Etrian Odyssey IV is one of the most rewarding titles you can play on the 3DS
Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey franchise hasn’t exactly had presence in the UK. The British Isles were lucky enough to get the first entry back in 2008, thanks to Nintendo helping with publishing the title on the DS, but the series has since been forgotten until now. Thanks to Nippon Ichi Software USA and their extremely promising Atlus partnership, we in the UK can now experience the fourth – and first for the 3DS platform – entry in the increasing popular old-school, Japanese RPG series that harks back to the days of first-person, dungeon crawlers from the early 90s.
Etrian Odyssey is a series that doesn’t focus on supplying a deep and engrossing story – there’s little to no plot featured in the game. Players are given a short blurb about the tree Yggdrasil. This tree looms on the horizon, visible from everywhere, but no one knows where it actually leads to, so the Outland Count of Tharsis has set up sponsorship for anyone willing to reach Yggdrasil and discover what lies beyond the tree. This is where you come in to help. As the leader of a self-named, newly created guild, you must take your band of heroes and determine what lies on the other side of that tree, while helping the townsfolk of Tharsis with their errands and demands to become a local hero and cash in on the fame.
For people who are used to JRPGs offering baby steps during the beginning, then you are going to be in for a surprise with how free Etrian Odyssey IV feels. There is no key story character that forms a gang and saves the world, since in Etrian Odyssey IV, the guild and the characters that you hire are all selected and named by you. A party can consist up to five members at one time, and you will create all five in the beginning before setting off on the adventure. Five isn’t the limit, since you can create and store 20+ characters within your guild, allowing for experimentation to figure out which classes you prefer using. Each member is generated by picking a class from one of seven with three more unlocked as you progress through the game, and then selecting one of four art portraits to represent the design of said character. This freedom can be overwhelming, as picking a good party is the first step into overcoming the world of Etrian Odyssey IV.
Class types are mostly what you would expect from a fantasy RPG. The Landsknecht is the jack-of-all-trades, a melee class with balanced stats that can wield axes, hammers and swords. Fortress is the tank, aimed at keeping the other members alive by taunting enemies and taking most of the damage, while using buffs to increase everyone’s defence. A medic helps with healing, a Runemaster deals with magic attacks, and the Sniper is a master bow user that is fantastic for picking off enemies from the back lines of the team. The last two, Dancer and Nightseeker, are a bit less straight forward. The Dancer is made specifically for buffing the team, while the Nightseeker is the assassin of the group, solely created to hit enemies with status ailments through their fast attacks.
Fans will feel right at home, because not much has changed to the core of Etrian Odysseysince the last iteration. This is still the first-person, turn-based RPG that made it gain a niche following. What Atlus have tried to do though is make Etrian Odyssey IV more welcoming to newcomers. The series is known for blending old-school, first-person, dungeon crawling with a challenge, and this is something that seems to have pushed users away from the series. To rectify this, Atlus has included a casual mode, a feature that reduces damage from enemies and increases your attack. The biggest change is with death, since you’re no longer sent back to the load screen; instead, your party is safely whisked away back to the town with full health. Casual players also get access to an unlimited use of the Adriane Thread – an item that you normally have to buy from the town store – which allows the party to teleport back to town at any point within a dungeon. Casual mode, without a doubt, makes Etrian Odyssey IV the best entry in the series for newcomers. I don’t see it as an “easy mode” – it still offers somewhat of a challenge at various points in the game – but a clever feature that will slowly mould casual players into people who will understand the concept of the game and adapt to the tougher normal setting.
Dungeon crawling is the heart of Etrian Odyssey, and Etrian Odyssey IV doesn’t change this one bit. Apart from visiting Tharsis and using its store and inn, you’re always in a dungeon exploring its dangers and finding treasures. The first-person perspective offers a delightful and closer look at the game’s various environments, from the overgrown, sunlight forest of Lush Woodlands to the gloomy rocky area of the Underground Lake, the game is rather pleasing to look at with its colourful graphics springing from the surroundings. Blend this with the fantastic musical score – thanks to the involvement of legendary composer, Yuzo Koshiro, working his musical magic for the game’s soundtrack – and it all comes together in a package that makes exploring the world of Etrian Odyssey IV a joyous one.
Actually, joyous is probably not the right word, because every dungeon you explore is full of monsters who want nothing more than to make sure your time there is unpleasant. Etrian Odyssey IV is an unsafe place that can easily result in death after a few minutes of adventuring. From the very first dungeon, you’ll notice that there is an uncharted map placed on the bottom screen of the 3DS, which reveals itself as you explore. Using the game’s hand-mapping system is very important. It allows you to plot down doors, shortcuts, walls and other noteworthy locations. Plotting is easy, thanks to the game’s use of square-based movement, making it simple to decipher what’s around your current location. It can feel daunting at first, and even boring, but as you discover bigger maps with multiple floors, it becomes a very helpful tool to speedily get back to an location when returning to a dungeon. The map is a memory tool that lets your brain rest without having to memorise dungeon layouts, and that’s good for someone like me who likes to explore, but can’t remember if I took a left or right at the last junction.
The map also helps players by displaying all the Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens (F.O.E.) on the same floor as you are. F.O.E.s are visceral monsters. They are so dangerous that they don’t appear in the random battles, like typical enemies, but follow a patrolling pattern. They move when you move, and if you move too close to them, they will attack you with the intent to kill. These are strong enemies that you will not be able to defeat when you first set foot within a new dungeon. My experience with defeating F.O.E.s was that I could only beat them after being two to three dungeons ahead from initially meeting them. F.O.E.s can even enter battle when you are already in a fight with a normal enemy, which adds to some frightening moments when the F.O.E abruptly pops up in your battle with its trademark scream. I don’t think I’ve been afraid of enemies in an RPG since meeting the level 120 monsters in Xenoblade Chronicles.
But in a clever way, F.O.E.s are used as puzzle elements in dungeons. An early example of this is when you are in the Lush Woodlands, where the F.O.E is a huge bear. Scattered around the woodland are passageways blocked by trees. The only way to get through these is by luring the bear towards them. You do this by alerting the F.O.E, then running away and passing the tree. Bears like honey, so the F.O.E smells the scent airing from the fallen tree and proceeds to smash it to get its lunch. Move your team around in a safe area, so that the monster will leave, to safely continue on. This is just one of many examples of how the developers have conjured ways to blend F.O.E. manipulation with the environment, which adds that bit more fun to the adventuring.
A new feature in Etrian Odyssey IV is the world map. In previous titles, the game would have a list of the dungeons and you would be transported to them. Now, you control an airship and you must travel to the require destination. This opens up some freedom, as scattered around the land are hidden caves that offer side-dungeons. This will often include hidden treasures or higher level enemies as a way to improve your party before tackling the next major dungeon. F.O.E.s also run rampant around the world map and are more devastating than the ones you meet inside dungeons. F.O.E.s tower above the ground, like giants, and will usually wipe out your party in a hit or two. I don’t think I have ever been so scared of a kangaroo.
When it comes to battling, the fight engine is basic in its appearance. The enemy is show in front of you from the first-person perspective and your five characters are just names on the bottom of the screen with their status bars. Effects, such as sword slashes, fire explosions and ice shards, are displayed for attacks – barebones compared to some other games. This shouldn’t mean you should mistake Etrian Odyssey IV for being shallow; it’s not, and Etrian Odyssey IV features a engrossing battle system, thanks to skills beings vital to turning the battle in your favour.
Each class comes with their own skill set across three categories. Novice offers skills from level 1-19, Veteran is level 20-39, and Expert is 40+. Every time a character levels up, they gain one skill point to add to any of their unlocked abilities. Skills can be levelled up multiple times, so it’s key to figure out what skills you need to make the hero work alongside the remaining party members. Later on, the ability to add a sub-class is unlocked, offering even more benefits and skills to include in the equation. The game offers freedom with how you craft your team members, and if you feel you have messed up with how you have distributed your skill points, you can go visit your guild headquarters and “rest” a hero to reduce them by two levels in exchange for being able to respec their skills.
Etrian Odyssey IV is a game created for a niche audience. Not everyone will be able to put up with its simplistic interface and old-school gameplay. If you are one of those people who are avoiding it for that reason, but did have an interest beforehand, then I recommend you ignore those feelings because Etrian Odyssey IV is one of the most rewarding titles you can play on the 3DS. It’s the easiest one for newcomers to get into, thanks to the new casual mode, but it doesn’t upset the tradition. Fans will still love Etrian Odyssey IV. It includes everything you adored about the DS titles, but improved in all corners – visuals, monsters, music and features.Etrian Odyssey IV is an engrossing, challenging and rewarding handheld RPG that will keep you busy for weeks to come, whether you’re a newcomer or a veteran.