Review – Etrian Odyssey II HD

The gut reaction from any executive or producer with a successful product is to try and create a follow up to equal the success. Be it a movie, a book, a game or a song, someone in a suit is going to lean in and insist that we can capture lightning in a bottle twice. Sometimes it works fantastically: Pokémon Gold and Silver is a massive improvement over everything that was made in Red and Blue, and whatever comes after that is subjective at best. Sometimes, though, it can lead to some truly bizarre choices, both good and bad. Super Mario Bros. 2 is an overly complex platformer for its time and led the US publisher to go a different route and just re-skin Doki Doki Panic, which was a choice unto itself. Retreading the same content doesn’t always work out.

But Atlus wasn’t totally sure what to do with their follow up to Etrian Odyssey, which was a modest success and seemed to demand a sequel. The storyline in the first game was all tied up, and you couldn’t just come back and pretend everyone didn’t know the weird twist ending. Therefore, with Etrian Odyssey II, these mad thinkers realized the only way up was down, or, rather, that down was up. Taking the entire concept of the first game and almost literally turning it on its head, players now head into a dungeon that tunnels ever upward, winding through a mysterious labyrinth within the Yggdrasil towards a floating castle. There’s a mythical Grail that players must ultimately find, a concept never before used in any form of storytelling. Make a party, buy some gear, and head on in. It’s just that straightforward.

Etrian Odyssey II HD High Lagaard

The truth is we had to change the wording so Studio Ghibli didn’t sue our asses.

In spite of being able to bring over my party from Etrian Odyssey I, I opted to begin anew to truly get a “fresh start” feeling, which seems almost encouraged for people coming into Etrian Odyssey II. Yes, if you bring over your old party, you can get a special reward of sorts, but I was more intent on my brand new classes of Gunner and War Magus being available from the get-go, because I wasn’t shooting enough monsters in the face previously. I didn’t have to explore to unlock Ronin and Hexer, they were there from the beginning. Although, I will say I was intrigued by the unlockable class Beast, which is just what it sounds like: a wild animal you can recruit to come quest with you. I fully intend to make a party of four Beasts and one Gunner just to go a-huntin’ at some point.

Naturally, this isn’t just a reskin of the first game with the staircases reversed, and players who were deeply invested in the first Etrian Odyssey will find a lot of enjoyment here that comes in QoL updates that have both aged well and aged poorly. On the one hand, many of the little things that were added – new map icons, for example – aren’t a revelation because they’re universally baked into the HD collection across the board. The updated sprite work and improved portraits are a noticeable step up, but, again, will just feel par for the course if you’ve bought the trilogy and not been a weirdo who started with two. Music is noticeably a little crisper and more dynamic, but I can’t tell if that’s an overall soundtrack improvement for the games themselves or the result of the Nintendo Switch port.

And to exploit you for close to free labor. But mostly make you stronger!

Interestingly, the meat and potatoes of it all – the dungeons – will be what bring people into the Etrian Odyssey II party. The dungeons are completely different in feel and execution compared to the flagship game, and the changes make for an overall excellent experience, infinitely better than before. First of all, the pathways are much more nuanced and labyrinthian, something missing from the down deep of Etria. Instead of constantly having long pathways that just go in straight lines forever, you have loops that disorient, dead ends that surprise you instead of being expected, and a more complex route that makes players need to pay attention to the map outside of “wall or not wall.”

Additionally, there are now more events within the dungeons that make the world seem alive without needing to inject it yourself. Instead of relying completely on you taking side quests from the tavern (which is very much still a thing), there are plenty of “saving throw” moments that occur throughout and give a better campaign feeling to it all. For example, there are multiple moments where you’ll find something out of place – a strange piece of fruit, a discarded gauntlet, an innocuous pathway – and be given a chance to engage. Doing so may result in a bonus happening (additional pickup, healing bump) or may result in your Medic constantly being on the receiving end of punishment. Why does it always fall to the Medic? It’s almost like the game knew I was going to suffer the worst if my healer died in mid dungeon.

Game Over Screen

I won’t lie, this screen visited me many, many times.

Building onto that, there’s also more story signposting that happens to help make the game flow naturally. In the original Etrian Odyssey, you sometimes just needed to go back to the surface and hope that it was the right time to check in with the village elder about getting more missions. Here, in the sequel, the player is constantly interrupted by either other wandering guilds or by your own intuition that it’s time to go back and get more information and more quests. Don’t get me wrong, Ren and Tlachtga did a great job of informing me throughout, but Hrothgar and Artelinde are both more interesting, exist totally independently of each other and helping move through different aspects of the plot.

Etrian Odyssey II HD Wolf

The wolf is inside of you. And another wolf. And a bag of Fritos. And several bags of Skittles. But mostly the wolf.

The plot here is…well, it’s a plot. On the one hand, it’s a little more expected and grounded than the previous game, which is disappointing in terms of reveals. On the other, though, the more generic motif allows you to go all in on the extras that are peppered throughout. When you realize that this is a classic “some good guys are bad, some bad guys are good” nonsense, you really can focus on leveling up your characters, grinding out some sweet equipment and trying to move off of Picnic difficulty, which is where I spent way too much time this time around. Seriously, if I get a game over before I can finish the tutorial, then the game is too hard, Atlus. Not everything needs to be Dark Souls.

Etrian Odyssey II HD manages to be less and more in the same swing, and both of those total out to a good thing. The town has fewer buildings but with more functions. The sidequests are meandering, but give better rewards. The amount of cash you get from missions and loot is less, equipment costs more, but you also don’t feel like you NEED to upgrade as soon as something becomes available. More classes means more specialized abilities and more configurable parties, relying on physical and elemental damage in different strokes. Yes, Ronin and Landsknecht are still brute force standards, but I actually left the Dark Hunter at home a lot of the time in favor of my Gunner, and was happier for it.

Etrian Odyssey II HD Redwood

These things are horrifying, so well done, Atlus.

For most people, getting Etrian Odyssey II HD means purchasing it in a triple decker sandwich with the predecessor and the sequel. You can enjoy the first one and then use that to expand on what’s great about this game, namely that everything is better while still being similar. It’s not nearly the departure that comes in subsequent games; it’s almost like playing a fan mod of the first with QoL improvements from basement devs. If you’re not looking for something that changes your life but does make it a little more fun, then Etrian Odyssey II does a fine job of being a fantastic dungeon crawler. 


Graphics: 9.0

Comparison to the original DS portraits really let players enjoy and appreciate the new art style and updated look that was given to this second entry in the series.

Gameplay: 7.5

Essentially the same dungeon crawling, but with better additions of customization, elemental tradeoffs, and proper signposting for the quest progressions. A smoother game overall.

Sound: 8.0

The update to the score sounds more robust, also a stronger compositional nature to the soundtrack. Music is more evocative of the fantasy exploration and motifs of excitement and engagement. Less retro, more modern.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Having more random moments and cleaner lines lead to me spending more time diving into the game and actually feeling like I was making progress. Perhaps the streamlining will put off some veterans, but I liked this better than the first.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Etrian Odyssey II HD is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of Etrian Odyssey II HD was provided by the publisher.