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Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan (Nintendo 3DS) Review

Review for Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Hours spent sketching this part of the dungeon, tile-by-tile and room-by-room, a hundred fights with the creatures of this foul forest, several encounters with the dangerous FOEs, not to mention the teleport traps, and finally the stairs down to the next level are found. Trekking downwards, it is noticed that supplies are running low. The medic in the team is almost out of magic, as well! It's time to head back to town to rest… but…is that a treasure chest over there? It looks so rewarding. What to do, Cubed3?!

Etrian Odyssey IV, the latest in an increasingly popular series, is something rare: a dungeon crawler in the Wizardry vein, a type of game that expects players to scour every tile of a maze, map out that entire maze, and figure out alone where to go next, all the while engaging in very challenging combat with limited resources. No arrows, no handholding, few hints; it is the RPG genre's equivalent to bullet hell shoot 'em-ups or grueling Super Meat Boy-style platformers.

Until now, the series has been a tough sell to most gamers; time consuming and difficult, without multiplayer or the bells and whistles modern games usually rely on for commercial appeal. With the 3DS has come greater system power, though, and Atlus has put that power to good use by improving Etrian Odyssey's visuals. Tweaks have been made to the challenge as well, providing a smoother difficulty curve. The question is, though, is it enough to bring in new fans, some of whom equate "RPG" more with cut-scenes than challenging gameplay?

The world of Etrian Odyssey is best not taken lightly. The first land is green and full of tranquil streams, the town music is bouncy, and the characters in the starting city are almost comical, amusing and friendly. However, that first impression belies just how dangerous Etrian Odyssey is; it's an Easter egg veneer covering up a deadly core of dungeon crawling, challenging turn-based combat, dangerous super enemies called "FOEs," and the inevitable deaths awaiting in the depths of vile dungeons yet uncharted.

It's a world where a map is the best weapon against a maze and the monsters that live in it. When entering the first dungeon - a tranquil forest - a fellow adventurer greets players and informs them of how important mapping is. Take the stylus and draw out surroundings, tile by tile, he says. Best it be done, as well!

In a way, Etrian Odyssey's map making exemplifies what was great about those first black and white Wizardry titles, circa the early 1980s, and is explanation as to why this subgenre still exists. At its most fundamental, it is an activity that provides the player agency in the game world, a creative task that ties them to the act of exploration and ingrains in the player's mind an understanding for and appreciation of every twist and turn in the dungeon in much the same way a player comes to appreciate every pitfall in an exceedingly difficult platforming game such as Super Meat Boy.

Yes, there's combat; yes, there's an overworld; yes, there are dangerous unique monsters called FOEs that wander around in the dungeons and in the lands that will chase people down almost no matter how far they run. However, it's this deliberate, time consuming, rewarding activity that is most illustrative of the overall aesthetic of Etrian Odyssey, and what it's all about.

Screenshot for Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

It's a design ethic that pervades every facet of the game. Combat, enemy placement, FOEs, map design, tile-by-tile movement, the slow progression from level 1 to level 99, retiring and recreating characters from scratch after a dozen hours, challenging boss fights that require insightful and efficient use of the myriad of offensive, defensive, healing, and utility skills - all of them are deliberate, time consuming, and ultimately very personally rewarding precisely because of the time spent and the challenges met.

Worth noting is that there is an option to auto-map a limited amount of a dungeon's detail, should the player choose. It will fill in only the tiles walked over, with no further information. While not ideal, for those more interested just in combat, it can suffice.

Atlus has taken a big step forward with Etrian Odyssey IV's graphics. Enemies that were once cardboard cutouts are now fully polygonal, fully texture mapped, and very visually attractive. Etrian Odyssey IV looks good not just in comparison to earlier entries in the franchise, but also to fully-fledged console RPGs. Enemy designs are both creative and well executed, and not a single model is disappointing.

Story characters, while still visually attractive, are somewhat different. Instead of polygonal models, when talking to someone you are presented a hand drawn character portrait. It might seem this would lead to a conceptual schism owing to a lack of unified presentation, yet it works well. The portraits have identifiable expressions, smiles, grimaces, expressive eyes - they look nice.

Screenshot for Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

It's a shame they aren't animated, though. After 60 hours, you will be overly familiar with the singular expression on each character's face. There is a story in Etrian Odyssey IV, and the lack of animation does blunt the impact of events when conveyed by the static portraits. Considering the amount of work put into the enemy characters, it seems a missed opportunity to not bring some more life into the game.

Along these lines, while the enemy depictions have received substantial upgrades over older Etrian Odyssey titles, the dungeon walls are a mixed bag. Simple rectangular walls are layered with a single repeating texture. That one dungeon texture changes only every 10-15 hours when transitioning to a new land.

Considering how much time the player spends staring at that one dungeon wall texture, the quality of the visual experience hinges heavily on the quality of the texture. In some cases that quality is excellent, as with the first land's forest texture. In some cases it's not quite as excellent. That's a glaring weak point in Etrian Odysseys IV's otherwise fantastic presentation. More dungeon wall texture variety and/or better texture quality would go a long way to improving the presentation.

Audibly, Etrian Odyssey IV is stellar. The soundtrack, by series composer Yuzo Koshiro, is nothing short of outstanding. From a relaxing, upbeat town theme to the downbeat jazzy bar theme, on to the rock orchestra boss fight music, few if any of the tracks miss the mark. Forty hours on and the music in Etrian Odyssey IV will still be enjoyable.

Magic, combat, and all ambient sounds are similarly good, as are the interface sounds. Little to nothing in the audio presentation should offend anyone's ears. The audio designers of the game deserve a pat on the back, for they have done a fantastic job here.

Screenshot for Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Etrian Odyssey IV is not without minor faults, however. There are some design and interface decisions that are questionable, one example being the inventory design. Most RPGs group items together. Have 99 potions? They will all be displayed in one line, with a quantity denoted. In Etrian Odyssey, every instance of an item receives its own line. With an inventory that holds 60 items, item management becomes more time consuming than it needs to be.

A strict limit on inventory space results in similar frustration. In a game that already limits the number of healing items that can be purchased, and which does a good job of balancing item values such that the player will rarely have excess money until the end of the game, Etrian Odyssey IV counts both usable items and resource items together. When every enemy fight drops multiple resource items, a party's inventory quickly becomes filled. Hence, until the player returns to town, every fight results in a time consuming "drop new items" screen.

In a game that can last 70, 80, or even more hours, the lack of uniqueness in random encounters can also be of some concern. Outside of the FOE encounters and the "golden breed" encounters (which are not overly exciting other than providing extra experience), there are no special random events. Other games, such as Final Fantasy, have special random events in order to add relief and excitement to the somewhat predictable nature of the random encounter grind.

These are minor sins in a greater endeavor, though. Overall, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan provides a fine experience, a ton of well balanced dungeons and monsters, all presented in a fine visual and audio setting.

Screenshot for Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan on Nintendo 3DS- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

Well balanced, well crafted, fun and rewarding. Hardcore RPG fans will find a lot to love in this game. It is complex with numerous viable class and skill strategies, and challenging in all the right ways. A couple of issues present small bumps here and there, however they are mostly forgivable.

Graphics

The enemy graphics are superb, able to stand up to any RPG on the market, handheld or not. The models, the textures, and their designs are all outstanding, from first encounter to last. Other elements of the presentation are less excellent. The dungeon graphics range from good to not quite so good. Similarly, animation is called for in its character potraits or at least more than one static portrait for each character.

Sound

Etrian Odyssey IV's soundtrack is beyond reproach. Uniformly excellent and fit to each occasion and environment, it delivers consistently throughout the many hours of gameplay. Likewise, the rest of the game's audio effects are well done.

Value

A single play-through, not using any walkthroughs, may last up to 50 or 60 hours until the ending cut-scene. After that, there is further end-game content, new end-game dungeons, bosses, enemies, and items. Unquestionably excellent value for money!

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

About this score
Rated 9 out of 10

Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan is not for the faint of heart - it requires dedication and patience. At times it can be frustrating and may even require that most dreaded of activities, "grinding." Undoubtedly, there are those who will not enjoy it. However, for the brave adventurers whose idea of a good time is dark dungeons full of twisted halls, it is a highly rewarding experience. Cubed3 has no problem recommending it wholeheartedly, and hopes to see the series continue to improve and thrive. For those unconvinced, or worried as to the game's difficulty, a free demo is available on the North American eShop right now. It encompasses the first 5-to-6 hours of gameplay, which is more than enough to determine whether the game is indeed everyone's cup of tea.

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20.04.2013

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Developer

Atlus

Publisher

Atlus

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

In all honesty, I struggled to get into the first Etrian Odyssey. I really wanted to get into it more, but the beginning seemed very slow...maybe I'll check this fourth game out when it comes to Europe, though. Give it another shot Smilie

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

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