For their next number, Atlus would like to return to the classics. We're at number four now in the Etrian Odyssey series, and the latest is quite possibly the greatest. I've been utterly captivated by this game after it kicked my ass in the early going. I was stunned, it's not like me to fall in the first dungeon, and I wasn't having any of that, I'm a JRPG master, been playing them since Dragon Warrior had me dropping slimes like a bad habit on the NES. While that attempt to display cred might have been awful, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan is quite the opposite. It's actually one of the best JRPGs I've played in years, and a lot of that could be attributed to its simplicity, yet surprising depth.
The outset of Etrian Odyssey IV is somewhat daunting if only because it hasn't been done in a long time. You start from zero, no party members, no face of the game showing your their agnsty side, just you setting up a party of adventurers to go out and do some old fashioned adventuring. Your guild as it is called is the new kid in a town called Tharsis that is already filled to the brim with adventurers who have found their niche and are happy to live in it. But not you, you've got dreams to make it big and you'll do whatever it takes to make them happen. At least that's what went through my head. Off in the distance sits the world tree, Yggdrasil, looming over all that you do, and being the ever ominous presence that sets up for a rather typical storyline which is really the only thing I find disappointing about this game.
Setting up your party is one of those things were experimentation is key, and early on you'll be doing a lot of party building just to find what works. The reason behind this is because there is incredible synergy between the classes, and you'll constantly be tinkering with your party to try to find what classes work best for the situations you find yourself in. Late in the second world I found myself constantly missing against a specific type of enemy and realized, 'Wait a minute, I have a sniper and he boosts my party's ability to hit stuff, why didn't I have him in here earlier?' This actually in turn lead to a lot of grinding and finding that the sniper class worked well with my other party members who were skilled in dropping debuffs and ailments. Then I unlocked the ability to give my party members sub-classes, and my eyes rolled back in my head and I think I blacked out for about a half hour.
It's actually incredibly impressive the permutations of a party you can have in Etrian Odyssey IV, and when you find the synergies between classes it gives you a sense of accomplishment on par with slaying that extra tough boss that had been sitting there guarding a treasure chest. You didn't need what was inside, you just wanted to know you could kill him. And every level-up feels like a critical junction, with one point to go toward potential skills, do you unlock a new skill or do you make another one stronger? Thankfully there is an option to reset your skill points in exchange for two levels, or you can retire a character, giving them a replacement character that starts with more skill points. Building your party requires about as much work as building a map, one of the series staples.
Charting a map is actually an incredibly useful tool, and really makes exploration the focal point of the adventure. The amount of stuff hidden in any given dungeon will make you glad that you can place icons and notifications about where stuff is located. There's also an auto-move feature that lets you chart a course through a map, so trips to a deeper part of a dungeon can happen much more quickly once you've finished exploring. And you'll be making a lot of return trips to drop off all that loot you'll be finding. Loot also serves as materials to build the weapons and armor you'll be needing to progress, and the shop always teases you with that 'next best thing' in the shop, with materials that you're just not quite finding yet, but if you press on, you'll get that carrot at the end of the stick.
Combat is a joy, but is also a trial by fire if I've ever experienced one. Issue your orders, and hope for the best, use your special skills to take advantage of enemy weaknesses, and in a pinch use the Burst Skills, or just run for your life. From the get-go this game starts out tough. It gets easier as you build your party out, but those initial hours are going to be a challenge. And if I could offer one pro-tip, save, do it often, even if you just did it, do it again to be safe. Because odds are you are just one ambush away from getting dropped. There are tons of enemies out there that'd be happy to devour your party and their little airship. Those dragons? Yeah you don't want any of that noise until much further into your adventure. The difficulty of this game is definitely up there, but it never feels like it's unfair, just challenging. Grinding is obviously going to be happening in a game like Etrian Odyssey IV, and thankfully there is an auto-attack function for when you just want to plow through a dungeon. There are also tons of quests to help you get some experience points, so the grind is never really that bad.
Visually this game is a treat. The 3D visuals are surprisingly well implemented, with their menu system operating in layers to show you which selections are active. The monsters look great and the world itself feels alive with all its color and movement. I don't think I'm doing it justice here, but this is one of the best looking 3DS titles to date. The audio work is utterly fantastic, which isn't surprising considering it's a Yuzo Koshiro soundtrack, with pieces the feel like they come from all over the world and match their locales perfectly along with some great tunes that really convey the sense of urgency a boss battle carries.
Etrian Odyssey has a lot of great things going for it, and it's because it is built on a solid foundation of gameplay, it's a shame that the story and pacing are really the only faults I found. Like I said before the story is a bit on the predictable side, spotting a major plot twist well before it occurred. The bits of story also feel like they're being drip fed to you due to the major amount of time spent trying to get from plot point to plot point. It would have been nice to receive some bits of story more frequently to at least feel like I was making solid progress, especially in the early going when things feel their slowest.
This is the first Etrian Odyssey title I've dedicated a significant amount of time to, and I felt well rewarded, with the nearly sixty hours paying off in spectacular and satisfying fashion. Anyone in need of a JRPG for the 3DS would do well to get their hands on Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan. It's made up of some of the best ideas of games past and feels like a modern day classic that has aged perfectly. The combat is exquisite and incredibly deep, the visuals and soundtrack are spot on, and while the story takes some time to get rolling, it has a great payoff that made the adventure worth it.