another layer of their personalities.

Bertrand, for example, has a very hesitant approach to battle, which makes his combat role as the tank character all the more surprising. He presents himself as a guardian for Chloe, and in fact his class is literally "Protector," yet his main goal is often avoiding combat. He feels like the opposite of the stereotypical older male guardian figure. Initially, this put me off; I viewed him as lazy, possibly even untrustworthy. It wasn't until I was over 10 hours into Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold that I started to understand the truth: Bertrand's aggressive stance toward avoiding confrontation is specifically because he's trying to keep Chloe safe. He's neither an overeager fighter nor a stoic warrior; he's a quiet, but good-natured old man who frets over any situation that's going to put his ward in danger.

Etrian Odyssey Untold 2: The Fafnir Knight review:

That ward deserves her own praise as well. From her stylish witch hat to her straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is demeanor, Chloe at first comes across as a bratty little kid. The more time I spent with her, the more I realized that her personality is much deeper than that. She never holds back from sharing what she's thinking, which can often be jarring. But over time, it becomes endearing, especially as she grows to respect the main character. Where Flavio and Arianna might hedge their emotions and choose their reactions carefully, I could always depend on Chloe to tell me what she actually thought.

That's a lot of ink to devote to the party members in an RPG, but I cannot emphasize enough how much these two characters add to Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold. If the original game had the same main narrative but party members this interesting to be around, I almost certainly would have enjoyed myself much more. Even across the genre as a whole, Chloe and Bertrand are memorable in a way that few RPG characters ever achieve.

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Chloe and Bertrand are memorable in a way that few RPG characters ever achieve

Chloe is also obsessed with eating, an anime trope that may have caused me to roll my eyes normally. But this personality quirk actually play into The Fafnir Knight's biggest addition to the Etrian Odyssey series. These games have always allowed you to sell the items you collect off of monsters in dungeon runs, which can then be crafted into better armor and weapons. But now enemies also drop food ingredients, which can be delivered to a restaurant in town and used in a new, surprisingly deep cooking system.

Here's how cooking works in Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The chef who runs the restaurant provides you with recipes describing the dish in question. Based on clues from those descriptions, you choose which foods to offer her. Pick the right ingredients, and you unlock a new dish, which can be cooked up at any time and consumed before you enter the dungeon for extra buffs such as healing between battles, a higher drop rate for items and more.

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This cooking system is especially notable for how it expands The Fafnir Knight's options without distracting from the heart of the game. As with every Etrian Odyssey game before it, most of 2 Untold's time is taken up by old-school, first-person dungeon crawling and tense turn-based combat. It's a series that's unabashedly difficult and marketed to hardcore RPG fans. But the buffs provided by cooking serve both those longtime niche fans and a slightly wider audience that may be intimidated by the challenging gameplay. The tiny bonuses that food provides are never going to make or break any one expedition, but they provide a slightly bigger cushion than the series previously has.

Or, if you're not interested in making things easier, you can always devour dishes that increase the encounter rate or remove the ability for your party to preemptively attack enemies. Like much of Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold, the cooking system plays well to audiences across a range of comfort and interest levels in the series.

Oh, and apropos of nothing, a dozen or so hours into the game, the restaurant expands to include a miniature town-building sim. You pour money into renovating different parts of High Lagaard, then choose which dishes to advertise in which parts of the city and rake in profits from the citizens who come to try out the recipes you helped perfect. Like the cooking system itself, this is a bizarre, unexpected addition to the Etrian Odyssey series that just happens to work perfectly. It's deep enough to feel meaningful, and it provides an easy path to more cash and a nice distraction between dungeon runs. But it's also not required, a side system that you can safely ignore altogether if you're not feeling it.

Wrap Up:

Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold gets the series back on track and builds on its strengths

Just two years ago, I was worried that the Etrian Odyssey series may lose itself in trying to be something that it's not. Now, with its sixth game, it's re-established an identity. Where the first Untold spinoff felt like a step backward for the franchise, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight stands with the series' best, building on Etrian Odyssey's strengths and fixing weaknesses it's never shown an interest in addressing before.

Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight was reviewed using a final Nintendo 3DS download code provided by Atlus. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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