Etrian Odyssey 2: Things From Which to Run Upon Encountering

From the desk of Hester, Medic of Guild Fenril.

  • Giant caterpillars; they may look weak but they’ll take your arms off in a snap.
  • Giant birds; like roadrunner except the spawn of evil.
  • Giant swarms of butterflies.
  • Anything with ‘lord’ in its name; these are bad.
  • Anything with ‘king’ in its name; these are worse.
  • Anything that burns perpetually. This probably caused all the rumours about the second stratum by itself.
  • Mushrooms with legs; no one likes having to fumigate their clothing.
  • Ladybirds; they’re all friends with carnivorous flowers.
  • Floating eyes; these are about as bad as anyone could expect.
  • Winged lizards; they stink.
  • Mismatched monstrosities; they may look pretty or they may look ugly, but they all have sharp claws and beaks… or teeth… or spines, or…
  • Living statues; these make non-living statues.
  • Blue pumpkins; these are tougher than the statues.
  • Deer. Or, well, stags. They look like stags, but everyone calls them deer…
  • Anything that looks like anything else you’ve encountered before; it’s probably much stronger than you expect.

—–

So, finally, examinations are over for the academic year, so long as I don’t have to take resits. With any luck I’ll be able to finish off a couple of pieces that have been waiting since summer, now, or at the very least complete a few games.

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Crafting Systems I: the Hands-Off Approach and the Random Approach

(Well, it’s been very heavily delayed, but here’s the first part of my look at crafting systems in games… finally. At least a whole month after I started, I think.)

This week, I’m looking at crafting systems. I love messing around with crafting systems, in almost all their forms, whatever game they’re in; anyone who’s met me in any MMO with a crafting system is probably well aware of this, especially if the system allows silly items to be made. Happily, quite a few games nowadays have crafting systems; methods for players to make their own items and equipment (or other things), or have an NPC make them for you. Crafting systems are one way for a player to acquire specific items or equipment; they’re not as fixed as purchasing an item from a shop, but they’re also not quite as dependent on random chance as winning items post-battle can be.

The Hands-Off Approach
(Etrian Odyssey, Final Fantasy XII, Cyber Knight)

Of all the systems I’m going to detail, this is probably the simplest one; it doesn’t even look like a crafting system, at first glance, but it does allow the player to influence what items are available to them at any given time, and the player may have to work to find (enough) particular materials for whatever they desire.
Put simply, the player battles enemies, or otherwise works to attain materials. The player then sells or gives these to an NPC. Depending on how many materials of various types have been sold or given to the NPC up to this point, the player may then find additional items have been unlocked for sale, or are just given to them.

The main, primary variables in this system are the difficulty of attaining any given material, whether by chance after defeating a monster or by searching the right location, and the number and types of material required for each item to appear in the shop. Knowledge of a recipe is generally not required; if materials are accessible and handed over to the proper NPC, then as soon as the correct numbers of materials have been given up, any related items should be unlocked. Items can be made easier or more difficult to unlock by altering these variables; increasing or decreasing the difficulty of finding one or more required materials, and raising or lowering the amount of each type of material required to unlock an item. Low amounts required of easy-to-find materials mean an item will be frequently available, whilst items requiring higher amounts of more difficult-to-obtain materials will be rarer themselves.

It’s still possible for major variations to exist, however. Final Fantasy XII reset the tracked values of all materials sold to unlock an item as soon as any ‘recipe’ was fulfilled; if, say, a spear required 1 pole, 1 knife and 3 threads, then as soon as 1 pole, 1 knife and 3 threads had been sold, the spear would appear in the shop. However, if 10 poles, 3 knives and 3 threads are sold, in that order, the spear will still only appear once, and the extra 9 poles and 2 knives sold by the player are wasted.
Alternately, Etrian Odyssey tracks the number of all materials sold, and ‘made’ items on demand as you selected them for purchase; with the above recipe as an example, 10 poles, 3 knives and 3 threads sold and 1 spear bought would still leave you with 9 poles and 2 knives available for more spears – given enough thread – or any other recipe involving them. Both this and the variation employed by FFXII only get more complicated as other recipes using similar materials are involved, but it’s worth noting that Final Fantasy XII had many other shops with fixed inventories, independent of items sold, whilst in Etrian Odyssey there was only the one shop, with almost all of its inventory determined by what items the player sells.
Cyber Knight was the simplest of the three examples, with enemies dropping ‘Neoparts’ that, with enough of them, could be converted into useful items and equipment by an NPC, no selling or purchase necessary. Cyber Knight didn’t have any form of currency, whilst in Etrian Odyssey and FFXII almost the whole of your income is made up through selling materials; however, most if not all of the income made through selling materials in EO and FFXII went back into purchasing other items, as unlike other similar games, earning money directly from battle was somewhere between rare (FFXII) and impossible (EO).

A ‘crafting’ system like this is pretty hands-off for the player, with a minimum of interaction or planning necessary in all examples I mentioned above; new items and equipment become unlocked simply through normal play, as the player accumulates and subsequently sells or gives away loot collected from battles, not generally requiring unusual effort on the part of the player.

The Random Approach
(Star Ocean series)

A small step up from the hands-off approach used in FFXII and Etrian Odyssey would be the Star Ocean series’ approach to crafting; whilst slightly more interactive, in that the player can choose the general type of item they want to produce, the player cannot choose exactly what they want to make. As far as my experience of crafting systems extends, this method is unique to the Star Ocean series; no other system comes to mind where a single unit of a material is converted into a maybe-usable item (somewhat) randomly selected from a list of items createable with that material.
In Star Ocean, the player chooses a character to attempt crafting an item; which kind of item they attempt to craft determines what kind of material will be consumed in the attempt, in addition to what kind of item will result, and the character they select will have a given level of proficiency in the selected crafting process, and may have Talents, both of which affect the chances of getting certain items… in addition to characters naturally creating a slightly different set of items for each crafting speciality.

Primary, important variables relating to this system include the chance of creating any possible item from a material when crafting, and the availability and cost, if applicable, of a single unit of the specific material required by each crafting ability. Naturally, items with a lower probability for creation will be less common than items with a higher chance of appearing, and the cost and availability of materials will limit how many chances a player has at item creation with that material, before needing to pick up more units of the material.
Though Star Ocean is the only game I’ve seen employing this system for crafting, anything based on the character doing the crafting (Talents, skill levels defining the level of the character’s crafting ability, and the individual character’s list of items they can create), and items or temporary effects that alter the chance of crafting in general or specific items, for example, can be considered secondary variables; unlike an approach to crafting that I’ll detail later – the self-taught craftplayer approach – the crafting character’s skill will not improve as they make more items, outside of possibly unlocking a related talent, providing a permanent bonus to the chance of producing anything useful from that point onwards, non-repeatable. Making fifteen Skanda Ointments through Compounding will not make it any more likely that the next attempt at Compounding also produces something useful, let alone another Skanda Ointment. Adding points to relevant skills for a crafting discipline, if applicable, will decrease the chance of failing and producing a (mostly-)useless item, but will not generally have any effect on what item is produced when successful.

Star Ocean: The Second Story/Second Evolution (PS1, PSP) and Star Ocean/Star Ocean: First Departure (SNES, PSP) essentially used the system detailed above, with separate Item Creation options for Cooking, Metalwork, Compounding, Art, Machinery, Customise and Alchemy. Then there were ‘Super Specialty’ options, which produced much better results when succeeding, but depended on the proficiency of the entire party in the related skills and regular Item Creation disciplines; Master Chef, Blacksmith, and Reverse Side. With the exception of Master Chef and Compounding, these all made use of the random approach to crafting, and each Item Creation discipline used a different set of raw materials. Master Chef was a form of another approach that will be described in a later post – the mix-and-match approach – and Compounding was a combination of both that approach and the random approach.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) used a fairly large variation on this approach, removing skill points and materials entirely; crafting still used specific characters – up to three at once – who had set skills in different crafting disciplines, and instead of consuming materials, making any item consumed a variable amount of currency, depending on the item that will be made, and the crafting characters. Items that had been produced through crafting could be made available in shops for easy purchase without having to craft them again, in future. Additionally, the player could recruit NPC craftspeople who were often far superior to party members in a specific discipline, but could not be used at all for any other type of crafting; leaving them unrecruited would potentially lock the player out of crafting and ‘patenting’ certain items as the NPCs did themselves, and leave the items available in shops for much higher amounts of currency than they would have been had the player crafted the item first.
The item to be crafted was still random, and determined from the characters used in crafting, and the total skill points of the characters used; a given item could be crafted as many times as a player could afford, but stopping and identifying the crafted item would cause the potential item to change to something else – the player could make ten of something, but wouldn’t know whether it was ten gold statues or ten twisted rings until they decided to stop. However, as the item was determined before a player commenced the crafting process – as the price of crafting had to be displayed beforehand – it was possible for a player to determine what would be crafted ahead of time, and simply cancel any crafting process that would lead to a useless or undesired item. Subsequently, most of the difficulty in this version of the random crafting approach resulted from unlocking the entire crafting mode, working out how to recruit crafting NPCs, and working out which prices produced useless and useful items, rather than in being truly random.

Like the hands-off approach, this form of crafting system is still fairly independent of the player; its most interactive form was in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, whilst its earlier incarnations were marginally less involving. Both forms of crafting system require luck to some degree, as certain items in SO: Till the End of Time were very rare occurances and anyone taking advantage of the price to identify the potential item would have to make many successive attempts at beginning crafting until one of those items appeared, while earlier games gave no clues about what specific item would result each time. It’s tempting to call the ability to identify an item prior to crafting it in SO: Till the End of Time a cheat, but given that the player can potentially continue crafting until they bankrupt themselves, I’m inclined to call it a feature rather than a glitch, though that systems is by far the more exploitable of the two major variations.

Next week… or whenever it gets written… I’ll be looking at the non-skilled, self-taught and mix-and-match approaches to crafting.

Blog Stats and the ‘Search Engine Terms’ (AKA, Aunt Lio Answers…?)

I check my stats often. For this blog, I mean. I check a lot of stats normally, but they’re usually in whatever games I’m playing; my levels in Destruction, Restoration, Mercantile and Stealth, for instance.
Wordpress blog stats, anyway. How many people visited; usually an increase of some kind after writing a long, essay-length piece, like my last post (18 ‘today’, or yesterday by my clock, when I write this). Masses of people searching for impressions of Portal: Prelude on the 11th, most hitting my review/rant.
There’s also more constant traffic, rather than traffic depending on what’s currently popular, to play or talk about; usually at least one person daily looking for something about Blaze & Blade, who may or may not be someone I know. Likewise Etrian Odyssey, but no one’s commented on those posts, sadly. I love chattering about those games.
I’ll post more soon, promise. Etrian Odyssey 2 is on the top of my ‘must plaaaay’ list, and shall be returned to after I beat Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations. Which is much, much easier, but I don’t play that game for the difficulty.

I like it when something I’ve written gets seen; I think everyone feels at least a mild sense of achievement when they do something they like, other people witness, and no one disapproves without reason. Mostly, though, I check that page to see how people found this lair. Whether it’s something I wrote that they’ll be interested in, or they found it by mistake because some of my tags matched their terms.
Quite a few search terms seem to be more active queries, and I always get the urge to answer those. Which is really why I’m making this post. The five I got today range from random things to some of those actively questioning queries, and one recurring query – the one about Etrian Odyssey and its password – so you’ll see a nice selection.

To the adventurer who asked about ‘blaze and blade canyon path’…
I think it’s a bit of a tedious area, but that’s partially highlighted by that collapsing bridge right at the start. It looks like, for once, you’re going to get a quick path – you know they might take it away after the boss – but, no, you have to walk the long way both times. I wouldn’t mind it if, say, the long path led to something interesting, like an optional cave or somewhere with history, or… well… anything. But it doesn’t, and there opportunities have been lost.
What do you think of the place?

To the guildmaster pondering the mystery of the ‘etrian odyssey password’ – and, uh, everyone else turning up here since I first posted about the game…
I had the same problem, I think. Hit select when on the menu, after loading a save, and you’ll get the option screen with the password available. The one from the game’s main menu is a nasty red herring, and I’m surprised it was left in on that particular screen, considering how many people it’s confused.
I abstractly knew I should have checked the manual, but I didn’t, either. I thought I had to beat EVERYTHING to get the password, and thus all my headaches over fighting Primevil. Then again, it gave me something to do while my foot healed, so anyone finding this post from now on should know they’re not alone, and that I probably went through more thanks to my own idiocy anyway.

To the possible member of the Hunter’s Guild, Pioneer 2 Chapter, wondering about ‘the ruins 2’:
Ahh, sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for, if my guess on the above line is correct. Completely coincidentally… or not, as that game really does share a lot of qualities I love with Blaze & Blade, including a whole boss in Ep. 2… I’m rather fond of PSO, and I’m disappointed that PSU wasn’t quite as good, in my opinion, trading the whole ‘item collection’ thing for a ‘make your own’ mechanic that’s implemented in a worse manner than Monster Hunter’s.
Ahem. PSO, Ruins 2. Where enemies come in nigh-neverending waves, and a humble FOnewearl on her tod has to inhale most of her ‘fluids to deal with each room. Which is all well and good, since the value of the loot by that point tends to exceed the cost of the ‘fluids, but it does get a little ridiculous, thinking about it. Still, it’s a beautiful, if deeply frightening place.
‘Revolution to the origin PART 2’ is one of my favourite musical pieces in that Episode, discounting the boss themes, thanks to the strings right at the beginning. Manic strings. Glee.
This probably didn’t help you at all, whatever you were looking for, but if you did play Phantasy Star Online, I hope this provokes fond thoughts of Ruins 2, rather than nightmares.

To the gamer… um… hmm. I’m running out of synonyms for ‘aski-‘ okay, I’ve got it.
To the gamer seeking a ‘rpg fantasy first person’… which technically was what I was writing about in my last post, but probably wasn’t quite what you were interested in…
Oblivion’s good, seriously, even though I can find enough things to poke about it to write an article like that. Morrowind is also good if you don’t mind older graphics, and is available in a single box with both of its official expansions from, well, anywhere that sells games. Even Tesco.
I also mentioned the Ultima Underworld pair of games, spinoffs from the successful Ultima line of PC RPGs, which were good enough to keep me playing even though I sucked horribly at them. They’re proto-Oblivions, if you think Oblivion is a good game.
On the consoles, you might want to try finding the King’s Field series of games on the PSX and PS2; I never played them, aside from Eternal Ring, a sidestory. Which I never got far in, but was enjoyable like Ultima Underworld 2.
Um. Other than that, I tend to go for anything that isn’t first-person, I’m afraid. You’re asking the wrong person. Do you know of any good games I might want to try?

To the hunter wondering ‘how to kill a cephadrome with a bow’… and this was the second query in the list, but it’s long enough and detailed enough that it might be a bit much for someone not playing MHF(2) to skip past, so it’s here at the bottom.
Exactly how you kill a Cephalos with a bow, really. But just stopping there is a bit cheap. Cephadromes, like their smaller kin, are weak against Ice, so take your trusty Blango Fur Bow * for this trip, along with two less than as many Sonic Bombs as you can pack; Cephadrome really aren’t any trouble to take down with one or two Bombs, once you get the hang of it, but it’s always worth taking as many as you can the first time, whilst you learn when you can safely fire or not.
Presumably you know the range of your bows. If you don’t, take a trip to the Snowy Mountains and snipe some Popos; knowing how far you can stand from ANY Wyvern or Primatius boss is essential, and it’s even better when you know just how far away to stand and fire from to hit, say, a Yian Kut-ku’s ears. Knowledge of your weapons is essential; take some stones and practice throwing those if you’re not sure about Sonic Bombs, either.
That out of the way, actually taking down the Cephadrome. I recommend taking the Sonic Bombs from the supply box every time, as if you use only one of them, you’ve gotten a free Bomb in addition to saving the ones you made yourself. Take the rest of the stuff as you feel necessary, down a Cool or Hot Drink, whichever’s needed, and head out to the desert. Virtually every time I’ve taken this mission, the Cephadrome’s been on this screen; its fin is larger than those of the Cephalos, and if it IS there it tends to start trying to knock your feet out from under you almost immediately. Run to the centre, wait a little, and go search for it elsewhere if you don’t hear the ‘something big’s watching me’ piece.
Once you’ve found it… it’ll still be underground. What you’re aiming for when you toss each Sonic Bomb is its fin, and that usually means timing a throw to coincide with the fin missing you as it rushes past. The range of the soundburst a Sonic Bomb produces is about the size of a hunter, but if you get  it right on the fin the Cephadrome will react without fail. If you hang around long enough without doing that, whether because you keep missing or because you’re out of bombs, the Cephadrome’s fin will dip beneath the sand, and shortly afterwards it’ll arch its head out and spray sand at you. When the fin disappears, just make sure you’re moving, and this shouldn’t hit you; it’s a good opportunity to spike it in the head with a few arrows, or a better opportunity to throw a Sonic Bomb at it than as it goes past, as there’s less chance it’ll move out of the range before it goes off.
Having convinced the Cephadrome to please surface, it’ll flop around for a bit, just like Cephalos. Make sure you’re not standing in front of it, and throw off charged bowshots at it. Always fully charged shots unless you’re almost out of stamina, or have to dodge NOW, as uncharged shots do much less damage than fully charged ones.
Eventually it’ll stop thrashing, and get to its feet. This is very important; do not stay in front of the Wyvern. Never stand in front of any Wyvern without being in the middle of going to stand elsewhere; it may make hitting the head, or head and then straight through the body to the tail with a Piercing bow that much easier, but almost all Wyverns’ most devastating attacks can only be applied to a Hunter standing right in front of them. Hunters who stand still in front of Wyverns get spat, burnt, poisoned, bitten, stepped on, jumped on and shocked to failure. Not simultaneously unless there are some REALLY unfair missions out there, though. At this point in the game, you’re still able to easily heal the damage you’ll take there with Potions and other restorative items, but by the time you reach Red Khezu, you can get KO’d from full health instantly that way. Get out of that habit now and you won’t do stupid stuff like simultaneously wear Lightning-weak armour AND stand in front of Red Khezu later on.
Ahem. Ranting about my own stupidity aside, you can rather safely stand at a nice range from Cephadrome just slightly away from dead ahead; directly facing you is bad, facing 10 degrees away is pretty safe, as its sand breath, though it possesses a very long range ahead of the Wyvern, is much more a line than a cone or quarter. Work out what’s safe; it’s nasty, but it shouldn’t be deadly if you’ve picked decent armour. Bows are probably one of the best weapons to use against Cephadrome, as its weakness is its neck, and all its attacks save spitting sand fall much shorter than the comfortable range. Take your time aiming, try to make most of your shots fall against the Cephadrome’s long neck – preferrably whilst its spitting, as it should know better than to  leave itself open like that – and practice using rolling rather than running to dodge, if you feel like it. If you’re using any form of the Blango Fur Bow, the Cephadrome shouldn’t take long to fall, but just use a Sonic Bomb to convince it to surface properly again, or practice quickly aiming with the bow as it pops out of the sand; you’ll want to be good at that for a certain later Piscine Wyvern or two…
Oh, and remember to watch out for the Cephalos that may be lurking, depending on the area. They’re easy to dodge if you move every so often, but they’re an irritation, nethertheless.
I know that was long, but I don’t believe in knowingly being vague; Cephadrome was the first Wyvern I ever managed to take down, and I never managed it without a bow, so I never got further than the piscine livers quests in the original game.
As a very happy bow-using hunter, I hope this advice helps you… if you ever return here. Not likely, I know, but if you ever come by in future, tell me how it went!

That was fun. And I really don’t mind comments, even if it’s about how my opinions differ from yours. I don’t know everything, and I enjoy rambling and listening to people ramble about this stuff, so TALK, darnit. And post if these help!

Etrian Odyssey, and Difficulty (written 30/6, revised 04/7)

So I beat the boss of Etrian Odyssey several days ago; saw the credit sequence. I’m not going to spoil it, but the fifth stratum was beautiful, and pretty much entirely unexpected, to boot.
However, it turns out the game isn’t done with me. Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard arrived today. I decided not to make the mistake I did with the first game; I ordered this one when it was released and easy to get, rather than waiting until a year later and then having to jump through hoops to find it from anyone who’d deliver it to the UK. But… I still can’t play it. See, it promises extras if you input a password the original Etrian Odyssey produces on completion, but… I haven’t beaten the game yet. Not really.

See, Etrian Odyssey has six strata, not five. Each stratum – each floor, really, but floors in a stratum are usually variations of the same problem – has a different trick or combination of tricks, and these usually aren’t replicated as the focus of a future floor. In essence, each floor, and therefore each stratum, has a different atmosphere to it.
The first stratum introduces you to the game’s elements, and as expected of an introduction area, isn’t difficult to navigate, or more difficult than usual to beat.
The second stratum forces you to walk long distances to simply reach the stairs to the next floor; you learn your time in the labyrinth is essentially very limited to the TP of your characters, barring a well-stocked inventory or a TP-restoring skill. It also has the first major non-boss FOE that is guaranteed death to encounter, at least until you gain 30 levels, and gives you little space to dodge if you screw up.
The third stratum is packed with winding, turning paths, pits behind doors, and FOEs that seem to revel in making existing fights worse.
The fourth stratum requires a lot of searching for secret passages, and careful mapping, before presenting a boss that’s more puzzle than any one encounter.
The fifth stratum has you following a winding path across four floors before you can make your way to the last floor; the one you think is final. Oh, and it doesn’t warn you when you’re on a path that eventually reaches a dead end.

Then there’s the sixth stratum, accessible only after beating the not-quite-final-after-all boss. The sixth stratum’s theme, or atmosphere, seems to be in encouraging frustration. Assuming you survive the enemies – tougher than the fifth stratum’s, of course, and pretty much requiring skills, and thus valuable TP, to defeat even at the highest possible level – your first problem is testing teleport points until you find the one – if any, that doesn’t set you back to the beginning. Then again, with secret passages. Again. Then again, choice of three. Any wrong choice means a lot of wading back to where you were, through enemies and FOEs (also worse). That’s the first of five floors.

At the time of writing, I was confused by B29F. One floor from the end. Well, one floor, and then the 30th floor’s hell of a single, winding, long path and three locked doors at the end.
B29F required all but 1 member to be at or around level 70 to survive; B30F killed you half the time if you had that but didn’t have a good stock of items in inventory, too.
I worried that my current party build was unsuitable, and that I’d have to train up one or more members from 60 again, after reallocating skill points. It was, and I had to defeat three very tough bosses outside of the sixth stratum, to boot.
But I still had two floors to solve.

I like Etrian Odyssey, because unlike some (more popular?) RPGs, it’s difficult to simply overlevel to solve a floor’s enemies – weaknesses need to be noticed and exploited in ‘fair combat’ to survive, sometimes, and it’s difficult simply getting enough experience to gain a single level, let alone get to the point where one stratum’s enemies aren’t a problem before the last floor of the area. The different floors of the Yggdrasil Labyrinth are all puzzles, too, as are quests; solutions to either may be hinted at, if you’re lucky or observant, but for the most part the whole game just lets you discover things for yourself. The FINAL final boss is painful like that; that’s how far they take it.
Difficulty throughout the game is carefully calculated, however; it ramps gradually, such that you don’t notice except when travelling to a new stratum, and you’re always at best struggling against a stratum’s enemies until the final floor, when you’re fully equipped with what the stratum can provide. Maps grow more complex and difficult to navigate, different status elements crop up, FOEs and bosses possess more intricate and fatal combinations of attacks, skills, resistances.

I prefer a calculated challenge; I’d rather spend an hour attempting to solve B29F (and I did – much more than an hour) than fighting through encounters with ShinRa guards, mutants and robots in Midgar and watching long FMVs. La-Mulana sits in a similar spot for explorational platformers – in the end, I’ll play it rather than Cave Story, as it has a balanced, ramping difficulty, whislt Cave Story in comparison has erratic spikes of difficulty, ridiculously easy in places and insanely difficult in others. Remember that cat-tank boss? Lots of people I know complained about that one being difficult. (Personally, I hate Omega – that jumping robot in the Sand Zone. The cat-tank is easy, but I died tens of times to Omega’s feet.)
It doesn’t help that I have the plots of FF7 and Cave Story memorised. Without discovery – of story, of environment, of nuances in difficulty – to drive me on, those games have little to offer me beyond the sudden odd urge to beat them again every year or so. Knowledge, in those cases, defeats the game. However, knowing everything – or as much as I’ll ever know – of a game like La Mulana or Etrian Odyssey does not eliminate the draw of the game; the difficulty remains unchanged, though I may be better prepared.