As technology improves and tastes change, genres fade in and out of the limelight. Even though the genre has been somewhat resurrected by Nintendo's DS, side-scrollers are now a relatively endangered species; point-and-click adventures have all but disappeared (stop making Star Wars games for a second and make a new Monkey Island game, LucasArts); and turn-based RPGs, once the standard, have been replaced by games that use varied and randomly named battle systems.
Therefore, for gamers who have been around long enough to witness the tides of the industry change, it's nice to play a new game that harkens back to the days of old. Especially when the game does it exceptionally well. Such is the case with Atlus' recently released, first-person dungeon crawler, Etrian Odyssey.
The story in EO revolves around...well...nothing, really. Party members are all mute, and other than little snippets of backstory regarding various quests and boss monsters, there is no story. This isn't to say that EO's non-existent story is a bad thing, but people who absolutely must get a story fix to enjoy an RPG should stay far, far the hell away. But for people who enjoy building up characters, crunching stats, exploring, planning, and developing strategies, EO plays like a dream.
EO's gameplay doesn't differ much from “old-school” RPG models; battles are turn-based, encounters are random, and characters gain skill points that can be allocated to skills after he or she levels up. But the most noticeable aspect of EO's gameplay, and its most refreshing, is its absolutely unforgiving difficulty.
Compared to old-school RPGs, the vast majority of today's RPGs hold the player's hand through gameplay, but this is most definitely not the case with EO. Players will have to constantly pay attention to what they're doing if they don't want to become too familiar with the game over screen; especially when they encounter a boss monster, or as the game calls it, a “FOE.”
FOEs (which stands for some weird Latin phrase that I figure Atlus only used because the acronym is cool), differ from “normal” enemies in that they are visible on the map, and are usually harder than anything else on the floor the player is on. Players can usually sneak passed FOEs, but it's a good idea, more often than not, to kill FOEs when players are able, since they can drop rare items that can be used to unlock new weapons, armor, and items.
One of the only unique parts of EO's gameplay is how FOEs will move around the map during battle. After each turn, surrounding FOEs will move one space, which, in some cases, forces the player to figure out how to prevent a new FOE from entering a battle that the player is already engaged in, adding an occasional extra layer of strategy to the game.
One of the most vocalized complaints about old-school RPGs is how they tend to get repetitive, and since EO adheres so closely to old RPGs paradigms, this complaint will most likely be vocalized with EO too. Some of this repetition could've been avoided, however. For example: environments are divided into “stratums” that are 5 floors apiece, and since the player will spend somewhere between an assload and a ****load of time playing the game before the 30th floor is explored and the final boss is slain, environments can get very repetitious very quick. Especially since the game's first 2 stratums consist of forest-type areas.
Map making can also be somewhat annoying too. The game, instead of automatically mapping areas players have already explored, will require players to make a map of their own via the DS' touchscreen. This is likely another nod to old-school RPGs that didn't come with automatic mapping systems, but map making is a chore more than anything.
The game's few cons pale in comparison to its pros, however. Etrian Odyssey won't appeal to everyone, but will definitely make fans of dungeon crawlers happier than a paparazzi with a clear view of Paris Hilton's bathroom window. For RPG nuts in the latter group, Etrian Odyssey is a must-buy.