Ever since Etrian Odyssey's first release back in 2007, the dungeon crawler RPG series has been known for being tough, but rewarding. It harkens back to the oldest of the old-school classics that fans of the genre fondly remember. Each entry in the series further refined those aspects, but the series was never that accessible to newcomers. The newest entry in the franchise, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titans, attempts to fix that issue and it does so wonderfully.
Etrian Odyssey IV plays very close to the standard dungeon crawler RPG formula. After selecting your difficulty level, the game puts you in the shoes of an unnamed adventurer and has you create a party of five (including yourself) from the seven initially available classes. These range from the generic healer, mage and archer to more unique jobs such as a dancer. Each these jobs have their own pros, cons and unique abilities. There's also quite a lot of customisation when it comes to the art styles for each character.
This class system is easily one of Etrian Odyssey IV's highlights. Learning skills is done by using class points which are gained by levelling up. Players can see the full skill tree from the outset, with the latter abilities being locked off by level requirements or because a certain number of points haven't been acquired yet.
Like previous Etrian Odyssey titles, though, there aren't enough points to go around, so players will need to chart out what abilities they want to unlock ahead of time. To help alleviate the need to reroll an entirely new character to unlock other skills, Etrian Odyssey IV allows players to go back two levels in return for resetting all of their used class points. So if you needed a specific ability for a boss, you just need to utilize this game mechanic and re-level two more levels if necessary.
This also becomes useful when the ability to subclass opens up, which lets the characters learn abilities from other classes while still keeping their main class. For example, you could have a Dancer learn health and status healing abilities from the Medic class when there isn't a need to utilize the Dancer's dancing enhancement moves.
For fans of the previous game's difficulty, however, you shouldn't be worried as Etrian Odyssey IV still has that difficulty you've come to expect out of the game. You have your normal run-of-the-mill enemy groups like any other dungeon RPG, but what makes Etrian Odyssey special is its super-bosses known as F.O.E.'s, known by their full name Formido Oppugnatura Exsequen. Each of these super-bosses have their own unique twist compared to the other enemies on the map, such as special attacks or heightened stats. Each of these bosses work as a kind of "puzzle boss" as they tend to require specific strategies and abilities to be able to take them down.Newcomers shouldn't feel too discouraged by this, however, as Atlus included a number of changes in the game's "casual" mode to help alleviate some of your fears. If the player picks the casual mode option (this can be toggled on or off in the game's options menu at any time), any time the player dies in a dungeon they'll be instantly teleported back to the town instead of getting a game over. Additionally, certain items such as the Ariadne Thread, which teleports you back to town, will have unlimited uses. Everything else about the game stays the same, however, so hardcore Etrian fanatics shouldn't feel annoyed by this option.
In addition, Etrian Odyssey IV also throws out some of the previous entry's more annoying flaws which were previously kept because "that's the way it's done". Players no longer have to spend ten levels to reset a character, items don't require a cost to store at the game's inn and forging weapons with new abilities doesn't require money. None of these are major changes but they do show that the developers aren't afraid to streamline the formula while keeping the better hardcore aspects intact. It feels like the developers made these changes out of purpose instead of dumbing down things to garner more sales.
Another one of the series' key differentiating features, mapmaking, comes back in strides in Etrian Odyssey IV. Continuing what started in the first Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Odyssey IV gives the player the ability to create their own map as they explore the game's various dungeons, pen-and-paper style using the Nintendo 3DS' stylus and touch screen. Etrian Odyssey IV works on a random enemy encounter model, with a gauge to help estimate when an enemy is likely to interrupt you, so the game expects the player to use the map-making system to chart out a dungeon in the least amount of steps possible. This is done by the game's first-person style viewpoint which, when combined with the Nintendo 3DS' native 3D ability, makes it even easier to judge distances.
Etrian Odyssey IV also expands on its predecessor, Etrian Odyssey III, which featured map-making on the open seas. In Etrian Odyssey IV, players take control of an airship which lets them roam the open fields. These range from grasslands, swamps and even frozen cliffs. Like the dungeons, players can map out these fields. Although there is an odd omission as while these maps feature grass/tree/etc. tiles, they don't match up with the tiles the game auto-generates. This may concern completionists as they will have to travel over every tile to fully complete a map.
As far as Etrian Odyssey IV's graphical style goes, if you've played previous titles in the series you'll know what to expect here. This game isn't a graphical showcase by a long shot for the Nintendo 3DS, but the developers did utilize the more powerful hardware to make things more cleaner and easier to judge in 3D.
The music, composed by series veteran Yuzo Koshiro, features more of an orchestral flair compared to the chiptune style found in the series' previous entries. The upgrade in music quality thanks to the Nintendo 3DS really shows here as the score is absolutely stunning in-game, especially if you have a pair of headphones available.
The previous Etrian Odyssey games were great dungeon crawler RPGs, but each of them had odd gameplay issues that relegated them solely to the hardcore fans. Etrian Odyssey IV does away with these issues and introduces some new features such as Casual Mode, which lets newcomers get hooked into the series. If you have any interest at all in dungeon RPGs you'll do yourself a disservice letting this odyssey set sail.
|The new Casual mode doesn't dumb things down for the user.|
|The F.O.E.'s are still as nail-bitingly hard as you remember them.|
|The music is leagues above the previous entries.|
|Some of the field map tiles don't match up with the ones the game auto-generates.|
|The game still requires learning by error even in Casual mode, which may annoy some people.|
|The graphics might be too Nintendo DS-like for some people.|