Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan is the pinnacle of its series. While it might not break new ground with wholly original mechanics, it without a doubt refines the first-person dungeon delving for which the franchise is known; it uses all the same concepts as previous seen and experienced, but just simply does them better. Thus, if gamers are looking for a time-sink with engrossing combat and a wonderful world to explore, then Etrian Odyssey IV is just what the doctor ordered.
Legends of the Titan is the kind of game that doesn’t concern itself with providing players an adventure filled with unnecessarily obnoxious fluff. This philosophy is apparent within the first twenty minutes of the game, when players will find themselves already in the clutches of the game’s first dungeon without having plodded through text-block after text-block of tutorials and background story. Then, forty minutes in, players will already have their first airship. Consequently, developer Atlus sets the stage for an adventure that is all about engrossing the player in as much actual gameplay as possible. Though, this doesn’t mean Etrian Odyssey is without a plot to follow because it would seem that special emphasis has been placed on the game’s story this time around, at least more so than in some of the previous games.
For those wondering, Legends of the Titan is a sequel to the third title in the Etrian series, but that shouldn’t deter newbies from diving right in. The truth is, because Etrian Odyssey has never been a property most known for its elaborate narration, jumping into this fourth installment is easy, even without having any knowledge of the events of the previous games. Sure, players might miss certain nods to characters of the past, but it never once feels like they needed to play the previous titles to enjoy what IV has to offer in the way of story. (Which isn’t a whole lot to be honest.) As a result, we might call Etrian Odyssey IV’s plot accessible, which is something that can’t necessarily be said about its gameplay.
Etrian Odyssey is mostly looked upon as the kind of game that will make a man out of you. It’s not for the feint of heart because it’s tough as nails, and punishingly cut-throat. That concept is very much so front and center in this fourth iteration, however, the game does include a “casual” option for newcomers who are looking to simply enjoy the game for what it is, and not break their 3DS in a fit of rage.
Regardless of the difficulty chosen at the beginning of the game, the core gameplay is the always same. Players will start off by recruiting a band of heroes; they will have the option to create up to 30-ish characters, which includes deciding the individual’s name, gender and class. Once they’ve enlisted the help desired, they can then traverse the game’s vast world and dungeon-crawl to their heart’s content. In said dungeons, players explore large labyrinths in first-person mode. Upon first entry into these mazes, players are not given a map, but rather must transcribe their own as they explore the confines. This is done via the touchscreen, where players can map out pathways, monster locations, special items and hidden doors. If a mistake is made, it’s easily erased, as the map creation screen is sort of just like a paint tool. Because of this, the mechanic is intuitive and heinously habit-forming.
But when players aren’t charting out their dungeon investigations, they are busy engaging in ruthless combat. The battling is something akin to Dragon Quest, in that it’s carried out through a first-person perspective and commands are given that are unique to each character and class. There’s a plethora of strategy involved, such as making choices about which characters will be front-line fighters, and which will reside in the rear line; which classes to take into what dungeon, which skills to equip, and of course what are the enemy’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It’s all presented so elegantly that, despite the tactical depth, it never feels overwhelming. It instead strikes a delicate balance of offering easy-to-understand combat, without being too shallow or too much.
The most exciting part of Etrian Odyssey IV is the level of customization available for players. Characters can be equipped with all sorts of goodies, and trust us when we say there are plenty of goodies to be found. That’s part of the dungeon crawling appeal in Legends of the Titan – looting and killing baddies is something dished out in spades. So for those who love a good romp through dank labyrinths in order to vanquish giant foes and collect all sorts of treasure, will be at home with the game’s emphasis on these components.
Aside from the wonderful gameplay, however, Etrian Odyssey sports a brand new, super clean interface that further speaks to the game’s overall level of care and polish. Menus and text are of the perfect resolution — something that not all 3DS games can claim — and are vibrant to the point that they’re an absolute treat to look at. Actually, the entire game has a lush window dressing, making use of a variety of colors, even in the darkest of dungeons.
Where Etrian has always excelled, and continues to do so, is in the art department. Yet again, players are treated to some genuinely delightful character designs that are both charming and imaginative, evoking a sense of uniqueness amid the anime-inspired art scene; a feat not easily accomplished in the JRPG market, seeing as it’s saturated by big eyed, big-breasted heroines and battle-worn bruisers. While it maintains the art style of all the previous games, it also seems to use a bit more color and variety in the character designs especially; monsters look wonderfully gruesome as well.
These aesthetics are brought to life by the game’s enhanced graphics. While every other Etrian release has been for the DS, Odyssey IV’s jump to superior technology with the 3DS has done wonders for its presentation, as environments look lively and less static. Of course, more animations would be great on the combat screen, but beggars can’t be choosers. The graphics are made all the better by some of the best 3D work in a 3DS title yet. Providing an excellent sense of depth, Legends of the Titan was the first 3DS game I played till completion with the 3D slider turned all the way up.
Etrian Odyssey IV’s soundtrack is a thing of beauty too, giving players sweeping symphonies, stirring hymns and lamenting ballads, all of which hammer home the point that Legends, more than any of the games in its series, does a damn near perfect job at creating a captivating atmosphere and world that seems worthy of gamers’ every ounce of effort put into exploring it.
Of course, with all this talk of the great stuff Etrian Odyssey IV does, some might mistakenly assume it’s without fault. While Legends of the Titan is a fantastic game through and through, it’s not flawless. More love should been given to animating the combat, since the bulk of the game will be spent in it. Moreover, it has some issues with difficulty spikes as well as occasionally feeling like a war of attrition thanks to the grind-y taste that will be left in the mouths of some gamers. Of course, by this point, if players don’t know they’re in for a very combat-oriented, dungeon-exploring experience, then they obviously haven’t read the previous thousand words of this review, or done any research whatsoever.
After the masterpiece that was Fire Emblem: Awakening, it’s hard to believe that we are getting another fantastic RPG in a mere matter of weeks, but that’s what Atlus’ dungeon-crawler is: a truly wonderful piece of that roleplaying pie for which we all have a hankering. And like any good piece of pie, Legends of the Titan should be enjoyed slowly and until there are only crumbs left. Etrian Odyssey IV takes an unapproachable series and genre and makes it relevant and accessible to almost all gamers out there. It also builds upon the sturdy foundation laid by its previous installments, and refines the formula with a distinct degree of expert precision: better gameplay, map plotting, story, control, graphics and sound. In fact, all of these factors are so well-executed that they come together to make the best Etrian Odyssey yet. If someone is looking for one of the most entrancing, addictive RPGs on the 3DS, then they should not hesitate to run as quickly as they can to their nearest game store to purchase Legends of the Titan; it’s certainly worth every penny of its price tag, and then some.