Stewart: The Perfect Throwback

BY SAM STEWART | MARCH 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Etrian Odyssey series, Atlus' throwback to classic role-playing games, does a great job of mixing the old with the new. Recent games such as Xenoblade Chronicles have succeeded by shedding as many outdated role-playing game traditions as possible, but Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan wears them like a badge of honor. From Dungeons & Dragons to Final Fantasy, old-school inspiration can be found all over this game. Although not every old idea makes the transition gracefully, Etrian Odyssey IV does an amazing job of mixing old and new elements to create a great modern role-playing game.

The first throwback you will notice is the story, which feels straight out of the first Final Fantasy. A group of adventurers arrive in a foreign town, and soon find themselves on a quest to find a magic tree. The plot twists are fairly obvious, and none of the characters are particularly interesting, but it isn't any worse than the average role-playing-game story, and luckily, it never drags on too long.

This is good, because what you really want is to get to the dungeon crawling. The play in Etrian Odyssey IV feels straight out of an old tabletop role-playing game. You start by making a team of five characters, choosing between seven different classes. After naming them and picking their first skills, you head into the first dungeon and are hit with one last flashback: You have to draw your own map. Your map occupies a grid on the touch screen, but it only fills in squares you have stepped on.

You are required to draw walls, doors, and important landmarks if you want to remember where they are. You can even leave short notes yourself. There is an option to auto-fill the map, but making your own is much more fun. After all, you are only as good as your own map.

Picking a good party is only the first layer of the games deep strategy. You need someone to take damage, deal damage, and heal damage. To do that you will have to pick through each classes huge skill tree, which offers plenty of different ways to approach.

Have your fortress taunt to draw attacks while your other classes buff up for a full assault. Or have your Arcanist lay down a magic circle to poison all enemies and just wait it out. There is a ton of potential for creative players, and it only gets bigger when you unlock the ability to mix two classes.

Experimenting with different skills and classes is one of the most fun parts of the game, so it is disappointing that the penalty for resetting skills is so high, requiring you to sacrifice hard earned level ups. Having to grind more levels is a drag, but it is ultimately worth it to get a perfect party.

Battles are found semi-randomly while exploring dungeons, with a color-coded indicator letting you know how soon you will find a battle, which helps alleviate some stress. Balancing out that stress are the elite enemies, known as FOEs, that stalk every dungeon in the game. They move around the map in real time, and they will chase you if you get too close. Color-coded icons on the map help you determine if you could beat them in a battle (remember: red is dead), and also help you avoid them if you don't want to try.

To add to the tension, FOEs can also invade random battles if they take too long to complete. Their presence is a constant reminder how tough the game can be. Playing on normal difficulty is no joke, but the difficulty is very rewarding to anyone looking for punishing, deep combat.

That said, this is definitely a game for fans of classic role-playing games looking for a modern translation. It's a tough, long game (50-plus hours) with tons of side quests and extra dungeons to see. You could easily put 100 hours in and love every minute. But for me, someone on the edge of that fan base, it is a little long, and I was ready to be done by the time I reached the final area. That said Etrian Odyssey IV is still an amazing game, worthy of any role-playing-game fans' attention.

Reviewer Score 9/10

Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan
Developed by Atlus
Platform: 3DS
Cost: $39.99
Released: Feb. 26
Rated T for Teen

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