Monday, November 10, 2014

An odyssey in pain and glory.

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is a 3DS remake of the DS RPG Etrian Odyssey.  One important change is the Story mode.  Story mode adds new areas to the original game, along with additional bosses.  To play Story mode is to be further challenged than simply playing the Classic mode.  In Story mode you can not even choose the class of your characters, meaning you're stuck improvising through Grimoire stones.  Together these factors form the hardest Etrian Odyssey experience yet.  This will matter in a bit.

Right now, I have 107 hours invested in Etrian Odyssey Untold for 3DS.  For me, that's a lot of time in a game.  To say I have a love/hate relationship with Untold would not even begin to describe the bittersweet hell it's put me through.  I mean, I thought I was an RPG god yeah, but after being forged in the fires of Untold's fury for over 100 hours... I realize just how weak I was before it.  Sure I've beaten such "tough" classics as Phantasy Star I & II, Vagrant Story, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, Valkyrie Profile, and others of their ilk.  But those games are child's play compared to Etrian Odyssey Untold.  I have become a far more potent RPG player due to Untold's challenges.

That is, Etrian Odyssey Untold on Expert.

Yes, I'm playing this game on Expert, and on Story mode to boot.  Now, you might be wondering why I'd play this game on its hardest combination possible.  After all, I could be playing it on Picnic or Standard difficulty.  That is precisely what most people do.  I could have beat this game in 25 hours on Picnic, or 45 hours on Standard.  So why Expert?  The answer to that question is not a simple one.  There are multiple reasons why I'm suffering Etrian Odyssey Untold on its evil Expert difficulty level.

The first reason is one of simple spite.  Last year I was involved with a debate on a forum I won't mention, concerning the concessionary difficulty changes of Etrian Odyssey Untold and Fire Emblem: AwakeningFire Emblem has a long history of being an uncompromising strategy series, with its core feature being that if one of your characters dies in battle, they are dead forever.  Etrian Odyssey's series' core feature is it is designed with oldschool hardcore difficulty in mind.  That means the Etrian games do not hold your hand, and will kill you in a heartbeat with no kid's gloves whatsoever.  These elements gave both Fire Emblem and Etrian Odyssey their core distinction; pure unadulterated challenge.  A series identity.  Easy mode is not an option.

All that changed with the 3DS though.  Fire Emblem: Awakening introduced the option to turn permanent death off.  And Untold introduced the option to change the difficulty to Picnic (press A to win) or Standard (pay attention and press A to win).  In order to play Untold on traditional Etrian Odyssey difficulty, you need to choose Expert.  You can even willy-nilly change the difficulty of Untold at any given time.  That means if you're fighting a boss that is destroying you, instead of having to overcome the challenge through tactical resilience, you simply turn down the challenge.  Likewise instead of playing Awakening more intelligently, just turn off perma-death and you can just resurrect your screw ups.  Challenge be damned, everybody's a winner here!  I for one am not okay with "no gamer left behind".

No gamer left behind.  I said exactly as such on said forum.  And there's where I got in trouble with some of the members.  Everyone started calling me the dreaded E word.  And I don't mean Experienced, or Elucidated, or Erudite even.  Nope, they called me an Elitist.  I was being "elitist" to say that hard games have a right to exist, and that they should not dilute themselves to sell better to the lowest common denominator.  I took great offense to this, because I am not an elitist folks.  I'm a Refinist.

Yes "refinist" is a word I made up.  There may be an existing word to describe this, but we need neologisms from time to time.  What's a refinist then?  Someone who refines themselves of doubt when faced with challenge.  Someone who tenaciously perseveres through strife until they have purified themselves of weakness, and ultimately accomplish the goal they set out to finish.  That's a refinist!  A refinist does not give up.  A refinist rather gets stronger, smarter, and tougher, and gets through adversity without artificial aid.  A refinist is insulted by a game that panders to their initial inability and offers training wheels to finish the race.  If we didn't have refinists?  The Tour de France would be ridden on mopeds.  The Olympics wouldn't exist.  We would not have made it to space.  But not everyone gets to be an astronaut!  It's true.  And not everyone gets to beat an Etrian Odyssey game.

That is, until Untold came out and made it possible for your dog to beat an Etrian Odyssey game.

So why does it piss me off, if I'm not an elitist?  Because I think people are capable of overcoming challenges if they really put their mind to it.  I believe in the inner strength of my fellow gamer.  I won't lie to you, many many times Untold has kicked my teeth in, ever taunting me to lower the difficulty.  I was stuck on one boss for almost a week alone!  But I never lowered it, and I will never lower it.  I will beat Untold on Expert, to prove a point, even if I'm only proving this point to myself.  Even if it takes 200 hours I will do this.  I will not cheat or glitch the game either.  I'll beat it, fair and square.  I will refine myself of weakness and become a strong enough player to pull this off.  There were people on said forum who said not everyone can do this, therefore Picnic mode has a right to exist.  Well I say those less determined people should stick with easy RPGs (dime a dozen) instead, and not encourage Atlus to dilute their original vision due to publisher pressure to sell more copies.

Developers.  Instead of rewarding players of little effort with "Congrats You Win", let's make them face up to true challenges instead.  Let them learn to value the taste of sweet victory after hard fought practice.  There's no Picnic difficulty switch on a guitar.  There's no Standard difficulty escalator on the side of Mount Everest.  We would laugh at such concessions in those instances, and mock their users deservedly so.  Yet it's okay to make traditionally hard video game series easier?  And you're an elitist if you disagree that it's not okay?  That's hypocritical nonsense.  Easy games have a place but so do hard ones.  Hard games build character.  I believe in gamers' character enough to know they can push through the challenges as long as they keep trying.  Spit on the training wheels and forget the floaties.  There's nothing quite like the glowing feeling of beating a truly hard game.  If you think that's not true, it's because you haven't done it yet.

NOTE: I did beat Etrian Odyssey Untold's Story mode on Expert, and it took me 115 hours.

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