Blazing Your Own Trail
February begins Nintendo’s 2013 onslaught of 3DS releases with a duo of high-caliber RPGs. Though likely to be diminished by the glare of Fire Emblem: Awakening available earlier in the month, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan is not a game to simply brush aside. Developer Atlus is no stranger to the fantasy role-playing genre, giving us such great series as Ogre Battle and Shin Megami Tensei, as well as a throng of other classics, most of which sadly never see localization in the United States.
Fortunately we have been blessed here in the U.S. with every title bearing the name Etrian Odyssey. These are old school RPGs by design, meant for appreciation by those who play their games meticulously, relish in customization, and savor a challenge. Though the artistic design is anime-style, the gameplay mechanics are probably the closest thing to a Dungeons & Dragons experience you’ll find outside the actual TSR and Wizards of the Coast video games.
In Legends of the Titan, the mountain dwarfing tree called Yggdrasil has been a spectacle for all the people of Tharsis. With such monumental magic, the tree has always been a lure for adventurers. The newly sponsored Explorers Guild is beckoning would-be heroes from far and wide, and you eagerly answer the call, seeking fame and riches. With roots that span continents, the untamed and uncharted lands touched by Yggdrasil are rife with rewards, but there are also dangers that could end your quest as quickly as it begins.
Harkening back to a gaming era before integrated map systems, where first-person RPGs required a sufficient supply of graph paper and a sharp pencil, Etrian Odyssey tasks the player to track their adventure using the touchscreen as a map template. With a preset assortment of environmental tiles for overland adventuring, dungeon symbols such as doors and stairs, and a limited selection of other markers, it is up to you to piece together an accurate drawing. Failure to outline your movements results in getting lost, or at the very least being left unaware of potential dangers nearby.
Honing your cartography skills is but one unique facet of the series. Like many other RPGs, Etrian Odyssey IV has a robust class system, with a depth matched by few others in terms of customization and experimentation, having a major impact on the team’s potency in combat. With a maximum party of five, finding that perfect balance of offense, defense, healing, and supplementary effects is as complex a task as the mapmaking. However, if you have the patience for trial and error, enjoy grinding to test your combinations, and delight in retooling your strategy as new skills unlock, then you’ll happily whittle away countless hours with this game.
Though very close to the launch, we are only now starting to receive specifics about the content of the game. Each week we are treated to a video showcase of one of the game’s classes. The Landsknecht are the frontline fighters, favoring melee weapons and providing attack buffs for allies. The Fortress are stalwart defenders, hoisting massive shields and sacrificing themselves in order to protect an ally. No party can survive without a healer, and in this field the Medic is second to none. Besides restoring health, the Medic also grants a boon to plant discovery and item effectiveness. Dancers are the jacks-of-all-trades, providing party enhancements, healing, and swift strikes with curved blades. Of course, there are plenty of other classes out there; we just haven’t been privy to them yet.
Etrian Odyssey IV adds a new mode of transportation besides simply treading on two feet. In skyship mode, you are free to explore from above, mapping entire continents as you sail the skies. Your skyship can also be customized and upgraded, though the beneficial effects are still a mystery to me at this point.
Another addition added for this title is the Casual Mode. Every Etrian Odyssey game has been notoriously challenging, requiring a dedication to the lengthy process of building a formidable party, and not allowing players to breeze through the campaign. However, for those easily frustrated with failure, Casual Mode will whisk you back to the nearest town instead of the load game screen should you perish. It also allows you to teleport at anytime using an item called Ariadne’s Thread.
The game is a single-player affair, but Etrian Odyssey IV does utilize the 3DS StreetPass application, allowing you to display your guild card, as well as trade characters with other players.
With environments ranging from forests to ice fields, and, of course, plenty of dungeons, Atlus is delivering plenty of gorgeous visuals, with 3D backdrops and a plethora of attack and skill animations. With a fully orchestrated music score by famed composer Yuzo Koshiro, as well as nostalgic yet visceral sound effects, Etrian Odyssey IV will sound as good as it looks.
Etrian Odyssey has not achieved the popularity of some of its JRPG peers, mostly due to the design choices that separate casual fantasy gamers from the meticulous crowd it caters to, yet the series has survived long enough to see its fourth installment. Atlus has smartly improved the formula with each new game. Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan has everything in place to make it the best game of the series, and with dozens upon dozens of hours of gameplay, it will easily be a worthwhile investment for 3DS owners.