Etrian Odyssey IV is a first-person dungeon-crawler and turn-based role-playing game developed by ATLUS with heavy emphasis on dungeon exploration and battling monsters to get stronger in order to be able to take on tougher monsters.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first; Etrian Odyssey games are tough. They are extremely unforgiving, challenging RPGs that requires a large amount of grinding and patience to get through. I was never able to complete the first two Etrian Odyssey games due to punishing difficulty which was thankfully toned down slightly in Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City and allowed me to get rather far into the game. Thankfully, it seems that ATLUS is not without mercy and has included difficulty settings in Etrian Odyssey IV, allowing a less-punishing journey through the game for gamers that may have tried to get through the previous games and found them too difficult (like myself) as well as newcomers to the series.
There are two difficulty options: Normal and Casual; Normal difficulty is the exact thing you would expect from an Etrian Odyssey game ; an RPG with a difficulty level which I like to refer to as “ATLUS Hard”. Casual difficulty lowers damage you take from monsters in battle and makes some items infinite use (such as the Ariadne Threads, which lets you escape from dungeons and go back to town immediately). It also eliminates Game Overs from the game entirely ; should you fall in battle, you simply reappear back at town, fully healed, with all your loot, money and map data saved. Very, very forgiving, thankfully! The difficulty can be changed at any time in the options menu while you’re not exploring, so you are never stuck with a choice you made before beginning the game, defeating all the bosses on Normal difficulty will earn you a medal for your guild card (these are basically mini-achievements that you can show off to friends and people online). Also ; all bosses respawn within 2 weeks of in-game time, so you may go back and defeat them as many times as you want, thus, there is nothing in this game that is permanently missable.
When you begin the game you create a party of up to five party members out of seven classes for your guild (there are three unlockable classes that get unlocked as you progress through the story). The choice of character classes are your typical RPG fare ; the Landsknecht (swordfighters with balanced stats), the Nightseeker (skilled fighters capable of multiple attacks), the Fortress (tank characters with high defence), the Sniper (ranged fighters skilled in dealing critical hits and binding enemies), the Medic (your healer class), the Runemaster, the spellcaster class and the Dancer ; the jack-of-all-trades support class.
When registering characters and forming your party you place them in formation to best suit their roles for battle. There are three spaces on the front row and three spaces on the back, depending on the weapon and position of certain characters, they may or may not be able to hit enemies in the back row with a short-ranged weapon, but they take less damage from physical attacks. It is important to know the strengths and weakness of each of your party members and try to keep every single one of them alive to maximize your odds of surviving every dungeon run.
Outside of battle there are three main things that you do ; tasks around town, world map exploration and dungeon-exploration. Inside the town there are a variety of establishments you can visit to suit your needs and prepare for exploration and battle ; there is the inn, in which you can store items in (for free, since you have limited inventory space), rest to recover HP and TP, revive your characters/restore their status ailments, as well as saving your progress. At the shop, you can buy weapons, armour, accessories and items as well as sell any loot or items you may have on you. On top of receiving money, selling loot will unlock different items for sale. However, most if not all items require the shop to be in supply of certain loot in order for that item to be in stock at all. Finally you may use any hammers you find to “forge” equipment, if any equipment has empty slots, you can add certain attributes to them at the cost of loot and money, such as added attack power, more HP, more TP, fire affinity, ice affinity, paralysis effect, etc.
You can also accept quests in towns which not only rewards you with items but also experience points. Quests can take place on both the world map as well as in dungeons and in some cases, inside the towns themselves. The quests are unique and most diverse; for example some require you to be at a certain floor at a certain dungeon at a certain time of day (so you need to pay attention to all the information given to you in order to complete them). One final area in the town I would like to point out is the airship bay where you can manage your online data and guild card. There is also a “Read QR code” feature which lets you scan QR codes and get extra quests as well as view the guild cards of other players and receive treasure maps from them (treasure maps point to a certain area on the world map where you will find items and equipment to help you on your way).
New to the series is a world map in which you explore in your airship, whereas previous games in the series has you select a dungeon floor checkpoint from a list, this game requires you to find the actual dungeon on the world map beforehand. There are two types of dungeons; optional dungeons known as Caves, and mandatory, story-based dungeons known as Labyrinths (or “Stratums”). The Caves are smaller dungeons that are mainly for questing and grinding should the player feel ill-prepared for the Labyrinths. While exploring the world map you will find different Caves as well as food items which you may cook for temporary stat bonuses, or use them as bait to lure strong enemies out of the way to allow you to reach certain areas unharmed. Exploration, both in dungeons and on the world map uses a grid-based system, you move forward with the up button on the d-pad, backwards with the down button, and turn left and right with the other two buttons, you can also move sideways with the L and R button.
Through the entirety of the game, the touch screen displays map information. As you explore, the map gets filled in (or you can fill the map in yourself if you turn off the auto-map feature in the options, but there really is no reason to do so), but it is the player’s job to draw in where the walls are in between the square tiles, as well place icons on the map to indicate locations of interest as well as permanent landmarks such as doors, stairs, treasure chests, etc. The map-drawing aspect of the game is one of the main selling point the game boasts, some may feel it to be completely unnecessary and pointless, however, the OCD nature within me finds it extremely satisfying filling in darkness on the map as I explore more and more, eventually, drawing out a huge map to prevent myself from getting lost. What little effort you put in the map-drawing definitely pays off and I feel does not get in the way of the action.
Making a return to the game are tough enemies known as FOEs (Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens), which are basically pseudo mini-bosses that roam both the dungeons and the world map. However, unlike the previous games in which FOEs are only seen as giant, glowing balls of light, they actually have unique models in this that you can see while exploring. This not only helps you determine what the FOE actually is before challenging it, but it can help you immerse in the game and feel threatened when you are being chased by a menacing-looking giant mantis with scythe for arms. To assist the player, FOEs appear on the touch screen map and have a glowing aura around them, with a different colour depending on their strength compared to your party. I must praise this game for all these minor, but convenient improvements that makes the game so much more forgiving and fun.
One thing I should add is that FOEs only move when the player moves. FOEs can have different behaviors, some are passive and ignore the player completely, some only move when the player is in their line of sight while the more aggressive FOEs pursue you as soon as you enter their vicinity. During battles, every full turn counts as one move, so should you run into any monsters near a FOE, make sure you finish the battle before the FOE reaches you, or they will appear in battle as your enemy’s reinforcement. It’s important to watch the map screen even when you’re in battle.
Graphically the game is extremely pretty and colorful, every area and dungeon looks unique, the art of the characters and the models of the monsters all look amazing (though there are some recolors of certain monsters, as you would expect of an RPG, but they are not frequent enough to warrant a legit complaint). The 3D also looks fantastic, especially while exploring the dungeons and in battle. The sound is also very well done, this game has one of the best soundtracks I have heard in a while, especially the boss themes. They really throw you into the mood and give you a sense of what’s at stake in the plot.
Overall, Etrian Odyssey IV is an excellent RPG with high amounts of gameplay, good difficulty for both hardcore and casual players (because even on Casual difficulty, the game can get challenging at times). The game lets you know everything you need to know and lets you get on with it, there’s plenty of choices for you to take such as certain events that happen in dungeons with good, bad and neutral outcomes, as well the oppurtunity to build your characters however you wish, giving them skill points to learn new abilities or improve old ones every time they level up.
Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan is a must buy if you’re even somewhat interested in the many fantastic gameplay designs I mentioned in my review and is definitely worth £40. You will be getting many hours of quality gaming experience as well as replayability (especially seeing as there is post-game content as well as a New Game+ mode.
Official website : http://www.atlus.com/etrian4/
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