Games like Etrian Odyssey mimic what Wizardry and others did for years. While these types of games tend to build up loyal followings, they can be somewhat difficult for newcomers to enjoy. There is a lot of grinding and plenty of challenge to be had. Recently Atlus released the latest in the series, which is why The Millennium Girl almost caught me by complete surprise, coming out so close to the last title.
Thing is, Millennium Girl is not the next in series, but a remake of the original 2007 game. Remakes are often a tricky proposition, because you want to provide value to fans of the series without doing anything so radical as to turn them off - or worse yet outright anger them - to future games as well.
It would have been easy to make this game with reworked 3D visuals and call it a day, but thankfully Atlus has put a great deal more care into this release than that, and anyone who plays it is the winner for it. This is still the same Wizardry-like classic RPG dungeon crawler, but some notable new features really help to set this title apart from those games.
Graphics - 9:
There is an amazing use of color throughout the game. Creatures have nice detail, as do the environments. This is key since the game is presented in two ways. One is in a town, where you are conversing with shop keepers and other citizens. This is basically menu driven with some nicely drawn characters on top of everything. When you are out in the wild, you wander about using a first person perspective. Often in these types of games, the tiles lack variety and that not only makes things challenging, but boring to boot. I liked the creatures I encountered as I continued on my journey as well. The lower screen is used for mapping, and while that may not sound particularly exciting, it is very functional and incredibly easy to read.
Sound & Music -8:
The music is nice. Nothing particularly memorable, but pleasant and seems to fit the game's visuals and environments nicely. The sound effects have a decent amount of variety to them, but you will be doing the same things over and over again, which means you will be hearing a good number of those sound effects many, many times. In the story mode, you have characters with very distinct personalities (more on that later), but what could be considered well-worn territory. Thankfully the voice work is so good that you actually care about the characters in question.
Gameplay - 8:
Dungeon crawl RPG titles tend to be pretty straightforward in their approach. You walk about in a first-person view, randomly encountering creatures to combat. There tend to be a lot of menus to work through as well. Thankfully the menus are easy to navigate, though the inventory management can be a bit of a hassle. Combat kicks along nicely, with easy to understand options and a good amount of depth, all without being confusing. One really nice perk is the how the lower screen is used. There you can map out your progress through the dungeons with virtual graph paper. As someone who has gone through a lot of graph paper over the years on games just like this, I can appreciate how handy that system is, and how easy it is to use.
Intangibles - 10:
The story is nothing fantastic, and in the classic mode it only serves as a sort of backdrop to the real meat of the game. You will spend the majority of your time wandering through dungeons, killing creatures, gathering loot, gaining experience and then going back to town to sell what you earned and prepare for your next trip out. In the infamous words of shampoo everywhere: lather, rinse and repeat. It is a formula I have enjoyed for many years, and it holds up quite nicely here as well.
That being said, Atlus went the extra mile to create some additional content for players. There is the above classic mode, which plays out just like the original from six years ago, and a new story mode. In the classic mode you have full control over the creation of the characters to use in your party. Here in story mode, they are already created by the development team and ready to go. As a unit, they are well-balanced, but you will not be able to use every spell and weapon in the game in a story play through. I suppose later in the game, there are options to change classes for characters, but it is not worth it in my opinion - it really slows your progression.
Story mode is worth playing however, because the characters are so much fun. Here you get an actual storyline, with animated cutscenes that bring a lot of life to characters who should seem boring and over-done by now. There is even an additional dungeon in this mode, with some heavy story elements in it.
This gives you two very viable modes to play, both of which are similar and yet have different feels to them. Each play through can take quite a bit of time, giving you a lot of bang for your buck. Aside from the updated visuals and remixed music and the two different modes of play, Atlus also slipped in a Grimoire Stone system that reminds me a bit of Diablo II or Final Fantasy VII. These randomly generated stones can be quite powerful, and are exciting to see when you get one, but they are so specific to things like a particular type of weapon, that they may not help your current party.
Overall - 8.75:
It has been a good year to be an RPG fan who owns a Nintendo 3DS. Games like this and Shin Megami Tensei IV and the prior Etrian Odyssey are proving hours of fun for those of us who enjoy the genre. Lots of menu options give you a bit of customization of the experience, right down to a few levels of difficulty to choose from - a welcome feature for those who might be daunted by the series' reputation for difficulty.