Each time a new Etrian Odyssey is released, I think they can’t top the last shopkeeper, and then this happens…
Oh boy am I late on this post. I actually did have this game preordered and grabbed it on time, but making a post about it was the last damn thing on my mind. This game had me way too addicted to making a cute as hell super badass party and then going off into dungeons only to be brutally murdered by any FOE I didn’t pay attention to (more on that later when we get to the gameplay itself). Before we start talking about the contents of the cartridge, however, I want to show off the packaging, manual (ha), and soundtrack.
On the left side you can see the paper box they had the plastic case inside. I really hate these paper boxes, I have to be so god damn careful not to damage them. I’m pretty sure they’re MEANT to get damaged instead of the main case inside, but I still find myself babying the box so the stupid tabs that keep it closed don’t break.
Here we have the back of the paper box, as well as the first page of the artbook. I’ll be showing every page one by one.
Though small, the artbook is free with every copy in the first shipment of the game, and the art is really nice, there’s really nothing to complain about here. What impressed me even more though, was the game’s soundtrack. I had previously bought Code of Princess when it was released, and though it had an equally impressive artbook, the soundtrack of that game left a lot to be desired. Etrian Odyssey IV, however, just floored me with its in-game music, and the arranges in the soundtrack they included are just great. In fact, I’ve been looking into getting a copy of Sekaiju No Meikyu IV Densho No Kyoshin Super Arrange Version, but the import costs have me wavering on that. If I do get it though, I’ll be sure to write about the tracks, I don’t imagine they can make the songs worse than they are in-game, and they are wowing me as they are now. If any of you are curious about this particular soundtrack included with the game, the title people are using to sell it is usually Etrian Odyssey IV: Music and Art Collection.
Anyway, moving on, let’s check out the guide! Let me just get past this stupid Nintendo safety manual..
OH FUCK YOU ATLUS
Okay, no, seriously, fuck this shit. Look, I appreciate the artbook and soundtrack, but those are considered bonuses given with the first shipment. I can’t even make a joke about how the manual is two pages, made out of recycled paper bags, and printed with the tears of orphans as ink. There is literally no fucking manual. I can’t be the only one who misses full color manuals that you read before playing a game to get yourself hyped up and familiarized with the game’s world, right? I really don’t want there to ever be a day that I have to say, “I sure miss the days when video games had manuals!” They did include a manual on the cartridge itself that you can access from the 3DS Home Menu, but that’s just all gameplay instructions and the like, the shit none of us wanted to read anyway.
Anyway, OFF TO ADVENTURE!
Now, before I get started here on the gameplay of Etrian Odyssey IV I should note that I had very little hands-on time with the three older games of the series. I never owned my own copy, so though I’m not new to dungeon crawlers, I’m fairly new to Etrian Odyssey. I’ll be talking about the game in chronological order to the best of my ability, but my memory is as unreliable as, well, the rest of me really. The game starts you off in the main (and practically only) town with nothing but an overwhelming desire to journey over to the big, glowing Yggdrasil Tree towering in the background of the landscape. Moving around town consists of just choosing which location you wish to go to through a menu, which is pretty standard fare for a dungeon crawler’s main hub. You can’t really do much at the start because the game is trying to shove you towards the Explorer’s Guild to start up your…explorer’s guild and…explore. The premise isn’t exactly going to win any writing awards, but it does its job, and a deep and engaging plot isn’t really the point of most dungeon crawlers anyway.
Upon entering the Explorer’s Guild you are allowed to name your guild and begin filling it with members. They tell you that you can “even register yourself,” which just means that there is no player character in the traditional sense, and that you would have to just imagine for yourself which one of the guild members is “you” if you decide to self-insert. This was a bit misleading at first and I was wondering if there was some kind of “player character member” that could be created, but I found no mention of such a feature.
There’s a nice variety of classes to choose from, those two blank spots are classes I have yet to unlock, and the Arcanist class isn’t available from the start either.
The game gives you six slots in your party formation, three in the front line and three in the back line, but you can only have a party of five party members. The sixth slot is reserved for NPC guest party members that may join you over the course of the game. This means that from the start you have two more classes to choose from than you have slots to fill, and this number increases to five by the end of the game. Needless to say, this gives you a lot of variation in the types of parties people will make. Do you want more damage in your group or utility? Should you focus on surviving as long as possible or finishing fights as quickly as possible? It’s up to you to experiment, and the customizability only gets better once you see the skill trees for each class.
Damn, that’s a lot of skills to choose from…
…there’s no way to max even half of these out, is there?
As great as this is, it’s a god damn curse for indecisive people like me.
The max level in this game is 70 (there are ways to raise this cap to 99 if I remember correctly, but that comes way past where I’ve gotten), and you get 1 skill point for each level. You do start with 3, but that’s not a lot of points for how many skills they give you to choose from, which come in both the active and passive variety. Did I mention that you also get the ability to pick a subclass, giving you access to all of that class’s skills, with the only restriction being that you have a max level of five for those skills? Yeah, there’s a lot of ways to go about building your party in this game. Luckily, there’s the ability to allow your characters to rest, which is basically just a skill reset at the cost of two levels. Yes, you have to grind back two of your hard-earned levels, but it’s way better than having to make a new character like some other games may force you to do.
There’s also four character portraits per class, each with an alternate color palette. This combined with the ability to name your character had me sitting at the character creation screen long enough to melt my 3DS into my hands.
Once you’ve got your cute as fuck badass, all male, testosterone infused party created you are given your first mission from the mayor that will allow your guild to become officially added to the registry. A generous man, he gives you half of your mission reward upfront so you can go buy gear for the party (no, this will never happen again), which is pretty damn useful considering the fact that all newly created party members start with a dagger and a cloth shirt. Not exactly something will allow you to survive your first excursion. Upon arriving at the blacksmith you are greeted by his apprentice, a worthy addition to the already likeable lineup of Etrian Odyssey shopkeepers.
Don’t call the materials I nearly died getting for you “crap,” please.
The shop system is fairly interesting. Like any other store, you have to pay up to get the goods, but unlike other stores, they don’t stock their own shit. Nope, you have to go gathering materials for the shop in order for them to be able to make anything, whether it’s a sword or some medicine, you have to provide both the components and the price of the labor, not unlike getting your house remodeled.
You need new carpeting? Well, I’ll need you to go over to that man-eating bear and kill it for its fur. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your wallet, I am not touching something as gross as a bloody bear pelt without a paycheck, asshole.
Luckily, you don’t have to just hand over crafting materials for free, you just sell them to the store for profit like you would any other item and the shop will have the materials available for use, so you’re not getting completely screwed here. What this does mean, however, is that just finding whatever makes you the most money and getting filthy rich isn’t enough to get new gear; you also need to gather or hunt for the ingredients needed to make the item you want. So far I’ve found that it’s not difficult to keep up with when playing normally as long as you don’t go running pasts spots where you can chop wood/gather plants/mine ore.
The Yggdrasil Tree in the background serves as a constant reminder of your ultimate goal. It’s also pretty and super shiny.
When you finally get your party and gear together, you’ll head out of town to find something that’s new to the Etrian Odyssey series: an overworld map, and a sweet skyship to traverse it with.
Great, another opportunity to give something a stupid name. No, I am not proud of this.
The overworld map has no random encounters, but it does have FOE’s (difficult enemies, perhaps best described as periodically respawning minibosses) wandering around, who are very territorial and don’t take well to you trying to steal their food. Which is a damn shame because gathering food from the overworld map from the three types of sources (birds, herd animals, and vegetables) nets you some serious cash if you make it back to town with the stuff. If you’re being careful there’s no real danger of losing the food you have onboard, but recklessness can have you flying your ship into an FOE who proceeds to wipe your party, or into a tornado or angry dragon that makes quick work of your skyship (which thankfully doesn’t kill the entire party, but you end up in town with all your food gone), so paying attention is as important as ever. Also on each overworld area you go to is a labyrinth, the maze-like dungeon you would expect to visit in Etrian Odyssey; without those we wouldn’t really be playing a dungeon-crawler would we? Also littered around the map is several smaller mazes called “caves” by the game, which so far have been one floor each, and I don’t expect the pattern to change. Once you find these caves and labyrinths, you can actually teleport straight to them from town like you would in the previous games, so as soon as you unlock an area you’re not forced to constantly fly out there.
Ah, finally, adventure!
Dungeon crawling in this game is like any of the other Etrian Odyssey games. For those of you who have never played a dungeon-crawler before, you traverse the maze from a first person point of view, and try to get as far as possible before being forced to turn back to restock on supplies and upgrade gear. For those of you who have never played an Etrian Odyssey game, you also need to draw your own map as you go through the maze using your touchscreen and stylus.
Some of you may see green squares and blue lines, but I see carpal tunnel waiting to happen.
This may sound weird, but I get a deep, perverse satisfaction from drawing a map nicely. I’m no artist, I don’t draw as a hobby, and I avoid doodling when bored in class in fear of people being offended that I would put something so unpleasing to the eyes on paper, but I am downright anal about drawing my maps in this game. I will sometimes retrace my steps a couple times and be forced to face random encounters just because I wanted to be absolutely sure my map was accurate. I may have a problem, but damn it, if it’s a feature in the game, they were probably intending for it be enjoyable to at least some degree.
Also of note in that image are the three purple circles on the screen with the arrows inside of them. Those are the icons for FOE’s on the map, and they are a fast opportunity to exit the land of the living if you run into them before you’re ready. They will have a glow around their map icon that will either be red (don’t even try), yellow (plan properly), and blue (no longer a problem). Having a red FOE run into your party is guaranteed death unless you manage to escape, and oftentimes this game’s escape chance once you’re in a fight makes you wonder if the button is just there as a joke. It’s things like this that make me prefer to call the game “punishing” rather than “difficult.” It’s not all that difficult to avoid an FOE (most of the time, some of them move extremely, and sometimes you end up surrounded), but if you make a mistake then the game puts on the man pants and starts proceeding to show you how stupid you are by opening a can of whoop-ass that shouts “LOSER, LOSER, LOOOOSER” as you pray to the RNG gods that you’ll manage to escape the fight. There’s even an item called the “Adriadne Thread” that teleports right back to town, and is usable anytime you’re out of combat, including when you’re flying on your airship. That means if you are ever in situation where you are trapped by FOE’s and have nowhere to go that is safe, you can just get the hell right out, instantly, with no penalties.
It is not difficult to keep yourself out of dangerous situations in this game if you take your time, but if you don’t, don’t expect any mercy from the game. Unless you’re playing the game on casual mode (why do people do this?) you will be forced to load your last save, and you can only save the game in town or at “Geomagnetic Poles” that are found on overland areas and the first floor of labyrinths, which allow you to save your game and teleport back to town. This doesn’t mean you aren’t screwed out of being able to stop playing if you need to turn off your console though, you can create temporary saves out in the field which delete themselves when you load them up. This lets you take a break whenever you need to, but if you die then you’ll still have to load back to your last regular save file.
The enemies in the later areas are more intimidating, I swear. And then you run into a bat that’s stronger than the rhinos you were previously fighting and wonder what’s gone wrong in the world.
The combat of the game hasn’t really changed from the previous games as far as I can tell, unless you count the fact that some of the classes have changed as they always do between games. I’m not sure what there really is to say about the way the combat flows, it’s fairly standard for a turn-based game, with the speediest characters acting first, and choices like maintaining the most effective buffs and debuffs while exploiting elemental weaknesses appearing as one would expect. I suppose one thing to note is the bar on the right side of the screen, the “Burst Meter.” Each time this meter is charged all the way (the meter increases as you attack and defend in combat), the number at the bottom of the bar will go up by one, to a maximum of five charges. These charges are used to activate “Burst Skills.”
As you progress through the game, you will unlock more of these Burst Skills and be able to equip them before battle, which each skill taking a certain amount of slots, and your number of slots increasing at certain points of the game. These skills vary in how many charges they use up, but they will all be activated at the start of the combat round before anything else is done, and can be done in combination with a regular action by each character, provided you have enough charges for each skill being used. This gives you a lot of interesting tactical possibilities in terms of what Burst Skills you may want to bring with you. For example, I always carry the Burst Skill “Calm Breath” which consumes one charge and heals the user. This doesn’t sound very impressive seeing as two characters in my party can heal as it is, on top of all five party members being able to use healing items if they so wish. However, Burst Skills don’t use up a turn, so a character could, for example, attack an enemy while healing themselves with Calm Breath. More importantly however, is the fact that Burst Skills are activated at the beginning of a round, which can make all the difference when a party member is low health and you want to heal them before the enemy gets a chance to finish them off. Not all Burst Skills are this simple however, as they range from the mundane effects such as heals, defense buffs, and damage dealing to more interesting things like moving the party out from the fight all the way to the beginning of the floor for a full retreat or the ability to identify enemies to view all their resistances and weaknesses (something that you normally only can see by killing the enemy, which isn’t so useful for bosses who you only fight one of anyway).
Other than this, the combat system itself isn’t deep on its own. It’s the great selection of classes and many ways you can build them that make the combat deep. It’s all about building your party effectively, and picking the right Burst Skills for the encounter. Careful planning with gear and skills is required of the player, and this in turn indirectly makes the combat feel deep and engaging when in reality it’s mostly the preparation beforehand that gets you thinking. This isn’t to say that the combat isn’t fun and challenging on its own, rather, I’m trying to stress that there’s no real gimmicks or innovations in terms of how the turn-based combat flows, such as the timed button pressed of The Legend of Dragoon.
And I have lady balls that hang lower than the head of a flail!
Wow, I feel like I rambled on and on about this game. I feel like this game is way too big for me to reasonably give a review of after owning it for only two weeks, so I’ll refrain from doing anything so silly right now, I just wanted to give anybody curious about this a game a bit of a first look. However, if you can’t tell from how long this got, I am absolutely in love with this game right now. It’s always a breath of fresh air for me to get a game that feels unique in the current market. Dungeon crawlers aren’t a remotely new concept, but how many do we still get these days? If there’s a lot around, they’re certainly slipping past me.
Well, until next time, the No-Cons! will be sailing the skies on the ChenHonk and hopefully surviving long enough to bring you a review of this game in the near future!