When Nintendo discontinued the 3DS – and with it the existence of dual-screen handhelds – I lamented the weird games we wouldn’t have anymore. At the top of that list was Etrian Odyssey: a line of dungeon-crawling role-playing games built explicitly with the dual screens of the handheld in mind. These are games where you fight your way through dangerous mazes and literally draw your own map to track your progress. I had a hard time imagining playing them on any other platform.
Now, thanks to a remastered collection of the first three games for Switch and PC (called the Origins Collection), I don’t have to imagine. And in many ways, these new releases are great, with the same fantastic gameplay paired with great visuals and music. This is an opportunity for a whole new audience to enjoy it. But man, they really make me miss the DS.
For those who have yet to explore the depths of Yggdrasil’s labyrinth, the Etrian Odyssey the games are almost entirely about exploration. You assemble a team of adventurers – each of whom belongs to a class like a dark hunter or an alchemist – then go as far as you can through the multi-story dungeon. There’s a bit of story, but not much, as the satisfaction comes from slowly working your way through the maze, making as much progress as you can before having to return to town to rest and restock.
As you slay beasts and sell their parts, you’ll unlock new gear to buy, and there are, of course, skill trees to make your team stronger over time. I played several hours of the original Etrian Odysseyis remastered on Switch, and the gameplay has aged beautifully. Only now, the art is crisp and clean, and there’s a refreshed soundtrack from legendary composer Yuzo Koshiro.
What really makes these games special, however, is the mapping element. In each game, the maze you will explore is essentially unknown. No one gives you a map and tells you where to go. Instead, you literally have to draw the map as you go. On the DS, it was incredibly intuitive: the top screen displayed a first-person view of the dungeon, while the bottom touchscreen was a grid where you could draw the map, noting all its dead ends, winding routes and its hidden secrets. . On the Switch, it’s not that intuitive. It looks like this:
Basically, about half of the Switch’s display is replaced by the map. You can use the buttons to draw the map or, if playing in handheld mode, the touch screen. I couldn’t figure out the buttons, but the touchscreen was, shall we say, usable. Using my finger wasn’t as satisfying as the DS’s stylus, and I found that I often had to redraw lines because they didn’t register the first (or second) time. It’s a small hassle, but when it’s such a big part of the game, it makes a difference.
That’s not to say these remasters are bad, far from it. They do pretty much the best job possible of presenting such a unique experience on a more traditional gaming platform. It’s just really hard work. If you have never played a Etrian Odyssey before, you might not even have bothered much about it, and I hope more people can experience this absolutely engrossing franchise. But for series veterans, the new collection is another reminder of the loss of a strange and exhilarating period in gaming history.
THE Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.