I know this is really late, considering that EO4 came out a few months ago, but I like to get things nice and beat (not 100%’d) before going in for a review. I’ve never actually played the others, so get ready for lots of EO3 comparisons! Anyway, while EO4 isn’t my first shot at the series, it is by far the best and was definitely worth the pre-order.
Graphics and Sound:
I don’t normally talk too terribly much about graphics, but Tharsis and the surrounding dungeons are pretty damn beautiful. Everything is nice and fitting for the area its in and the variety of dungeons (we’ll talk about this later) gives the game a great variety of scenery. A nifty little thing is that hidden passages are usually marked by being slightly different than the rest of the walls. Also, the addition of 3D models as opposed to sprites not only make the game look better, but also give you a pretty great feel of when something’s about to die. Speaking of 3D, the 3D effect looks pretty decent and isn’t too obnoxious. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s a nifty little effect.
Music is excellent, although you could say that about anything Atlus gets its hands on. Yuzo Koshiro, series composer, did a bang-up job for this one. While I’m not the biggest fan of the more common music (saving and the shop, mostly), everything is really great. The bonus dungeon and final boss theme get special mention for being super-creepy and super-ominous (without resorting to chanting!), respectively. No idea if this is a ‘thing’ for the series (I’ll admit, I got to the second stratum of EO3 before losing interest), but the fact that the basic encounter music changes as you hit harder and harder dungeons is really, really cool and something more games should do.
From what I can see, not a huge lot has changed since the last Etrian Odyssey. However, there have been some massive improvements, such as the ability to move the map around in a natural way that doesn’t make me poke the screen in the vague location that I want to focus on. Everything seems so much more… organized and streamlined and I bloody love it. I’m especially fond of how they’ve ditched the ‘common’ skills from EO3 (because they were boring as sin) and how they’ve redone the gathering mechanic. Each point has a set number of gathers per day. No making a ‘B Team’ of farmers, no investing hard-earned skill points into unlocking the ability to gather. Just go up, hit A, get loot.
The battle system seems to be pretty much the same as EO3, except better. A few abilities have been shuffled around and some classes have been renamed or combined (Landsknecht seems to be Buccaneer’s chase/link abilities mixed with the Gladiator’s ability to beat things up). What I’m really fond of are the passive skills of the Proficiency line. They’re main-class specific and it really gives a reason to have a main-classed whatever hanging around.
I also have to give huge, huge props to whoever designed the ‘gimmicks’ of the unlockable classes. While the Bushi’s Blood Surge is fairly underwhelming, Circles make AoE support/debuff work ridiculously fun and Drive Blades… Well, nothing beats seeing absurdly huge numbers pop up over the enemy’s head, even if you can’t use that skill again for X turns.
Easily the best decision made by the developers this time around was the world map. While Etrian Odyssey 3 was more akin to Persona 3’s Tartarus (one giant dungeon), Legends of the Titan offers up so much more variety. First off, there are four reasonably-large overworld maps to explore. You can gather food for buffs or money, find treasure (something I need to do more of, honestly), and take down – or outwit – super-powerful FOEs. Also, you get to discover new mini-dungeons (‘caves’) by exploring, so unless you’ve 100%ed a particular map, there’s always some reason to go back. Even after you beat the main storyline, you still haven’t seen everything, as new FOEs pop up and new airship parts allow you to visit previously unreachable locations.
If I had to say anything was lacking about the gameplay, it would have to be the Bushi being underwhelming (in the sense that they kill themselves about as well as they kill the enemy: incredibly well) and how absolutely anticlimactic the final (story) boss was. I mean, without spoiling to much, you’re basically killing a god. I should not be able to go in, completely unprepared, half-asleep at 3:00 AM and kill this dude on my first try! It didn’t help that the boss before it was an absolute pain in the ass that took me a good five or six shots even after I figured out his gimmick. Oh, right, and I miss the Wildling class. Give me a summoner in EO5, please!
Speaking of gimmicks, I love love love how every dungeon (to my knowledge) seems to have its own gimmick. The first one? Rampaging FOEs need to be guided into breakable walls. Weird, logical defying pathways in the second. The third one’s got two modes. The final dungeon has you playing stealth with robots. It’s great because it breaks up the ‘go here, kill this’ dungeon-crawling gameplay. Although screw the robots. Ragequit for a good week because of those jerks.
Narrative and Setting:
I know that nobody goes into an EO game looking for the world’s greatest story. I’ve got to say though, the citizens of Tharsis won me over. Everyone is so much more personable in this than the previous game and nobody is a pain in the ass to deal with (hi EO3 shopkeeper). I think one thing that put me off EO3 was the fact that you were always, always alone, except for the random guard or other guild scattered about.
I think it helps that there are other, non-Tharsis civilizations out there which gives you a nice, reasonably diverse amount of dudes to narrative with. It also helps that the game makes excellent use of that empty sixth spot in your party; occasionally, NPCs will join you as guests. This serves a few purposes. First, it lets you get the feel of the new class you’re about to unlock by letting you play around with their NPC (Wufan for the Arcanists, Kibagami for the Bushi and NopeNotTelling for the Spoiler). Secondly, it gives you some actual narrative and/or emotional tie to the dungeon.
Wufan joins out of wanting to save the Medium from the Hollows, Kibagami joins because he feels duty-bound to kill the Boiling Lizard. I’d also be willing to argue that this is what led Atlus to give you actual characters in Etrian Odyssey: Millenium Maiden. Honestly? I would be totally okay with that. Keep the dungeoneering nice and nail-bitingly hard, but give me more story because I am a huge lore geek and I love a good story. Although I have to admit, as cool as EO4’s story was, it did have a fair share of letdowns.
First, the Hollows, the main ‘bad guys’ of the second dungeon. I’m not too terribly far into the bonus dungeon where they (one type so far) makes a cameo appearance, but it’s never explained what they are! All we know is that they’re creepy, fast, and hell-bent on murder. My second narrative gripe is the really obvious twist. Without spoiling … too much, we’ll say, it’s this: You get betrayed. It’s completely, totally obvious who is gonna do it (Hell, they admit having an ulterior motive early on anyway) and you know without a half-doubt that it’s going to happen when it does. My final complaint is the fate of the penultimate boss. Can’t really say anything else about that without spoiling things, but… Seriously. Screw that guy and his ridiculous hair.
Anyway, Etrian Odyssey 4 has been an absolute joy to play through. The improvements from the third make me super happy and the less than great stuff just comes down to a numbers problem (Bushi) or some subpar writing, which I’m hoping the more narrative-focused Millenium Maiden will fix. If you’re into dungeon crawlers or thought that EO3 was good, but not great, definitely check out the demo on the 3DS eShop. If you’re not sold after that, I can assure you that it definitely opens up more and you get a ton of options as you go along. As always, thanks for reading and have a good’un.