A dungeon crawler for the amateur cartographer.
Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey series makes its debut on the 3DS with Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, which has been brought over to Europe by NIS America, and brings with it a healthy dose of hardcore, old-school dungeon crawling that is sure to excite the more veteran fans of the genre. While the game does include a casual mode designed to appeal to the less hardcore fans, the casual game takes away much of what makes Etrian Odyssey IV enjoyable, and I would suggest that most players knuckle down and play the game as it is meant to be played, and be prepared to grind.
A deep and involving story is something that players don’t have to worry about here. The story is purposefully vague and uninspiring, involving the player creating a guild of heroes to investigate the magical tree Yggdrasil. It is this light premise that launches the player into a highly customisable creation of their team. The player not only gets to decide the classes of the various members of their team, from a choice of seven to begin with, but they also get to name them and customise their appearance to a certain degree as they make the team their own.
The different classes are varied, but mostly come under typical stereotypes that can be found in other games once you get past their unusual names. The Landsknect for example is the basic swordsman and the Medic is kind of self explanatory. However, there are some more exotic choices to be had, such as the Dancer who offers front-row support with buffs and blades. Each of the different classes have their own skill trees which can further customise the members of the team as they progress, with skill points to be assigned and new skills to be learned.
Managing the different classes and their various skills is something that will take time to accomplish, Etrian Odyssey IV is not an easy game and a level of strategic thinking will be required to master the battles. There is a lot to consider in combat, along with how best to use your different characters and their skills. Formation is important, as is the formation of the enemy. There are a lot of conditions to be taken into account as well, both positive and negative, and the options are almost endless for dealing with encounters. It is all old-school in its nature, but wonderfully involving and more than a little satisfying.
Also of an incredibly old-school nature is the dungeon crawling itself. With a first-person viewpoint, the player will move around what is essentially a grid-based dungeon. The dungeons themselves come in different varieties, with the larger multi-level maze-like dungeons to be found in following the main story, while smaller single-level mazes can be found in the side-quests. Like everything else, the movement is turn-based and so the player can carefully plan their movement, which is especially handy when it comes to the hugely powerful monsters that are occasionally seen wandering the dungeons. These are not the run of the mill random encounters that the player will deal with the most, but special monsters that the player should only face when they are powerful enough. Thankfully, through the turn-based movement, the player can avoid these monsters all together by studying their movement patterns.
Visually, the first-person view when dungeon crawling looks really nice on the 3DS. It still feels retro and is reminiscent of games from systems that most gamers won’t have even heard of, but it is comfortable to look at and does the job. However, something that seems to have been revived from even further back is probably the largest talking point when it comes to Etrian Odyssey IV, the map making.
Players are encouraged to draw their own maps of the dungeons on the touchscreen, for future reference and to find all of the secrets hidden within each dungeon. This may seem like a bit of a hassle at first, but the tools are all their to make up the map with all of the information that the player could need, and after a while it becomes a solid part of the game. It is also helpful as the player can make personal notes on the map and the frequent backtracking is much easier with a hand drawn map than from memory. Still, it is a strange inclusion in a modern game, and one that will convince many gamers to give Etrian Odyssey IV a wide berth.
Outside of the dungeons and the constant grinding to reach the necessary levels to progress, the player will spend time in the central hub city where they can, through menus, buy and sell equipment and pick up missions. The other main destination, of sorts, is the airship that the player can explore with. Traveling the world in the airship will give rise to further adventures, hidden areas and monsters to fight. The airship can even be customised to a degree, and is a much more involved method of moving from one area to another than simply clicking yet another menu.
There really is a lot going on in Etrian Odyssey IV, but nothing will change the fact that this is a heavy-going game. There is an awful lot of grinding and repetition, and many of the mechanics are too old-school to appeal to the general gaming populace. That being said, Etrian Odyssey IV is much more enjoyable than it would appear on paper. The mechanics all work well and the game is compelling enough that a small investment in time should be enough for the game to get its hooks in, and then the player will be lost in a world of turn-based movement and map creation for many, many hours.