Etrian Odyssey Director's Diary

2016-07-25T23:11:30+09:00
This post is part of a collection on Games.

These notes were blog posts written by the director of the first Etrian Odyssey Game, Kazuya Niinou, leading up to its release. They were originally images embedded in a Flash page, so I took the liberty of typing them up and posting them here. The Japanese source for these articles is no longer available on the official Etrian Odyssey page, but you can find it on archive.org.

One interesting detail about Niinou is that he left Atlus almost immediately after the release of the game. Since then he's worked on games like 7th Dragon, Criminal Girls, and FFXIV; you can find him on Twitter here.

What I want as an RPG fan

In early interviews about the game, I compared Etrian Odyssey to Wizardry, since they're both first-person dungeon RPGs. But after I did, I kind of regretted bringing that series up, since I didn't set out to make a new Wizardry.

The reason why we chose to make the dungeon a beautiful forest; to have players draw their own maps with the touch screen; to include fierce monsters as wandering enemies; to have cute character designs from Yuji Himukai; to get FM-style music from Yuzo Koshiro; to tell an original story from Shigeo Komori, is all because we're focused on making a new-style game, not a nostalgic one. I'm an RPG lover myself, and I wanted a really fun RPG to play. That's all I was out to make when I started this project.

I'll be discussing several things over the course of this column, such as the core of the game and the game's atmosphere, as well as how I feel about the game. Please stay with me until the end. Thanks.

The DS Stylus

I have a strange confession to make: I don't like using the Nintendo DS's stylus. There are a few reasons for this. First off, it's a portable game system, but because of the stylus you can't play while lying down. Second, since holding the system in one hand and a stylus in the other feels unnatural, it's tiring to play for long periods of time. Third, if the pace of the game is slow, then your hand tends to cover the screen as you play.

However, there are many things that you can do only with the stylus, so you can't count it out entirely. We think we can solve the problems above by making games designed not to be played that way.

For example, in Trauma Center: Under the Knife, the game is so difficult and intense that you have to play it at your desk, with the DS in front of you as you put all your effort into it. I think that's a good representation of surgery - it would be weird if you were operating while lying flat on your back! So we made it so the stylus is used for all the surgical tools, and people understood that, gripping the stylus tightly as they played.

But Etrian Odyssey is a dungeon RPG, so it's the type of game you normally would play while lying down on portable systems. It can take a long time to play one session, and it's not a fast-paced action game... so all three of the problems above apply to this one. It would seem that the stylus shouldn't be used in this situation.

But you can only accomplish the handwritten map on the DS's touch screen, and that's one of the things we definitely wanted to incorporate - what other game would let us have the player draw his own map? So we designed the game with two styles of play in mind.

In "study style", you're meant to sit at your desk, while drawing the precise map and writing memos on it. During this method of play, we want you to relax, drink some coffee, and concentrate on using the stylus to map the unknown dungeon.

Butafter that, you can play in "relaxed style," where the map has been completed, and you're gaining experience or items as you wander around. During this time, you can put the stylus back in the system, and relax as you play in bed, or while traveling.

The idea is that you'll switch between different styles of play whenever you feel like it. When you hold the stylus, you're in "study" mode, and if you don't, you're in "relaxed" mode.

You'll never need to hold the stylus when you're not drawing the map. When you get down to it, it might not be the best RPG to include stylus control, but I figured if you used the stylus only for drawing the map, then you won't get too bored.

Again, I don't like to use the stylus, but I love games where you can use it. Though it's difficult to make a quality game with stylus control, there are so many different ways to do it and possibilities for its use, that as a developer, I really appreciate the challenge. If you're playing a DS game and think, "Oh, I get it..." then I ask that you take a moment to silently thank the developers.

3 steps to death

Well, the team is saying I shouldn't talk so much about the game mechanics, so this time I'll talk about why we decided to make a dungeon RPG.

In the first Dragon Quest, at one point in the game you were told, "Walk 4 steps south of the well in Kol to find the Fairy Flute." The numebr 4 is easily understood, but the way it's used makes it very exciting. As you find the well and get into position, you think, "3 more steps, 2 more steps, 1 more..." You know there's something there, and you can't wait to get it! Ahh, nostalgia.

But I've gotten off the subject, which is the reason we decided to make a dungeon RPG. I'm a little embarrassed to say this, because it sounds vain, but I wanted to get back to the roots of what an RPG is.

The essence of an RPG is possibility, and calculation. In dramatic terms, it's the difference between going forward and going backward. In a dungeon RPG, that's very noticeable, due to moving in the 1-space increments. Think of two situations in an RPG:

  • At the center of a long walkway, you will encounter a strong enemy
  • On the 5th space of a 10-space walkway, you will encounter a strong enemy

I think the second version gives a little more flavor to the game. Since you know you won't encounter it on the 4th space, and you know you will encounter it on the 5th space, you're able to calculate in advance what you should do. In my opinion, it's better to know an enemy is 1 space in front of you than to know that an enemy is very close in front of you.

The challenge and enjoyment for the player lies in planning ahead. If you know there's a strong enemy on the 50th space, a good treasure on the 51st, and a random encounter roughly every 5 steps, then you can calculate how to manage risk: you can plan the best method of reaching the strong monster on the 50th space, and how to defeat it once you're there. We put a lot of those situations into Etrian Odyssey.

Some people will play this game and be surprised, saying "Oh, I never thought of playing a game in that way." For those of us on the development team, that kind of comment from the player is what we like best.

Turn-based

I'm finally getting used to this blog, so I'll start with something easy...

I feel that things are changing, with the new Dragon Quest being an action RPG. (Though I'm pretty excited for that...) But if that happens, I worry that turn-based RPGs will disappear.

So I've decided! Etrian Odyssey will be the last great turn-based RPG! ...Or at least, that's what I tell myself.

Shogi, Go, and other games where you have to think ahead and plan strategy are fun to me, it would be a shame if they disappeared.

How to use your imagination

When your party stays at the Inn overnight, what do they eat?

If you ever catch yourself wondering that, then you know you've formed an attachment to your characters.

With Etrian Odyssey's characters, you only give them a name and a portrait, so no matter how you think of the character, it's technically just your imagination. But even in that case, without your imagination, the character is nothing.

For example, a landsknecht who uses an axe might eat his meat with his bare hands and no utensils, but one who wields a sword might prefer a knife and fork at dinner. You might think differently, but... If you can imagine small details like that, you might find that you enjoy this kind of RPG even more.

The essence is an RPG is using numbers to make calculated decisions, but if you invest those "numbers" with your own feelings, you can spice up the game a little. Think about this:

In your party of five, three characters are dead. Two of them are alive, but they only have a couple of HP left, and no TP. They're certain to die in their next turn, giving you a game over. Number-wise, those characters are useless, but how do you imagine they feel about that? What kind of people are those 2 characters who are about to die? Try to imagine things like that in the brief time before your game ends.

Are they a landsknecht and a ronin, who'll die facing the enemy and laughing? Is it a protector, ordering the weak medic to run with his last breath?

The game over screen looks the same every time, but in your imagination, it could play out very differently.

The game itself isn't that big of a thing; what you imagine for yourself is much more fun. We hope that the player uses this game as a tool, to create dramatic and fun situations in your own minds.

How to have fun

This is not the type of game you should race through!

That's all I wanted to tell you today. This isn't the sort of game where you should have a competition with your friends, to see who can finish first.

Like a thick book that you read a chapter or two at a time, this game will prevent you from being bored for small periods of time each day. Play the game at your own pace.

Now that's out of the way... I'm often asked, "Since I don't know these kind of games, which kind of party members should I use?"

My personal preference is a party consisting of a landsknecht, protector, survivalist, medic, and alchemist. Maybe you'll feel differently, so... Feel free to decide for yourself, if you have strong opinions. But if you're worried, then try my advice.

Parting thoughts

This will be my last column. I won't get a chance like this again, so I'm going to say whatever I want.

When I talked to our marketing team, I told them I wanted to emphasize that Etrian is "the renewal of the 3D dungeon RPG." What I mean by that is that I hope the genre will thrive again, not just attract the same Wizardry fans.

Of course, that's a tall order for a little game, and we don't expect we'll be able to accomplish this alone. We do hope that this game might be a cue for the genre to come back, though. It doesn't end here: once we gather players and a market for this type of game, then we can really begin.

Even so... I don't think that "cue" for the genre to resurrect itself has to be Etrian Odyssey, or even an Atlus game. My real hope in making this game was that at some other company, some talented developer will be inspired to create a 3D dungeon RPG that everyone will love. I hope this can be at least one step on that path.

If in 10 years, I can play the wonderful new dungeon RPGs of those developers while lying in bed, I'll consider it a success.

Of course, none of that means we'll neglect Etrian Odyssey if it does become popular. We'd love for it to grow as well. Please tell us what you think about the game once it's out!

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