I hope you’re interested in hearing about niche JRPGs, because that’s the forecast for the next couple of updates. Today, we’re going to look at the most recent release in the Etrian Odyssey franchise. This series began as a hardcore, old school throwback to old dungeon crawlers. Debuting on the Nintendo DS, the first Etrian Odyssey was strictly for the most hardcore dungeon crawler fans, with a punishing difficulty and very little in the ways of intuitive design. The second game cleared up a lot of bad design choices, but continued the trend of being strictly for the most hardcore. It wasn’t until the third game in the series that chinks started showing in the “expert only” armour. I’m glad to say that Etrian Odyssey IV continues this trend and is easily the most accessible game in the series. The difficulty is less punishing, while still being substantial, and it doesn’t screw over new players for not being instant experts on maddening flowcharts. Some games get attacked by players for catering to the masses such as the recent DmC and Fire Emblem games, but appealing to more gamers is certainly a good thing, as long as the game doesn’t sacrifice its soul. I’m glad to say that Etrian Odyssey’s soul is completely intact in this transition.
|Yeah, if you don’t like anime-style graphics, with a bunch of loli characters, maybe this isn’t the game for you.
The basics of Etrian Odyssey are as follows: you will build a team of adventurers, choosing from preset classes; take them into a dungeon; draw your own map to the dungeon; and fight an alarming amount of random encounters on the way to the boss of each labyrinth. There is a barebones story, but it is so unimportant to the game that it’s not worth mentioning. As such, basic JRPG-style combat is at the center of this game, but it shares some of the spotlight with map creation. As you move through each labyrinth, you will be drawing your own reference map on the touch screen. This is a fundamental aspect of the game, as being familiar with the layout of a dungeon is vital, especially when you’re dodging dangerous enemies, called FOEs, or searching for the way forward. While most of the game relies on random encounters, FOEs are present on the screen and can be avoided. These enemies are meant to be super strong enemies, who are difficult, sometimes impossible to kill on your first visit. The developers use this as an opportunity to create puzzles. FOEs have different behaviours and part of the fun is finding out how to manipulate them so you can pass.
|He just wants a hug… also, the flesh off your bones.
The entire game is played through the first person and that includes combat. You will never see your characters, short of the character portrait you picked when you created them. As such, the combat can feel dated, harking back to the old first person dungeon crawler days of past. This is intentional, and the combat is anything but dated. As you level up, you will gain skill points to invest in a myriad of skills available to your character. Part of the fun in this game is to design your team in such a way that their skills and expertise synergizes well with the rest of the team. For example, if your Landsknecht (Basic swordsman class) specializes in attacks that activate as your teammates attack, bringing in a Dancer (Support class), who has abilities that can increase the amount of attacks you have can create a dangerous pair. This is the most addicting part of the game, and you can get lost in the huge variety of party and character builds.
|Three unlockable classes including a class for furries.
One of the core systems of the game involve hunting monsters, taking their loot and redeeming them for new armour and weapons at the store. As such, grinding is a major part of this game, not just for levels, but also for equipment. If you are a gamer who doesn’t appreciate grinding, then this game isn’t for you, but, fortunately, the grind is far more rewarding than previous Etrian Odyssey games, mostly because of a new and improved skill chart, which is clear on prerequisites and largely devoid of useless skills. Previous skill charts in the series have been a total mess that required extensive perusing to have any idea of how to develop your character. As part of this, it is also far easier to rest all of your skill points. You can rest at the cost of two levels (Instead of ten in the previous games), which isn’t too big of a penalty because experience is much easier to come by in this game. While the grind is still there, it isn’t nearly as ever-present and dreary as it was in previous games, making Etrian Odyssey IV much more user-friendly.
|As much as you might want to see your characters, this style definitely grows on you.
A major new addition to the game is the overworld. Your team will get an airship early on and be able to explore the overworld, collect food, battle FOEs, and find new dungeons. This breaks up the dungeon crawling in the best possible way, and exploration is pretty fun, especially using food to bait overworld FOEs. There are no random encounters, so it’s a much more relaxed approach, and it means that the only worry is the threat of FOEs and the occasional visit from one of the post-game beatable dragons, which will fly around dropping goodies, and knocking out your team if he hits you. Food can be collected from various points, which will give you bonuses when you enter a dungeon such as +1 to strength or additional fire resistance. Each new area has their own selection of food, and you’ll automatically sell the surplus when you get back to town, so no hoarding. Unlike previous Etrian Odyssey games, there are many dungeons instead of simply one. Most dungeons are tiny one floor caves, but there are still major three floor labyrinths that you’ll be crawling through in order to make it to the next geographical area.
|Hint: don’t fly into the tornado.
Graphically, Etrian Odyssey IV is actually really beautiful. The enemy models are entirely in 3D and are crisp and well animated. NPCs and player characters are represented in gorgeous 2D anime-styled graphics. The labyrinths don’t look significantly better than previous games, but little touches, such as being able to see through the leaves of a forest over to another tunnel really adds a lot. The stereoscopic 3D effect really shines in this weird mix of 2D and 3D. The character portraits and damage numbers really pop off the screen during the battles. Outside of dungeons where everything is in 3D, the stereoscopic 3D effect isn’t nearly as good. Still, it is a much better use of 3D than most games. Sound-wise, the game really shines. Each labyrinth’s music was designed by a different composer, and the various styles make each land seem even more foreign. Fortunately, the mix of styles doesn’t make the game feel disjointed, which is always a concern.
|2D + 3D makes great 3D… you know, the other kind.
The Etrian Odyssey series is unlikely to ever hit the mainstream due to its limited appeal, but the developers are doing their best to make the series as accessible as possible without sacrificing the integrity of the series. Etrian Odyssey IV isn’t only the most accessible Etrian Odyssey game, but it is definitely the best on in the series, and I fully recommend it to anyone who enjoys grind-intensive dungeon crawlers. Along with Fire Emblem: Awakening, Super Mario 3D Land, and Resident Evil Revelations, Etrian Odyssey is one of the best games available on the 3DS right now.
– Extremely deep combat and customization
– Beautiful graphics
– Great music
– Very accessible for newcomers
– Barebones story
– Limited appeal
-Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer