JRPG Review

Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection – Review

Atlus is mostly known for their work on the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona franchises, but during the mid-2000s, one humble series was born. The Etrian Odyssey games are a series of dungeon-crawling RPGs harkening back to the days of playing computer RPGs with pen and paper. The series has spawned many games since then, all for the DS and 3DS. Once the transition away from dual-screen hardware was made, its future was called into question. That was until today, with Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection having now been released.

You and the Labyrinth

One of the greatest virtues of the Etrian Odyssey games is how good it feels to simply begin. Once you’ve devised a team of create-a-character party members, you’re off to the Labyrinth to begin your so-called “odyssey”. It takes no time at all to fall straight into the meat of the gameplay, with very little narrative, dialogue, or preamble given to the player’s journey. Everything unfolds at the pace in which the player discovers it. It’s about as classic as the DRPG genre comes, in that sense. For all of the games, there’s one goal and one goal only: conquer the Labyrinth and uncover all of its riches in doing so.

The Labyrinth itself is a massive, sprawling maze composed of many different floors, each of which may take a long time to complete by themselves. You’ll explore the maze in a first-person perspective, and have no information on what awaits in the labyrinth until you discover that for yourself. Even your map is blank until you make an accurate drawing of the floor during your adventures through it. Each floor also comes loaded with treasure, traps, and points of discovery where the player can gather resources or simply learn more about the labyrinth. Making an accurate and detailed map is important in completing the game’s many quests, and being smart in doing so gives players ample resources to continue without worry.

Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection - Pools of Blood

All bets are off when the player enters the Labyrinth, as everything is out to kill you once you enter it. NPCs mouthing off about how many explorers lose their lives here isn’t just for show, and it’s something that can occur both in and out of combat. Things like the player’s party composition, decision-making, or simply getting a bad roll of the dice can make a smooth jaunt through the Labyrinth go south quickly. Not everything that happens in the Labyrinth will be something the player can predict or have control over, and it’s exactly this that makes it so fun to explore. The Labyrinth isn’t just a giant level in a game, it’s a force of nature that the player has to pull out all the stops to overcome. 

The big word to describe all of these elements is “immersive”. Hopefully you see now that that’s what these games are really all about. Despite being made a fairly long time ago, they have a remarkable immersive quality to them that sucks me in before I notice. Each facet of the game’s visuals, level design, and gameplay elements are meant to drive the player further and further into the reality of what it means to go on a life-or-death adventure. Each choice the player makes matters, and that’s really the most impressive part of it all.

Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection - Map Screen

Clashing Swords in the Labyrinth

In yet another nod to DRPGs of old, the battle system of the Etrian Odyssey games could be called old-school as well. You’ll engage in turn-based battles with a party of five characters that can be split between front and back row. From there, it’s a straightforward matter of dispatching enemies through identifying weaknesses, using Skills that deal damage of different types, Skills that buff or debuff, and using healing when necessary. The combat here plays by a very standard playbook that you’ve seen before, but what matters most is the context surrounding it. Where Etrian Odyssey truly thrives is in its impeccable difficulty balancing.

Etrian Odyssey’s ballbusting difficulty has earned it a reputation that precedes itself, and for good reason. Without exaggeration, every single encounter can be one that decides further progress into the Labyrinth or defeat. There is no such thing as a “trash mob” in these games, and everything is a constant threat that the player must assess and dispatch before they can do much damage. Enemies come in well-considered formations that test the player’s ability to prioritize which targets to take out, and which to leave for last. Many enemies also hit as hard as bosses do, turning anything that would be a minor slip-up in other games into a punishing mistake here.

Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection - Battle

It’s not just a matter of winning or losing a battle, either. How you manage your main combat resource, SP, is paramount to making progress within the Labyrinth. Use too much of it, and you’ll quickly find yourself without a major element of play. Be too stingy with it, and you may regret it and prematurely get a Game Over. The Labyrinth is as much about endurance as it is strategy, so creating a party that can explore and clear encounters with efficiency and safety is paramount. Like with labyrinth exploration, this gives a great sense of weight and uncertainty to each choice the player makes in combat.

There are two big snags in all of this, and that’s the first two Etrian Odyssey games. Simply by nature of being the first games in the series, they are considerably less refined or balanced compared to the later games. Since Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection does not make an attempt to rebalance this, you’re getting the same unfiltered experiences for better or for worse. In the first game’s case especially, it’s very easy to do what feels like cheating the game with very little effort or forethought. This has the knock-on effect of turning every battle or situation into something routine and rather brainless. Starting with III, however, the difficulty balancing and overall encounter design picks up considerably and stays fun for the entire duration.

From Two Screens to One

The elephant in the room regarding Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection is the fact that it’s the first time the main series has appeared on hardware with only one screen. The DS’s dual-screen hardware was a big part of the series’ identity, to a point that it arguably might not have even existed without it. The bottom screen was where the game’s central map drawing gimmick always took place, so having that stripped out meant that something had to be compromised. Or so I at first thought.

Atlus has done an excellent job translating the two-screen gameplay onto just one without feeling as though anything was lost in the process. The new style of drawing and detailing my own maps doesn’t feel quite the same as using the stylus, but it’s just as intuitive. Although I’ve played more than my fair share of Etrian Odyssey on DS and 3DS, I was immediately made comfortable with this new control scheme. Drawing is done with the right stick and triggers while exploration is done with just the D-Pad. In a weird way, this setup evokes a similar sort of muscle memory to what I felt playing on the DS.

Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection - Shop

There are also a variety of options put in for players who want an experience that feels slightly more tailored. At the press of a button, the player can switch between a fullscreen look at the Labyrinth, or something that splits the screen between the labyrinth and the map. There’s also an auto-mapping feature, where the game will mark down everything the player sees as they discover it within the labyrinth. As someone who likes drawing maps by hand, I never used this, but it’s a good option for those who may not be interested in that.

It helps that, even outside of that, this is a masterful remastering effort on all fronts. Each game looks, sounds, and runs smoother and sharper than ever. While I wouldn’t say that this is nearly enough to warrant playing these HD renditions of the first two games over their far better 3DS remakes, they are still fun enough. In Etrian Odyssey III’s case, this is the first time it’s received an update of any kind, and it’s far and away the best version to play of this classic.


The big question heading into Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection was whether Atlus could successfully translate the series’ one-of-a-kind gameplay onto more conventional hardware. To me, they’ve answered back with a resounding and confident yes. These are excellent remasters that show that Atlus has carefully considered what to bring over and what to ditch in the transition away from dual-screen hardware. They look sharper than ever, they sound nicer, and despite not having a second screen, they arguably even play smoother. If nothing else, this collection definitively proves that Etrian Odyssey’s future is not jeopardized by its lack of two screens.

Having said that, this collection as a whole is still a tough sell. If it was just Etrian Odyssey III, I could recommend it in a heartbeat—it’s one of the best DRPGs around. The first two games, however, I do not hold the same charity for. They aren’t bad, but they are massively unrefined and unsophisticated compared to what came after. Despite being good remasters, you’re still better off playing their 3DS remakes. Their novelty just doesn’t linger for long, and with the eye-popping price tag attached to Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection, I’d want something more than that. If prospective buyers are willing to accept that, then they’ll have a solid time with the humble origins of one of the best DRPG franchises around.


Platforms: PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch

If you would like to see more JRPGs, you may be interested in our review of Xenoblade Chronicles 3. You can also check out our review of Pokémon Legends: Arceus.

Many thanks go to Sega/Atlus for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

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