Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan Review (3DS)
Have you ever wanted to be a cartographer? Ever wanted to just say “Screw it all” to the mundane life you live and run off to the unmapped parts of the world, armed with nothing more than a piece of parchment and a pen? Feel the cool breeze brush through your hair as you scribble maps of the routes you’ve taken? If you answered all of those questions with yes, then Etrian Odyssey IV is the game for you. If you answered no then you’ll probably enjoy it anyway.
Etrian Odyssey is an RPG with a classic eastern approach to battles and western approach to exploration. And this mix isn’t jarring in the slightest, in fact it feels like a such a natural communion that you’d wonder why it’s not done more often. The whole game (outside of menus) is turn based. That encompasses exploration, dungeon crawling and combat. There’s enough to talk about in each of these categories so they’ll be covered in a bit. The last thing that needs raised here is how the game starts. Instead of being introduced to the party of characters you’ll be looking after for the whole game, you are tasked with creating every adventurer you wish to take along. You’re also tasked with creating the guild they’re going to belong to and instantly thrown into the great world where the common people expect them to become heroes. You are going to live up to those expectations, right?
Let’s look at exploration in more depth, as it is one of the main features of this game. Exploration occurs both out in the world map and in dungeon crawls, and though they are very similar in approach they each bring their own dangers and boons to the party. Riding the wind currents out in the open world in your dinky little hot air balloon brings adventures all in itself. Through this you’ll be discovering new dungeons, collecting food items to eat or sell and bravely running away from big scary monsters among other things, while taking your guild for a jaunt through one of the varied dungeons in the world will give you the opportunity to collect materials for the only shop in town, complete quests for patrons and, again, run away from big scary monsters. Both exploration areas here expect you to have a good sense of direction, or at least a decent ability to take notes, as while the game will help you to a degree by filling in paths in the dungeon, you are expected to note down the locations of material deposits, food locations, secret paths, special locations… the list goes on. Through all this note taking, the game also offers you the ability to autopilot through dungeons – forcing your party to follow in steps that you have taken previously, giving obvious benefits to grinding speed as the game plays itself… but that’s no fun, is it?
So, when thinking about exploring through an RPG and how to not run away from big scary monsters, what’s the only option you’ve got? Combat! Combat in Etrian Odyssey is a turn based affair where you bring up to five members of your guild into the action to fight off the monsters and animals local for each dungeon. There’s a decent list of skills and abilities to use in combat that justify the existence of each of the seven starting classes, as each class brings unique strengths and boons to the party. The likes of the Landsknecht and the Nightseeker bring raw damage to the party in their own ways as well as debuff the enemy, the Runemage and Sniper provide ranged support and where one brings heavy AoE damage the other aids the party, finally the Medic,Fortress and Dancer all provide supporting roles in their unique ways. The Cleric is, as you’d expect, a pure healer and the tank a pure tanker, the Dancer provides back up offensive support in the form of dances which provide follow up attacks, counters etc while active. In combat, all of the skills these classes bring are shown functionally yet without a lot of flair. Little more than a flash across the screen shows up during many attacks, or small bursts of light across your party’s status bars for recovery moves. Monsters are presented a little more impressively as they’re all full modeled and animated creatures that are impressively done for a handheld console. To top it all off there’s few reskins among the various species out there – a bit of a rarity among JRPGs.
As you’d expect, a big component of RPGs and a natural progression from combat is leveling up. And it’s certainly present in Etrian Odyssey in a big way. Each class has a unique skill tree that is separated into three increasingly powerful sections that are limited largely by minimum level requirements. There’s a variety of skills to choose from even in their individual sections, between utility skills, passives, offensive and defensive combat skills and dungeon skills there’s enough to choose from that you can easily make multiple builds out of the same character.
It’s unfortunately hard to disguise that between a heavy emphasis on leveling, the possibility of so many builds and the difficulty of so many monsters, Etrian Odyssey wants, or expects you to grind. To raise money, to raise your level, to challenge bosses, to get resources, all of these core features of the game require you to visit dungeons over and over and to fight the same monsters again. Whether or not this is a good thing is entirely depending on the type of gamer you are. Like MMOs or JRPGs? You’ll be perfectly fine with it. Heck you’ll barely even notice how much grinding you’re doing with all the fun you’re having and missions you’re trying to complete. (Also that battle music is absolutely rocking and really helps to distract when you’re actively trying to listen to it).
All in all Etrian Odyssey is a solid title and a credit to the RPG genre. It’s a little bit slow paced yes, and it’s not always clear what you’re supposed to be doing (such cases are rare and possibly self inflicted though), but the whole game is so well balanced, even the grinding isn’t so hardcore as to put you off. If you’re looking for a digital version of crack cocaine you’ll find it here.
4.5 full guild ledgers out of 5