Lengthily-titled dungeon-crawler Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is a remake of the 2008 Nintendo DS title Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard. The main difference, aside from the jump to the 3DS hardware, is the addition of a story mode - just as Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl added a narrative element to the original Etrian Odyssey.
Etrian Odyssey 2's core turn-based dungeon-crawling RPG gameplay is unchanged in the remake. The 3DS' top screen displays a first-person view of your dungeon surroundings, while the bottom screen is used to manually map each level’s layout, using simple MS Paint-like touch-screen controls. Much of the metagame also remains, in which players find and use resources to improve their equipment or complete quests.
The Fafnir Knight spins a fanciful yarn about a young princess who is charged with performing a secret ritual. To ensure her safety, she is accompanied by a pair of somewhat inexperienced guardians, making for a starting party of three. Over time, this roster becomes augmented with new members, with players tasked with deciding who to use, when, where, and how - thanks to a complex and rich party management system.
Characters can be upgraded in multiple ways, like giving them equipment or spending points on branching skill trees. Combat can be extremely tough; success or failure really comes down to player choices, whether building characters or deploying their abilities during the (sometimes lengthy) turn-based sequences. The difficulty is quite spiky, with some fights spectacularly hard without real warning. Each new enemy encounter is nerve-wracking - and should your party die, you'll have to revert to a saved game, which can't even be created within the dungeon.
Encounters are a mixture of random encounters and special “FOE” minibosses (Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens, for the uninitiated) that appear on the map and in the dungeon. FOEs are typically pretty tough, but you can generally avoid them by figuring out their AI patterns (the FOE AI generally moves a square on the map each time you do). Should you need a quest item from a FOE you’ve already cleared, you need to wait three game days for them to respawn - which can be an annoying hurdle.
The Fafnir Knight adds a new "Picnic" difficulty level to Heroes of Lagaard, specifically designed to make the game more accessible for new players. While it effectively delivers exactly the promised functionality, it boils combat down to letting the game "auto-battle" the encounter for you. You can jump in and issue manual commands, mixing in buffs, heals, and special attacks, but you rarely need to, and auto-battling is considerably faster. It’s a shame there isn’t a difficulty level between the insane Normal and the touristy Picnic, as there’s a big gap between them, but Picnic is still enjoyable.
Another new feature is a restaurant in town, used to craft upgrades and buffs. You can upgrade the town itself, too, boosting the restaurant's customers and adding other benefits as you unlock higher tiers of craftables. This restaurant – which you can custom-name – is also where you’ll manage the grimoires found during combat. Grimoires further augment your character’s abilities, adding a new layer of customization over Heroes of Lagaard.
The level mapping is just as much fun as ever. If you’ve ever manually mapped out your own games (rarely required in modern videogames, but mighty useful in decades past), chances are you’ll enjoy this process. Being thorough with your maps will reward you with fast travel between dungeon levels, too, so it’s a good idea to invest time into making a good map. If you don’t like the sound of this aspect, however, be warned: it’s a significant part of the Etrian Odyssey 2 experience.
Purists who would rather ignore the story and create their own characters will be pleased to learn that the original gameplay mode is also available. The dungeon makeup is different, and the meta-story that is present is simpler, but the differences mean that a second playthrough can feel less repetitive than otherwise – a big boost for the title’s value proposition.
If you’re a hardcore strategy or turn-based RPG fan, The Fafnir Knight is well worth adding to your collection. It's extremely well put together, a rare treat for aficionados of this dying breed of gameplay. It’s also well worth exploring for those intrigued by the concept but unfamiliar with the experience. Thanks to the Picnic mode, it's a veritable gateway game for the subgenre.