Posted on March 8, 2013 AT 04:10pm
In recent years, for better or worse, Nintendo consoles have been noticeably devoid of decent RPG titles. I can count the number of good RPGs on the Wii on my fingers. The DS had a number, but the Game Boys had more. The Wii U has… one. Or two. Hopefully this trend will end at some point and NOA will take the time to localize more, but until then, there’s Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan for the 3DS.
EOIV, as be can be surmised from the title, is the fourth game in the Etrian Odyssey series. The other three games were on the DS and did quite well for themselves. The series set a standard from the first one with excellent story telling, first-person exploration and kick ass characters all wrapped up in a dungeon-crawling grindfest. Now before we go forward, I should perhaps mention that I have never played Etrian Odyssey I, II or III. As such, I can’t really compare any of them to this particular entry. My apologies.
The story of EOIV stars you, The Fearless and Silent Explorer Person, and your team of fellow warriors whom you recruit at the Explorer’s Guild in the main hub city, Tharsis. You start the adventure by first founding your own Guild. The game informs you that nothing “offensive” can be used for your guild’s name. It’s actually does a pretty good job at telling you “FECK IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE NAME. BE NICE.” I named my guild Bob. In hindsight, probably could have gone with something better like “Warrior Bitches” or “Titania”, but my creative juices were running low that night. Then you get to register your warriors. The game gives you a choice among 7 default classes: there’s Landsknechts, the basic physical attackers and sword wielders; Nightseekers are the game’s version of stealth fighters, doing extra damage against enemies suffering from status conditions, my personal fave character class; Fortresses are the tanks, with a decent attack rating and the highest defenses, and even come with skills that force enemies to attack them instead of the rest of the party; Snipers wield bows and are mostly used for sniping out targets in the back line; Medics are pretty self-explanatory and so freaking awesome; Runemasters are the game’s primary magic abusers and learn a multitude of elemental spells of the both offensive and defensive types; and the Dancers, which wield swords or knives and use their skills to provide front line support, such as minor healing and buffs. Once you create your team of five explorers, it’s time to set out into the world. Tharsis’s leader, the Outland Count, has charged your merry band with the task of exploring the world in hopes of finding a means to reach the legendary World Tree, Yggdrasil. As you explore the world, you learn more about the Legend of the Titan and the mistakes of the past coming back to wreak havoc upon the present.
The overworld is split into four “Lands” but you mostly spend your time exploring dungeons. There are two kinds of dungeons, or “labyrinths”, as the game commonly calls them: Caves and Mazes. Caves are more like “mini-dungeons” and only consist of a single floor so they are excellent areas to train in should you ever find yourself to be a bit under-leveled. The primary dungeons are Mazes which always consist of three floors, each one progressively harder. At the end of the third floor is the Maze’s boss. Beat the boss to earn passage to the next Land. It’s a simple, but effective system of progression. As you progress, you are given more upgrades to your skyship to further increase the areas you can visit.
Aside from exploration, battles play a major role in the EOIV. With few exceptions, battles consist of random encounters. The one thing I really liked about this system though, was encounter rates were based on step counts. When you first enter a dungeon or dungeon floor, the step count is 0, and so the encounter rate is 0%. The more steps you take, the higher the encounter rate goes until you finally get into a battle. After winning the fight, the encounter rate and step count is reset back to 0, starting the process all over. This was really nice because it meant you didn’t have to worry about doing a ton of consecutive battles, something that has long been a major annoyance of mine in games with random battles. The two exceptions to the random encounter rule were FOEs and bosses, which appeared in plain sight for you to either take head on, or go run and cower in a corner from. FOEs are the game’s version of mini-bosses as they have significantly higher stats then regular enemies and give larger amounts of EXP, of course this also means they’re a bit more challenging then average enemies. FOEs are identified on the map as a circle with an arrow in the center, indicating the direction they’re facing. A colored ring around this icon determines how hard the FOE is. Red means run and hide, or fight at own risk, yellow means beating the FOE is possible with a very good strategy, and blue means the FOE is a pushover at your current level. FOEs can also chase you around within a set area if you happen to get within their line-of-sight hitbox. Sometimes this could be annoying, other times it was actually a good thing as it helped solve certain puzzles in the first Maze.
The difficulty of this game was also a pretty big deal. I found this game to be really hard at first, but after gaining some levels and learning better strategies, things did get easier, it just took a while. A very long while. Okay, fine, I had to set the game to easy mode so I could stand to beat it without killing my brain. So sue me. Which also leads me to the next point: the game has two difficulty settings, Normal and Casual. On Normal, the game is a very reasonable challenge, provided you’re really into grinding like there’s no tomorrow. I’m serious. I spent at least two hours grinding just to beat the first Maze boss. Now, you know why I lowered the difficulty; grinding for two hours is not something I particularly enjoy, however it was not enough to completely ruin the game for me. On the Casual setting, the game gets significantly easier: enemies do less damage, and the boss AI becomes a little more forgiving. Another difference between the two comes with Game Overs. In Casual mode, there are no Game Overs, so when your party dies, you’re just sent back to Tharsis; nothing is lost. However, in Normal, you are prompted to save your map data, then sent back to the title screen. Any levels, equipment or other items gained since the last full save are lost.
Map data is something you should always save. The game takes the whole “explorer” role to another level by have the player make their own personal maps using the 3DS’s touch screen to draw out walls, indicate paths, chests, material spots, etc. All maps consist of a square grid, which makes things easy to work with. My one criticism of the feature was the that, unlike with The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, you can’t use the touch screen to scrawl out any little notes you need on the map. A very minor thing, but it’s the thought that counts.
As I mentioned before, all the maps are laid out in perfect square grids, this also means you can only move in four directions, as such, the game uses the d-pad for movement and menu selections. In fact, this is the first 3DS game I’ve played that exclusively used the d-pad and the much more comfortable circle pad saw little use. The d-pad thing was hit and miss for me. It made perfect sense, being as there’s only four directions to move in, but I’ve just never been a fan of the 3DS’s d-pad placement. I’ve always found it to be a bit awkward for my thumb to reach. My thumbs have never hurt this much from playing a game since the Game Boy Advance era. After a few days, I did get used to the awkward d-pad, but my thumb still hurts a little and I still don’t like it. I really would have much preferred to use the circle pad for basic movement, even if there was only four directions to move in. That’s really the biggest drawback I can find in this game, and honestly it’s not even the game’s fault. Damn Nintendo their silly industrial designers.
The d-pad was an acceptable drawback, because, again, not entirely the game’s fault, however there was one drawback that wasn’t so acceptable, and that was the issue of saving. Saving is extremely important when it comes to portable gaming. Unlike with home console games, portable game players need to be able to put their game down at anytime without the fear they’ll lose their precious save data should batteries die or the system be turned off. Games find some obvious solutions around this. Many allow for saving at any time, some do copious amounts of check-point auto-saves, and others just spam save points. Etrian Odyssey IV does none of that, for better or worse. There are only two ways to do a full save in this game. The first and primary method is through the Saehirmnir Inn, which has the Save option in its menu. The second is via Geomagnetic Poles. With the exception of the first Land, Geomagnetic Poles can be found in every Land and are also found at the start of all five Mazes. When out and about on the overworld, this isn’t really a problem. Finding the Land’s Geomagnetic Pole isn’t terribly hard. However in Mazes, it can be a problem, especially on the Normal difficulty. In Mazes, Geomagnetic Poles are only found near the beginning of the first floor — that’s it. If you get a game over two floors down, with a bunch of levels and rare items, you’re screwed on Normal difficulty and are forced to redo all of that progress. This was another reason I ended up downgrading to the Casual difficulty. It just got really old really fast losing hours of progress every time I died. To almost make up for this, the game has something called a “suspend save” which can be accessed at any time from the main menu. I’m not a fan of this at all. Suspend saves can be compared to the Owl Statues from the US localization of Majora’s Mask. Once you start the game with the suspend save, that save data is deleted until you do a full save at the Inn or nearest Pole. So if you happen to die before reaching them, you once more have to redo all that progress made.
Finally we have the StreetPass feature. This game has you collecting Guild Cards which you can use to buy goods from other people’s guilds. You can also collect them via QR codes, but that requires work, so screw that. Unfortunately, I was unable to StreetPass any fellow EOIV fans at time of writing, and am thus unable to really test this particular feature of the game. I will try to update this review on this feature when I actually do StreetPass another EOIV player.
Overall, I really enjoyed this game. I found the stories, mechanics, and everything else to be excellent and well-crafted. Still not a fan of saving and the 3DS d-pad, but such is life.
Summary: An excellent, more traditional JRPG for the 3DS.
- The Good: The narration and story were spot-on. The random encounter rate system made random encounters a bearable and enjoyable experience.
- The Bad: Placement of the 3DS’s d-pad is uncomfortable, and that’s not good for a game that uses it almost exclusively.
- The Ugly: It’s a grindfest on Normal difficulty. Not a fan of the save methods.
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