An un-FOE-gettable game.
Between its punishing difficulty and consequences for death, players not fond of a slow, arduous grind in their RPGs typically looked away from the Etrian Odyssey series. Etrian Odyssey IV advances the dungeon mapping formula, making newcomers feel more welcome, while still retaining much of what the series is known for. The game has its missteps, but still remains one of the best 3DS RPGs to date.
In Etrian Odyssey IV, a casual mode relieves the extreme challenge the dungeon mapping series is known for, and the game is stronger for it. With the ability to switch the difficulty whenever you are back in the hub town, it is easy to choose the mode right for you. This leniency alleviates the headache of leveling up characters after losing progress from dying, and keeps the newest entry a challenging and accessible adventure.
Etrian Odyssey IV tells its story through the guild of explorers you control. You select the classes and looks of your team through a relatively unsophisticated character building menu. However, the variation between classes makes each shine. From the onset of the game, you can compose a team of characters with classes as disparate as an archer and a dancer. Despite your work, though, these unique figures never receive a larger role in the story.
The exclusion of your party members from the story is only one contributing factor to a failed narrative. The game introduces few characters, and those it does act only as talking points around the hub town. With so large a scope for your overall mission, the amount of storytelling and interaction with others seems inadequate. While the lack of story support is disappointing, Etrian Odyssey IV more than makes up for it with its adventurous tone.
This quality is most apparent when you set to the skies in your airship. The game’s vast overworld is littered with enemies, collectible resources, explorable dungeons, and many other opportunities for adventure. While you have the option to jump right into dungeons from town after first visiting them, there are plenty of reasons to take the long road. Exploration rewards you with a more complete map, helping you better navigate to the next cave or labyrinth. You can pick up fetch quests from friendly characters that roam the skies. However, unlike dungeons, these don’t require as much hands-on mapping.
Mapping dungeons may seem like a chore, but the task is intrinsically addictive. Watching your paths interlock as you venture deeper into labyrinths is especially rewarding. Etrian Odyssey IV doesn’t just limit your options, either; it provides several icons and symbols you can use to make your maps more usable. Some dungeons get lengthy, and the ability to place autopilot arrows (which can move you between points without direct control, or grind levels for your characters) is a welcome feature.
Etrian Odyssey IV’s battle system is simple at times, and difficult at others. For randomly encountered enemies, an auto-battle feature often takes care of baddies efficiently, while more challenging fights against bosses and FOEs, enemies found throughout dungeons that are often more powerful than you, require you to use your character’s skills more efficiently. Ultimately, this makes the tiny fights littered between larger battles less appealing and not as fun. These tiny altercations are also unskippable, but necessary for leveling your characters so you stand a chance against the big guys.
Etrian Odyssey IV is not the best-looking 3DS game. Presented in 3D, its wall and floor textures seem bland, though the design of enemies is impressive. While the game’s battle music may grate after a while, its soundtrack is excellent overall, mimicking the adventurous tone established by the gameplay.
Etrian Odyssey IV’s sense of adventure is ever present as you explore its wide variety of environments. The game’s lackluster story and occasional difficulty may scare some away, but between the amazing dungeons, challenging battles, and great music, this is an accessible and worthwhile chapter in the series.