The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Some battles just aren’t meant to be won on the first try. Keep those words in mind when entering the unforgiving world of Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan. Danger lurks around every corner, and with triumph comes the satisfaction of knowing you’ve overcome a maddening challenge.
The experience is akin to taking a time portal back to when games offered very little direction; Etrian Odyssey requires patience, a thirst for exploration, and the desire to slowly unravel a mysterious world. The critical thought that some of the quests demand will put a smile on your face…but only once you’ve taken your brain to a place it doesn’t often go. After all, how do you battle a foe whose eyes you can’t meet? But as a dungeon crawler in the vein of classics like Wizardry and Might and Magic, the series has thrived by embracing difficulty and old-school mechanics.
Etrian Odyssey IV keeps this tradition intact. As the new explorer in town, you create a guild to uncover the secrets of the fabled Yggdrasil tree. Don’t expect an intricate narrative – the focus is on exploration and leveling. Small story snippets appear in dungeons and at your base, though they’re not anything groundbreaking. You make your own story as you create a customized five-member crew, though I wish party members had distinct personalities. The sad truth is that they feel like stock pictures – merely instruments in battle – instead of companions.
The emotional vacancy of the journey aside, you have vast lands filled with labyrinths and caves to satiate your looting and leveling desires. Labyrinths are more complex than caves, often covering more ground, though both have their share of dead ends, secret passages, and vicious enemies. While in a dungeon, you need to map out areas using the stylus, a throwback to having a piece of graph paper and a pencil. The generation who grew up with this should feel at home, but others might find the mapping process a little bit of a chore. It takes some getting used to, especially since incorrectly placing a wall or doorway can leave you wandering for hours, looking every which way to find where you mismapped.
Being a cartographer also means you can’t just fly through a dungeon; you must look in every direction to ensure you’re not missing a hidden passage. Also be prepared for some backtracking – dungeons often contain a few levels, with no fast travel between sections. This is irritating, but the mapping mechanics provide an autopilot option, saving you from manually navigating the entire area again.
To Etrian Odyssey’s credit, events pop up during dungeons where you are asked questions, like whether characters should eat a fruit or put their hands in a beehive. Plenty of risk accompanies the rewards, and the outcomes are often unpredictable. Sometimes that mushroom that you think is poisonous actually restores your hit points. These little touches break up some of the tedium of exploring and make the trek more realistic.
The random battles can be deadly, but with skill and class selection, you’re able to play just the way you like. The menu options come straight out of the 1980s, with attack, magic, defense, and items alongside “Burst.” Burst is the most unique selection, as you slowly build points over the course of dungeons. Weapons can be forged with extra traits – like adding poison or vitality – for an extra edge. Etrian Odyssey excels with this customization as well as in how the majority of its skills, including buffs and debuffs, are extremely useful.
This is important since FOE mini-bosses often block your path, and they are initially deadly to engage. Studying their patterns to avoid them is essential until you can defeat them. While FOEs add tension to exploration, they can also be downright aggravating. These behemoths can enter any battle, as long as they’re walking nearby, so even downright simple battles can often take a turn for the worst. Finally defeating one of these beasts is one of the most rewarding experiences – after all, it was only a few short levels ago that they were defeating you with a single blow.
Sound scary? Maybe too hard for your taste? This time around, Atlus added a casual mode for those who want a challenge, but abhor losing progress. This mode doesn’t penalize you upon death; in previous entries, death robbed you of your progress, experience, items, and gold (and it still does on normal). Even with its allowances, the casual mode is still challenging – spamming the attack button doesn’t guarantee victory, especially once you hit new lands.
Danger. Intrigue. Beauty. Frustration. During my playtime I felt all of these, but by far the greatest emotion was triumph. Etrian Odyssey IV finally has the polish and accessibility previous entries lacked, but it’s hardly perfect. The mandatory slow-moving grind, lack of guidance, and unforgiving nature at times turned me off. But as someone who couldn’t get into the first three, it’s clear Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan has jumped leaps and bounds from where the franchise was before.
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.