My review of the fourth game in the Etrian Odyssey series, developed and published by Atlus and NISA!
Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan is the fourth game in Atlus’ dungeon crawling series for Nintendo handhelds. I played and loved the first game, and then skipped straight to the latest instalment for a play when it released here. I was eager to get my hands on it, and now that I’ve finished, read on to hear about just how much it did (or didn’t) meet my expectations!
The main objective of the Etrian Odyssey series is to explore. The game hands you a blank map, ushers you into the nearest labyrinth and instructs you to fill it in, showing you how with a short tutorial. You get stuck straight in, and while the first area you explore is relatively easy, it quickly escalates to become much harder. You have a number of tools at your disposal with which to map; the most basic ones allow you to draw in and erase walls and walkable tiles. There are also markers for doors, secret passages, special events, tiles from which you can gather resources; everything you need to draw your map is provided for you.
The series makes excellent use of the two DS screens for this; within the labyrinth, the top screen will display a first-person view of your dungeon so you can see what lies ahead. The bottom screen displays your map, which you can draw in using the touch screen as you go. You can also flip between the maps for floors and labyrinths by pressing some options on the side. This gameplay is what I love the most; where most games would have me rushing through battles and getting from one place to another to advance the story, Etrian Odyssey IV had me quite content to sit through battles and draw in my map, as doing so was very satisfying. I feel it’s worth noting here that when starting a new game, you can choose whether you wish to play on Casual or Normal mode; casual is easier than the regular setting. You are also able to transfer your data over from the demo when you start.
In addition to exploring labyrinths, you also have a world map to explore. Every time you get closer to your final destination, a new land will open up which you can explore and map using your airship. Wandering around the map are FOEs, or Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens. Normally you encounter monsters via a random encounter, but FOEs can visibly be seen on the map. They can be found in dungeons as well, and are much more powerful than regular opponents.
If you find a FOE is guarding an area you want to get to on the world map, you can throw some food on to the ground to distract it. Food is shown on the world map and can be picked up by hovering above it. You can then choose to throw it to distract FOEs, cook it for some stat boosts before heading into a dungeon, or take it back to Tharsis to sell for some en (the game’s currency). There are also a number of upgrades that can be made to your airship that will allow you to come back and explore more of each area later on, as well as encounter new FOEs.
So, why are you exploring these dangerous labyrinths? You take on the role of an amateur explorer looking to form their own guild and explore the labyrinths. The town of Tharsis is situated near to a labyrinth and sends explorers into them to try and extract its secrets. To the north lies the great Yggdrasil tree, and as your guild makes its way towards it, the labyrinths found along the way are found to hold some very interesting secrets. Etrian Odyssey IV is not a game with a strong story; long periods of labyrinth exploration are broken up with the occasional bit of story thrown in, with sidequests available to be completed at your leisure. All up, it took me around 70 hours to complete the main story, which includes a number of sidequests. So while the story may not be amazing, the game will certainly keep you occupied for a while.
Sidequests can be taken at the Golden Deer Pub, located within the town of Tharsis. Up to five can be taken at any time, and will reward you with experience alongside the promised items and en. Tharsis acts as your hub, and contains everything you need for your adventures. Berund Atelier is the local shop, where you go when you need to buy new weapons and armour or stock up on items. The shopkeeper at Berund Atelier can also upgrade some of your weapons; however, each upgrade type (Vitality boost, Agility boost, poison alignment, and so on) must be unlocked by bringing her the corresponding hammer, which can be found as you complete quests and explore. You can also sell her your creature drops. In Etrian Odyssey IV, your foes do not drop money; they only drop items which the shopkeeper will buy off you and utilise to create new items and equipment. This is how new items are unlocked. The Inn allows you to rest until the morning or the evening, which also restores your HP and your TP. There is an option to store items; storage space can be expanded by doing the innkeeper favours, which get posted as sidequests at the Golden Deer.
Etrian Odyssey IV is compatible with StreetPass; the game generates a guild card for you based on your current progress. The Cargo Wharf allows you to manage your StreetPass settings, and is also the place to go when you need to upgrade your airship. The Guild Hall is where you head to manage your party; it allows you to recruit new guild members and reorganise your party to suit your needs. One of the things I like about this game is that it lets you select the appearance and names of your characters. Each class has four pre-set portraits that you can choose from when making each character, so you can really make your team your own. There are also options to rest, retire and dismiss. Dismissing speaks for itself; the character will leave and never return. Resting will completely reset a character’s skill points at the cost of two levels. Retiring a character will have them leave the guild and be replaced by a raw recruit with higher stats and more skill points; the higher the level they are when you retire them, the more skills points and the higher the stats the recruit will start with.
Battle is turn-based and uses regular attacks, the skills gained from your skill allocation, and Burst skills. Regular skills consume TP (technique points) with each attack. Each time you do an action in battle, your Burst gauge will fill up and eventually earn you a point. You can have no more than 5 of these points accumulated at any time. These points can then be used to activate a Burst Skill, which can be used in a number of ways depending on the skills you have equipped. As you progress through the game, you unlock more skills and become able to have more equipped at one time.
When it comes to levelling up, your party members are completely malleable. Skill points are used to increase characters’ skills, and right from the beginning you can see how to unlock each one, allowing you to plan your skill allocations well in advance. A second set of skills opens up to characters once they hit level 20, and again when they hit level 40; a number of these skills will have prerequisites from the previous skill levels, so these must be levelled up a certain degree before the more advanced ones can be learned. One skill point is gained with each level, and additional ones can be acquired by retiring characters at the Guild Hall.
Pouring more points into a skill can either increase its potency or decrease the amount of TP required to use it. Skills are based on the character’s class, and each of the 10 classes has their own set; the Medic has a host of healing spells, the Runemaster attacks with magic, the Fortress has loads of defensive spells, the Landsknecht is a fierce attacker, and so on. Later on it becomes possible to set a sub-class, which gives your character five extra skill points and allows them to gain skills from another class. The skills they can gain via their sub-class is limited, and each skill cannot be upgraded as far as it could if it were their main class.
The music in Etrian Odyssey IV really surprised me. The music in the first game was okay, but I fell in love with the soundtrack this time around. It was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who has been doing game soundtracks for over 25 years and has worked on such games as the Ys series, Time and Eternity and much more. Each labyrinth has its own theme for battle and also for when you were just walking around, as does each land; I especially loved the track from the fourth land, embedded below. The boss themes are fantastic as well, and I’ve found myself listening to a few of these as I’ve been studying for my exams.
There is quite a bit to do after you finish the main story of Etrian Odyssey IV, especially if you’re a completionist. A whole new dungeon opens up for exploration, and more sidequests get posted as a result. There’s work to be done in maxing character stats and filling out your Monstrous Codex and Item Compendium; they act as an encyclopedia for monsters and for items respectively, telling you where to find them and what weaknesses they have. There’s also a superboss to be found in the postgame, so it will definitely be keeping you occupied even after you save the world.
Etrian Odyssey IV will satisfy all the needs of the dungeon-crawling gamer. I always looked forward to battles as I loved the classic turn-based combat. The skill point allocations and sub-classes were fun to manipulate, and the music was excellent. However, the story is most certainly lacking, and those who do not enjoy dungeon-crawling games will probably want to hurl their consoles across the room in frustration. In all, this will be an amazing game for a few, but is definitely not for everyone.