Etrian Odyssey IV Review: Legends of the Titan
First person dungeon crawlers have always been an odd and disconcerting experience for me. I still remember watching my mom play Shining in the Darkness and thinking, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to play a game like that.” Boy, did Etrian Odyssey IV prove me wrong.
Graphics: It's All About the Presentation
I’ve always liked to say that graphics don’t matter to me, but let’s be honest: they make a difference. Everyone has a preference, and I’m no different. Show me a game with anime-esque graphics and I’m instantly intrigued. Etrian Odyssey IV offers a number of unique character designs with an anime inspired theme. There’s also the hand-drawn look of the backgrounds in the town of Tharsis and the half-cartoon, half-realistic look of the monsters. Now, granted, the walls and floors in the dungeons are pretty much copy-and-pastes of the same couple images over and over, but somehow this works. The wall pieces flow from one to another—you can’t see the break from one to the next. The pieces are all fairly pleasing to look at and none of them come across as boring or flat. The transition from night to day and vice versa is a subtle and welcome touch. There’s nothing quite like fighting a monster with the sun setting in the background.
All in all, Etrian Odyssey IV is a very pretty game.
Music: The Sound of Etrian Odyssey IV
Music in a video game really only falls into two categories for me: 1) the kind you don’t notice and 2) the kind you do notice, for better or worse. The music of Etrian Odyssey IV was immediately the kind I noticed. The cool rock jams and gentle piano melodies had me hooked from the moment I heard them. Each area’s dungeons have different music and the music in town varies based on whether you arrive during the day or night. There’s a few different boss fight tracks, and one battle track. The lack of variety in tracks for battle might annoy some gamers, but I found it nice to have that familiar music following me through my journey.
What I truly enjoyed was the fact that these tunes were memorable. If I hear this music somewhere, I’ll know it was from Etrian Odyssey IV first.
Story: Weaving a Yarn
Spoiler free, I promise! The story is presented in a series of text-based explanations and conversations, a refreshing change from the cut scenes many games rely on so heavily these days. Those of you who aren’t looking for a lot of reading, this game is not for you. The characters are unique, quirky, and interesting. The shop keeper at Berund Atelier quickly won me over with her spunky attitude, and the mysteriously helpful Whirlwind became increasingly more intriguing. There was some predictability to the progression of the dungeon; but it was a comfortable predictability, the kind that makes you go, “I know how this works, I’ve got this.”
The overall story isn’t life-shattering, but it is well told and infused with emotion—I truly found myself caring for and wanting to help these characters and the world they live in. The quest for Yggdrasil does not disappoint.
Gameplay: The Meat of the Matter
How you play the game always has a direct correlation to how you feel about it. Gameplay is the foundation of the video-gaming house—if this falls through, none of that other stuff is going to matter. Etrian Odyssey IV is no different, so here are the things you need to know when you play:
Gameplay 1: Battling
Battling comes two ways. The first is the random encounters which actually, aren’t so random. A small orb on screen shows you how close you are to another battle based on its color. Blue means you have plenty of steps to go and red means a battle’s coming any second. The nice part of this is that it spaces out the encounters in a predictable way that’s neither too frequent nor too infrequent.
The second way you enter a battle is to approach a large beast on screen. These larger beasts are known as FOES and count as miniature boss battles. All of them can be avoided—standard battles cannot.
Each and every battle is turn-based, with the fastest person or monster going first. Your choices of action include: the basic attack, defense, and special abilities; as well as an extra feature known as the burst gauge. This gauge was my saving grace in multiple battles. It slowly fills to five with every action you perform and burst skills can be used when it’s full enough. For example, three bars on the burst gauge would let me use “Full Retreat,” a burst skill that let me escape a battle and return to the entrance of that floor. You can choose up to five burst skills by the end of the game from a list of all the ones you own and allow me to repeat: they were handy.
Especially since they activate at the start of the turn.
Gameplay 2: Leveling
Like all good roleplaying games, Etrian Odyssey IV has you earning experience for every monster you beat. The tougher the monster, the more experience you receive. This is especially true of the occasional sparkly versions of monsters you’ll run into on your adventure—they’ll give you a lot of bonus experience. Every level up also comes with a point you can spend on developing your abilities. Honestly, one point feels like a measly reward, and I often found myself waiting several levels so I could spend a bunch of points at once. New abilities are unlocked for development when you put points into abilities linked to them and when you hit levels 20 and 40. You can also get really fancy with a sub-class for each character and all of its abilities.
A nice leveling system, but I definitely wanted more ability points.
Gameplay 3: Exploring
One of the major draws of the Etrian Odyssey series is the ability to draw your own map on the bottom screen using your stylus. Etrian Odyssey IV provides a multitude of symbols for you to customize with. Mapping out the dungeons is one of the most addictive aspects of this game—I stubbornly refuse to ever use the auto-mapping feature. Where’s the fun in that? There’s also the world map, which stubbornly paints itself in regardless of whether your auto-mapping option is off, but you can still place symbols on it and draw lines. The only time I didn’t care for this map-making was in the ridiculously convoluted Misty Ravine, where there are so many “teleportation spots” that I nearly ran out of symbols to represent them.
Gameplay 4: Difficulty
This is the part that may turn some gamers off of Etrian Odyssey IV. The difficulty of this game is like a see-saw—really high, then low, then high again. FOES especially are obnoxious about this. You’re supposed to be able to fight them once their aura on the map turns blue. Some FOES with blue auras are easy as pie; while others can still kick you back to the prehistoric era, they beat you so hard. My advice: if you see you’re losing, run. Dying only sends you back to town, weak and missing lots of money; but it’s still best avoided when possible.
Basically, if you aren’t keen on grinding levels every couple of steps through the game, this may not be the game for you.
A solid game with great music, pretty visuals, a strong story, and complex, yet satisfying gameplay. While not for the faint of heart, Etrian Odyssey IV is great for those of you out there looking for a good time sink.