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DS  header logo

Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard

For: DS

Tough love

Product: Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard | Publisher: Atlus | Format: DS | Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Version: US
Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard DS, thumbnail 1
It's said that adversity makes us stronger. Still another platitude assures us that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. After many hours' worth of play on Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard this writer has experienced plenty of adversity and is still very much alive. How do I feel? Absolutely battered.

Owing much in spirit to a time when games made up for a lack of sophistication and technical flair with sheer bloody minded difficulty, Atlus' latest dungeon crawling RPG will have you both tearing your hair out and nodding in appreciation – often within minutes of each other.

Starting the game with few preconceptions (having never played the original), I sat admiring the quaint storybook styling of the opening scene setter. Suffice to say it's something to do with floating castles and a mysterious labyrinth. Everything seemed set for a typically charming and non-taxing modern Japanese RPG.

After creating a party of five from scratch (no pre-written generic amnesiac teens here) with a decent range of ranged attackers, healing magicians and burly front-line grunts to choose from, you set off into the labyrinth that forms the core of the game.

Viewed from a first-person perspective, you move your party around a grid-based maze, tackling monsters in turn-based combat and exploring every nook and cranny for treasure. The goal is to find the stairway on each level leading up to the next, where the monsters are tougher and the rewards greater. Back at the main town of Legaard (to which you constantly return) you acquire tasks from the resident Duke and the local pub, each of which requires you to head out into the labyrinth and fulfill certain criteria.

You may find yourself collecting materials for the local shop so that they can make a particular type of weapon, or perhaps delivering supplies to guild members scattered throughout one of the floors. These tasks are tough from the start, mainly due to the difficulty in simply making it through the levels in one piece.

My first encounter with one of myriad wandering mega-beasts came within an hour of play and resulted in the swift annihilation of my entire party. It wasn't until I'd endured several hours' worth of grinding and levelling up that I was able to (narrowly) defeat the beast and claim my meager reward.

Indeed, the game seemed to me at times like an overly exacting parent, afraid to reward their child too generously for fear of spoiling them. It's in little design decisions like the inn, where you go to recuperate and save your progress. Returning to it following an exhausting string of fights with a freshly levelled up party, you'll find that the price of a room has shot up by 5en (the in game currency).

Or in the game's tendency to unlock whole batches of improved weaponry and armour at the shop, only to require that you work like a dog to scrape together enough funds for a single item.

So, yes, the game is hard going, and the impression you have gained so far is probably a fairly negative one. But the reason I've laid it on so early in the review is to try and reach the people that
Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard is undoubtedly aimed at. If you're still reading this review undeterred, this game may well be for you.

You see, although I found myself screaming in exasperation and sobbing into my hands at the unfairness of it all, I kept on playing. Of course, it's my job to do so, but I actually wanted to persevere with it. Like all classic RPGs, the blend of gradual, hard won progression and character development is remarkably compelling. When you defeat that first boss monster you won't care too much about the disproportionate reward, you'll just feel immensely proud of yourself.

Then, of course, there's the game's unique selling point – cartography. At any point in the game, even in shop menu screens or in the middle of a heated battle, you can access a map screen and fill in the details of your surroundings using the stylus. This feature is permanently assigned to the lower screen, along with a range of tools with which to mark and annotate it. It works marvelously and really adds to the feeling of adventure and exploration.

As touched upon earlier, it's also a very well presented game, with detailed 2D characters and lush (if samey) 3D foliage throughout the labyrinth. There are several memorable tunes, too, although they, like the graphics, can become a little repetitious after a while.

Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard could do with embracing a few more modern gaming concessions and could definitely ease up a little on its players without fear of compromising any of its intensity. It is a niche game in every sense of the word, and will prove a total turn-off for anyone expecting another Zelda. But then games like this just aren't made all that much anymore and should be savoured.

If you're up to the challenge, that is.
Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard
Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 23 June 2008
Infuriating and compelling in equal measures, this is the very definition of niche gaming
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