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Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan Review

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On 04/24/2013 at 01:00 PM by Travis Hawks

Etrian Odyssey’s evolution may have reached uber-game levels.

Unless you loathe the concept of this game, you should play it.

Having just recently completed Etrian Odyssey III, I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to dive right back into another massive adventure.  I mean, heck, I was a little worn out from all of the grinding I had been doing and wasn’t so sure I wanted to get into that again.  Well, somehow I got sucked back into this mess and am I ever grateful.  Atlus has taken the fourth Etrian Odyssey game through a monstrous evolutionary process to create the best balanced, most addictive, strategically engaging dungeon crawler around.

Since the series has jumped up a technological step from the confines of the DS to the 3DS, there are some expected graphical leaps that came along with it.  Certainly, there are purists who are probably sad to see the sprites leave in favor of polygonal models, but it’s time to embrace this change since every bit of the game’s deeper sensibilities stay intact. The same is true for every other facet of the game, from leveling to dungeon layout to music: every inch of the game was pushed forward in such a way that it feels like this is what these games were always supposed to be.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with the series, it started on the DS by making good use of the then novel dual-screen tech.  As you explore a multi-floored dungeon, you are essentially required to map out each floor of the dungeon on the bottom screen’s grid.  As the series progressed, this process became slightly automated and therefore less of a chore.  Mapping is half of the game’s appeal, with the other half happening on the top screen where you explore and battle in a first-person viewpoint.  It’s basically an old-school Wizardry RPG where your personal pad of graph paper has been replaced with a nifty gizmo and the battle system has been made compellingly complex.  Not for the faint of heart, these games can take hundreds of hours to complete, especially when digging into the “post-game content” (which can be nearly as long as the main game). 

This time around, those classic sensibilities are intact and you’ll be spending just as many days of your life exploring dingy caverns and colorful forests, but it’s been made into a more pleasant experience that doesn’t just rely on your OCD behaviors to draw you back in.  You won’t find yourself retracing the same floors of the same huge dungeon time and again to level up and advance on your quest, but instead head out on various side quests that level you up adequately without you even realizing it.  Side quests aren’t new, but they really seemed like diversions before and now they are a great way to stay on a perfect pace with the levels needed to tackle the main dungeons. 

Note that I wrote dungeons in the plural.  This is another big change, where instead of starting at the first floor and working up or down for the duration, in Etrian Odyssey IV you’ll head out over a series of maps in an airship to find different dungeons and minor caves to explore.    This adds a great diversion that allows you to map out different sorts of terrain on your grid and approach the process in a different way.  There are no random encounters on the overworld maps, but only FOEs (basically difficult enemies that shift spaces as you move as if in a rogue-like).  It’s like a game to get to the game that fits perfectly into the mix.

Once you discover a cave or labyrinth entrance, you can fast-travel there from the town, but you can opt to head out into your airship instead to explore and fight big baddies if you’d like.  I can’t emphasize enough how well the game balances the leveling and exploration facets.  Although I’ve yet to complete the game, I have spent time purely grinding a total of twice and probably for a total of thirty minutes.  This is a stark difference from EO III where I had probably spent a third of my time grinding at this point.  Maybe I was “playing it wrong,” but the latest entry is guiding me in such a way to avoid that problem all together.

Without any pure grinding, you might be wondering if there is less fighting going on, but I assure you there is still plenty of that.  The battles and character classes you can choose from have been tweaked once again, and successfully too.  The methods used to select skill upgrades now relies less on putting stock in particular lower level skills and more on your character’s overall level to make skills available.  It’s actually a nice mix of both of those philosophies and it works out nicely.  The character types available are also pretty varied, making it possible to create many unique, yet potentially successful, parties to explore with.

As in the previous games, new classes open up as you progress, which force you to re-evaluate if you want to stick with your original plan at several points during the game.  Making a big change at these points in the story will likely lead to some requisite grinding, but if you want to do something that drastic, it should be expected.  You can, however, pull in new character abilities once sub-classing is made available – something I decided to do instead of a straight character shift.  This alone opened up entirely new hosts of strategies and tactics that weren’t even imaginable with my original party make-up. 

Every moment of the adventure is accompanied by a fantastic phenomenal soundtrack from the incomparable Yuzo Koshiro.  He has left the chiptune beats of the earlier games behind with the jump to a new system and done an amazing job at it.  This isn’t too surprising for Koshiro’s work, but it’s worth pointing out that every timbre of a soundtrack -- from relaxing to epic -- that I’ve been listening to for about sixty hours is still enjoyable.

I’m actually enjoying the minimal story as it is revealed too.  The anime style character portraits (some of which need to put on some more clothes) might lead you to think this will be your typical tale of amnesiac, angst-ridden teens, but it’s far from that.  It’s definitely not going to win any awards for pushing game narrative forward, but it’s compelling enough and filled with humorous moments that are always a nice surprise. 

I’ve yet to become bored, yet to feel tied down, and yet to want to stop playing Etrian Odyssey IV.  This is a huge shift from the previous games where I hit several points of exhaustion where I just couldn’t look at it any longer without a lengthy break (on the scale of months).  Everything here is refined, perfected, and aesthetically stunning.  The only thing keeping me from recommending this game to everyone on the planet is the simple fact that this genre just isn’t for everyone.  If you have any inkling that you would enjoy this sort of game, this is the best way to give the genre a chance. 

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

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04/24/2013 at 07:28 PM

I managed to download the demo but never gave it any time. Maybe I'll correct that at some point. So many 3DS RPGs, so little time. 


04/25/2013 at 01:08 PM

I followed the series on DS but at a distance. Always sounded too intimidating, though I was rather intrigued by the third one thanks to its amazing soundtrack. This one definitely sounds like the place to jump in. Now it's just a matter of time and money, time and money...


04/25/2013 at 02:20 PM

Great review!  I finished a 1/3rd chunk of my dissertation last week, and to celebrate, I went out to buy a 3DS game.  It was between EOIV, Luigi's, or Fire Emblem.  Unfortunately, Gamestop only had Fire Emblem on hand, so I went with that (which is awesome so far, by the by.  Yet another long-standing, somewhat difficult-to-approach series that has gone through an awesome refinement).  I haven't regretted it, but best believe EO IV is going to be the game I buy when I get past the 2/3rd mark (almost there!).  This review cemented it.


I also worry that, much like older Atlus games, EOIV will become relatively scarce as the 3DS life cycle continues, so it's worth getting now, even if I wasn't going to play it until down the road.  


After getting a 3DS about a month ago, I have to say, I am blown away by how awesome this little handheld is.  I've always been a fan of Nintendo's console evolutions (Wii, DS, etc.) but 3D seemed like a serious gimmick to me.  The software they've been putting out has been just amazing.  So many great games, and I haven't even gotten in to apps yet.  Impressive stuff.


Annnnyway, thanks for the review; I've been scarce on PixlBit lately because of aforementioned schoolwork, but I hope to be back soon.  This review was just the writing piece I needed to get me back in the groove.

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

04/25/2013 at 02:26 PM

Glad you stopped back by! The good thing about EOIV is you can buy the downloadable version, which isn't likely to go out of stock soon.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/25/2013 at 07:28 PM

So, I know this is a first person game, but what are the battles like? Do you see your characters when they attack, ala Phantasy Star? Or is it just little slashes or bursts of light indicating damage?

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

04/25/2013 at 07:51 PM

The second. Your characters aren't visible. 

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/26/2013 at 09:48 AM

Dislike. I need to see my characters. It's why I love DQ VIII and IX and don't care for the others.

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

04/26/2013 at 01:26 PM

Uh, when you select their attacks it shows their portrait... That probably won't satisfy you.

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

04/25/2013 at 09:14 PM

@Julian & daftman:  There's a demo available that lets you probably get about 5 solid hours of gameplay without doing any sort of demo-stretching screwing around.  All of your progress in the demo will transfer to the full game.  It's really a good way to see if you are going to like it at all.


04/27/2013 at 08:15 PM

I'm hoping this game is still available when I pick up a 3DS (which should be sometime this year if I'm lucky).  Although I haven't finished the previous three games, I've played enough to know these games are worth picking up.  And, from all the praise I've read about the fourth game it looks to continue the tradition.  I do need to hurry up and get through this series, however, especially now that the fifth game is in the works.

Also, I got a chuckle out of the "Embarrassing Anime" tag.  The odd bits of dialogue and the art style do add to the charm of the series, though.

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