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Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan (3DS) artwork

Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan (3DS) review

"Etrian Odyssey IV, the latest installment in the series and the first to appear on the 3DS, does an excellent job of adding convenience without sacrificing any of the franchise’s charms. And don’t worry: it’s still really difficult."

Etrian Odyssey games offer intentionally “retro” dungeon-crawling adventures. You create a party of five characters (none of whom will ever speak), choose everyone’s classes and equipment, and head out into one of many uncharted labyrinths. The process is unceremonious, and that’s the point; the developers’ apparent goal is to offer a fresh take on a classic experience that is mostly absent from modern gaming. Etrian Odyssey IV, the latest installment in the series and the first to appear on the 3DS, does an excellent job of adding convenience without sacrificing any of the franchise’s charms. And don’t worry: it’s still really difficult.

The game’s class system is deceptively complicated: each character starts with 3 skill points which can be spent on class-specific abilities, and additional points are gained after each level increase. Each class has a convenient skill tree which identifies prerequisites for later abilities. If you ever change your mind about the distribution of skill points, the Explorer’s Guild will let you reset all of a character’s SP at the cost of 2 levels. You’ll probably want to take advantage of this option at least once, because the classes in this game are fairly unconventional and many of their abilities are unique among RPGs. For instance, the Dancer’s tango, waltz and samba skills persist for several turns once activated, continually restoring HP, maintaining increased stats, or causing the Dancer to automatically follow up other characters’ attacks with moves of his or her own. Etrian Odyssey veterans will appreciate the lack of the tedious weapon mastery skills from previous titles, along with material gathering skills that cost only one point each (which frees up SP for the cooler and more important abilities).

Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan asset

Choosing a good combination of classes and coordinating their abilities is a tricky task all by itself, but the system explodes in complexity with the addition of subclasses. Once unlocked, subclasses confer all of a class’ skills on one existing party member (able to be mastered up to half their maximum level) as well as allowing the character to equip the same weapons as their subclass. There are 10 classes in total, which allows for a total of 90 different combinations. Good luck deciding on just 5.

One of the series’ main “retro” elements is the player-drawn map. Maps are the primary method of navigation in Etrian Odyssey games, so plotting them using the touch-screen controls is a big part of the gameplay. All the game does is color in floor tiles you’ve passed over; any walls, water, pools of lava, and other obstacles you’d like to keep in mind will need to be added manually using the touch screen controls. If this sounds like a hassle rather than being awesome, this game is probably not for you.

Another game element that reinforces the “do it yourself” attitude is the sort of loot that monsters drop. They’ll never inexplicably leave behind items or gold coins. Instead, a slaughtered creature yields materials like claws or feathers which can then be sold to the town alchemist, netting you cash and unlocking new items to buy. Fighting new monsters and acquiring new equipment are both intrinsically entertaining, but each becomes even more rewarding when the two elements are tied together. It’s also nice not to be asked to believe that a fire-infused axe could fall out of a pigeon.

Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan asset

Of course, that’s assuming you can actually survive any of those battles. I’ve played through the first and third games in their entirety, and I STILL died several times working my way through this game. Story time: I was about to exit back to the world map after exploring an entire floor in one of the earlier dungeons when I encountered two enemies that look like a baboon and an armadillo. Much to my surprise, the baboon picked up and threw the armadillo, dealing massive damage to my entire party. Neither of them had given me any trouble on their own, but together they were unexpectedly powerful. Maybe I should have tried to run, but I was too surprised, or proud. Another throw killed off the rest of my team. Forget about bosses; in Etrian Odyssey IV, even regular enemies can kill you.

As if that weren’t enough, every floor also has at least one mini-boss visibly traipsing around the map. These are called “Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens,” but that name is dumb, so characters always refer to them by the obvious acronym. FOEs are far more powerful than regular enemies, to the point that attacking one the first time you come across it is essentially suicide. Usually they patrol in set patterns, but some will chase you if provoked. Also, FOEs continue to move around while the party is trapped in a random encounter; if you’re not careful, stronger monsters could jump into the battle before you’ve finished off all the small fry.

Fortunately, the game also includes a “Casual” mode. I know how that sounds--I scoffed at the name and avoided it--but the mode actually has no effect on enemies’ strength. What it DOES do is remove the Game Over screen, instead warping you back to the town with no loss of progress if your party falls in combat. That’s a welcome addition for players who hate repeating the same game content over and over. Casual Mode also provides you with a reusable Ariadne’s Thread, an item which instantly teleports you back to town (though these are cheap and reasonably plentiful in the normal mode, anyway).

Explorable areas in Etrian Odyssey IV can be separated into three types: lands, mazes, and caves. Caves are smaller areas, while mazes are larger, multi-floor labyrinths similar to the main dungeon in each of the previous Etrian Odyssey titles. Lands contain all other locations and are essentially pieces of the world map. They have no random encounters, and instead of walking, you fly across them in a hot air balloon. “Skyship” travel retains some elements of the sailing side quests featured in Etrian Odyssey III. Lands randomly generate food in certain spots, which can then be sold, collected for quests, or cooked for temporary stat bonuses. These maps also contain hazards like hurricanes, huge dragons, and FOEs which will attack if you steal their food. Eventually the hot air balloon will be modified to fly even higher, opening up new places to explore in every land.

Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan asset

Visually, Etrian Odyssey IV features a higher-res version of the art style used in the previous three games. Most impressive is the background art drawn by Nizo Yamamoto, famous for his work as an art director on several Studio Ghibli films (though there isn’t all that much of it in the game). The 3D effect actually does a lot for the game’s appearance, adding depth to dungeon hallways and forest canopies as well as allowing menus to be overlaid in interesting ways. I’ve played a few 3DS games that look as though they were designed in 2D and only included the 3DS effects as an afterthought, but Etrian Odyssey IV avoids giving that impression.

The soundtrack received the same care that the graphics did. Yuzo Koshiro has composed the music for all four games, but this time around his pieces were performed by a full orchestra. For the most part these songs are fitting and atmospheric without being particularly memorable, but a few are especially good. The first forest area’s soothing theme comes to mind.

There are only a couple of places I would fault this game. First, the game’s skyship sections are limited in content. Combining the transportation and dungeon-diving elements of Etrian Odyssey III was a great idea in theory, but something is missing in the implementation. Transportation seems to have been simplified in order to become mandatory; now, there’s nothing substantial to do as a break from the main adventure. The world map is still fun to explore, but it leaves something to be desired. Secondly, the game has a few sexualized depictions of young girls. The character portraits of the female Dancer and Nightseeker are scantily clad while appearing to be quite young. Barely dressed women in video games are not by themselves a cause for concern, but when the characters in question don’t even look like they’ve reached puberty, it starts to become a bit creepy. I’ll optimistically chalk this one up to weird cultural differences, but it’s worth mentioning for a game that could realistically be played by children.

All things considered, though, Etrian Odyssey IV is the best in the series. If you’ve never tried any of them before, it’s certainly the best place to start. Returning veterans will find more of the same content they enjoyed the last time around, only shinier. Developers, take note: this is how you make a game accessible for newcomers while still engaging the more experienced players.


Whelk's avatar
Freelance review by Kyle Charizanis (March 06, 2013)

Lifelong gamer and unabashed nerd. Not even a little bit bashed. He was originally drawn to Honest Gamers for its overall high quality of writing. He lives inside his computer which is located in Toronto, Canada. Also, he has a Twizzler (@Whelkk).

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