Review

Etrian Odyssey IV

If A Tree Falls…

There are few seeds of change in Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends Of The Titan.

By Samantha Nelson • March 4, 2013

When planning a garden, one of the first considerations is what to plant. You could go with plots of annual flowers that will bloom and die within a single year, leaving the space clear for something new the next season. Starting from scratch every time is a lot of work and can be risky. What if it turns out a certain seed just doesn’t grow well in your soil, or squirrels carry away your bulbs? Instead you could go with perennials or trees. Once they’ve got roots in, you know what to expect from them. Sure, one year might produce less fruit or blooms, but it’s still the same plant.

Etrian Odyssey IV

Apply this to game design and it’s unsurprising that the developers of a series about Yggdrasil, the mythical World Tree, take the latter approach. The creators at Atlus prize a consistent experience over a novel one here. For better and worse, if you’ve played Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City, you’re going to find a very similar experience in Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends Of The Titan.

One of the reasons the games don’t differentiate much is that, as a tribute to Japanese role-playing games of old, the focus is all on building up your character with experience points gained from battle, gear, and new skills—rather than any form of actual character development. Your entire party is a crew of mute and interchangeable blank slates. Maybe they’ve been swept up in the quest to explore labyrinths and uncover the mysteries of Yggdrasil because they think it holds the key to saving a loved one. Maybe they just want wealth and power. You’re free to project a motivation on them…or not.

Etrian Odyssey IV

There’s not much story to be had here, and most of the characters in Legends Of The Titan are just vendors and quest givers, trapped in a few mundane, single-screen areas. With such a generic frame for the action, you’re looking at the same experience the game offered the last time around—taking your highly customizable party of warriors into a dungeon filled with random encounters and other perils that you must meticulously map on a grid using your stylus.

There are more and smaller dungeons than before, which means more opportunities for a feeling of accomplishment, but the main change in Etrian Odyssey’s latest outing is the difficulty. The series has long been relegated to a niche because of its savage difficulty, but Legends Of The Titan introduces a “casual” mode. It makes the game more approachable, but its presence also points out a core weakness: Playing the normal mode doesn’t really make the game more challenging, just more time-consuming. Yes, you’ll have to pick your fights more carefully and watch your resources more closely, but the monsters aren’t employing new tactics on veterans. They’re just hitting harder and giving you fewer rewards when they die, making the grind longer. The difference between normal and casual mode is the difference between planting seeds or a sapling—you’ll eventually get to the same place.

Etrian Odyssey IV

No matter what mode you’re playing on, Legends Of The Titan adds a world map that you navigate by airship, which also makes this game easier than its predecessors. So long as you can avoid the path of wandering “FOEs”—the devastating mega-monsters that are a signature of the Etrian series—you can grab plenty of food as you wander around, to keep your party’s strength up before you go dungeon-delving. Digging into this series is now less daunting, but I’ve already enjoyed all this old tree has to offer. Now I’m more interested in seeing what new blooms Atlus can plant.

Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends Of The Titan
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $40
Rating: T

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15 Responses to “If A Tree Falls…”

  1. James Bunting says:

    If we’re to continue the strained nature imagery, it should be noted that what was once a lush forest of 3D, turn-based, party-based, unforgiving, grind-heavy dungeon crawlers is down to its last 2 or 3 trees. Really weird to advocate against their final remnants; it’s not like they’re threatening the zillions of plot-heavy, story-driven RPGs out there. Where is the Lorax when you need him? Probably playing Final Fantasy 17.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

       I think you raise a good point. After all the RPG series I play, I can say with some certainty that not many of them are what I would consider “challenging.” Even amongst my favorites, I’m there more for the story and characters than for any real sense of difficulty. Etrian Odyssey is certainly not like that. It’s downright frustratingly difficult. I’m currently playing 4, and the second real boss is currently decimating my team before I can ever really “setup” for the fight. But when I get through this, it will be sweet.

      • James Bunting says:

        Yes, there is definitely a masocore element here. I’ve noticed a binding thread of interest between Wizardry-likes, Roguelikes, and hardcore games such as Dark Souls. There is something in a certain kind of gamer who feels that victory is meaningless without first suffering at great length.

  2. The_Misanthrope says:

    You’ve hit upon a problem that always bothers me regarding difficulty settings on strategy games.  Making resources more scarce (or making them worth less) is one way to induce game-padding challenge.  Another way is what I like to call “raising the AI’s dickishness”.

    The go-to example for this is the Civilization series.  Let’s say I’ve just played through a game on Chieftan and I want to challenge myself by playing the Warlord setting.  How does the game make things more challenging for me?  By making the barbarians more restless, the people more likely to revolt, and the AI opponents more unreasonable.  Now, I ably proved throughout the last game that I was capable of putting out those particular fires (although if you have problems with barbarians past the first five turns or so, you may have deeper issues to resolve); The only thing the higher difficulty does is add more fires to put out.  It really only serves to lengthen the time it takes to complete the game, assuming I don’t trap myself in an unwinnable scenario out of apathy and frustration.

  3. Citric says:

    The EO series seems to be the kind of thing you will absolutely adore, or completely loathe. I know a dude who has EOIII bragging about how all his grinding is making it possible for him to beat some boss in one turn, leading to all sorts of wonderful things. Meanwhile I hate grind and this style of first person RPG, so I know this would be the worst thing ever to me.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      I’m in a weird middle ground right now. I stated playing EO3 last week, and I normally hate grinds, but I really want to like the game. I love exploring and drawing the map and the different character/party builds you can do are pretty awesome, but goddamn it takes so long to do fucking ANYTHING. I’ll probably get bored of it soon, which is a shame because I know I could be having fun with it. 

      They should add a casual mode or something so I don’t have to grind up a million characters until I die.

      • Chalkdust says:

        It -does- have a casual mode!  Instead of game over when you die, you return to the city (I forget if there’s any penalties with that), and certain trophies are off limits as a counterbalance.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          Does it let you level up faster? Because really my problem is with the time-sink factor. I’ll kill off all my characters if it means I don’t need to spend forever farming up all the parties I want/need to use.

        • Chalkdust says:

          I’m new to this format, how do you include somebody’s name in a post if you can’t reply directly?

          Anyway, the info it presents about casual mode is thus:”There are two difficulty settings, Normal and Casual.  Normal presents the standard challenge of the Etrian Odyssey series.  Casual difficulty is somewhat easier.  In Casual mode, battles are less difficult.  If your party is wiped out, you will be taken back to Tharsis [the capital].  You can also set certain items not to be expended upon use, allowing for more casual play.  Your difficulty setting will not affect the story, but some medals cannot be earned in Casual mode.”

          So, no mention of increased XP gain, but it seems like you can get further with fewer levels due to a reduced difficulty curve overall, plus the thing about preventing certain items from being consumed sounds like you can do a lot to tailor the challenge to your liking.

          But, here’s the best thing if you’re on the fence: there’s a demo on the eShop, and you can import your demo progress into the full game!

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          @Chalkdust_TMAI:disqus Tagging names on here works like facebook/twitter. Just use @google-c497d74a90843bcb9d0e6224d21998e3:disqus  and start typing the name. But for some reason I don’t get notifications when I’m tagged, so I don’t know what that does really.

          Also, sadly, I’m playing on my old DS Lite. I’m eyeing a 3DS pretty fucking hard though. Goddamn it.

        • Chalkdust says:

           @Douchetoevsky:disqus Ah, there we go!  Confounded technology.

          I got the 3DS XL when it came out… the big screens are lovely, and the catalog of my-kind-of-games is expanding nicely.  Can’t wait for Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers: Remake: 3DS Version: US Release!

      • James Bunting says:

        Fyo, I get where you’re coming from and often feel the same way about these games. As a side note, you might try Strange Journey. It feels better put together than most others, and it’s the only game of its kind that I was still excited to play after hundreds of hours.

        You might also give EO4 a try. The difficulty overall has been lowered, and you level up much faster (maybe even too fast) even on normal difficulty. Cash is more abundant; at this early stage, it seems feasible to go without a healer if I’d wanted to use Medica potions instead.

        If anything, EO4 has maybe conformed a bit too much as a result of the critiques against it. But, given that I gave up on every other EO game, I might be talking out of my ass.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          Well, I started with EO the first, and someone said EO3 might be a better starting point so I started that one up. I also don’t have a 3DS so EO4 is off the table for now. Strange Journey is a Shin Megami Tensei game or whatever right? I might try picking that up. I’m not really into jrpgs so I don’t know why I suddenly want to try a jrpg dungeon crawler.

        • James Bunting says:

          I would rather delete my entire reply to Fyo than have to deal with spacing issues. I mean Jesus, it’s MS word, not the Rosetta stone.

  4. Chalkdust says:

    I’m a newcomer to the Etrian Odyssey series, so I appreciate that this game is just a solid, polished iteration on the dungeon exploring genre.  While there is absolutely a grind element to it, I’m playing on normal and haven’t had to invest more than a spare level’s worth of effort into getting past any bosses (though I am only in the second land now).  I like the merchant system, trading in materials for stock at the shop feels good, and helps meter out the leveling.  Even if I didn’t level up on X dungeon crawl, I at least get to go back to the shop, replenish their supplies and hopefully unlock a few new pieces of equipment!  On top of all that, the mapping task seems to be scratching a Roguelike itch I haven’t tended to in a while… the satisfaction of working out all the secrets of a given floor is notable.