I give this fun but difficult game about exploring your world and seeing its wonders...an 86/100!
Full truth, I've never played an Etrian Odyssey game before this year. I heard its name dropped a few times, but it didn't interest me. But then a friend of mine recommended that I try it out, since he admitted to liking it a lot. I looked up which ones would be a good starting point, and found that the fourth game, Legend of the Titan, was pretty newbie-friendly. Since the COVID-19 pandemic is still torturing us, I thought it'd be a good way to waste some time while in quarantine. Now that I've finished it, I'm glad to say that I think I've become a fan. Thanks for introducing me to this game series, Curtis!
You play as a team of explorers wanting to start your own guild. You make your way to the town of Tharsis, go through the necessary paperwork, pick characters of various RPG classes, and so on. You're given various quests to complete by the Grand Count, who is basically the mayor of the town, from mining a special ore to power an airship to interacting with new races of people never before seen. But over the course of the game, you discover secrets about the world you're in that were hidden for many years, and you eventually wind up getting pulled into a conflict that could destroy the world. So yeah, in case you're wondering, this game is like Final Fantasy 1 in that the characters you pick don't really have set personalities, so character development is pretty much non-existent here. But according to Atlus, this is intentional, as the point of Etrian Odyssey is for you, the player, to create your own completely customizable party, interpret the game's world for yourself, and make up your own personalities and backstories, basically allowing you to let your imagination run wild and create your own "canon" for them. I personally prefer my games to have pre-existing characters, but I definitely appreciate a game that intentionally leaves things to your imagination, as I feel it adds to the immersion.
The core of Etrian Odyssey's gameplay focuses on exploration. When you explore dungeons, you're given the task of making your own maps for them, marking various vista points, where you find treasures, and so on. The game rewards you by having you explore every nook and cranny, something I very much appreciate. The battle system is still that of a turn-based RPG, but I personally prefer turn-based, due to the fact that those allow me to plan my actions out thoroughly. The various sidequests you take on basically encourage you to explore the world around you, discovering various locations and vistas, marking them when necessary to guide people there when needed. The game really goes out of its way to make you feel like you're on a grand adventure. But don't think this is an easy game, oh no. Sometimes you'll encounter enemies in the overworld that are MUCH stronger than you can handle, and the game doesn't expect you to fight enemies that you're clearly not ready for. If you try to fight them while underleveled, you'll get your ass beat. This isn't a game you can just breeze through if you just train hard enough. You have to not only carefully plan out your party's skills, strategy, and equipment, but really take the time to grind in order to get anywhere. Some people hate grinding, and some don't mind it, but having a game that forces you to grind and figure things out for yourself may not sit well for some. I liked it well enough, mostly because I didn't feel the need to hurry through everything.
But how are the graphics? Well, for one, I think they're great. Not only are the character portraits colorful and highly detailed, the 3D rendered environments are very nicely done, especially on account of the 3DS hardware. The monsters all have unique designs, the occasional palette swap notwithstanding, and the movement is reasonably smooth, especially during the boss fights. The music is very versatile as well, with a wide range of tracks and genres, from soothing piano tunes to loud, energetic trumpets, from upbeat jazz to orchestral bombast, Etrian Odyssey's soundtrack has it all. I did find the final boss's battle theme to be rather lackluster, though. I thought it'd be more epic. But this is probably what I get for listening to the final boss themes for games like Octopath Traveler, Radiant Historia, Final Fantasy XV, Ys Origin, and many others. Those raised my standards for epic final boss music. My other main complaint with the game is that instead of just letting you buy items, you have to gather the materials needed for said items, like HP and TP restoring items. Resources for HP restoration are relatively easy to get, but materials for TP restoration are needlessly hard to find and really tedious to try and get. It doesn't help that if you gather a certain amount, they don't respawn again until the next day, and even then, the chance of getting the item you want is random at best. Good luck hoarding all the items you need to make those TP restoring items!
Now, the game is fairly light on story, as the main plot doesn't get revealed until the final third of the game, but that doesn't mean it isn't good. It's more like the game hits you with a story when you don't expect it, but by that time, you're already invested in the game, heightening the mystery and exploration whenever you explore a new labyrinth. Some media suffer from being too epic, and thankfully, Etrian Odyssey avoids this by establishing a smaller scale conflict near the end. There's still a sense of urgency and a lot of high stakes involved, but there's no truly malicious villain, nor is there a dumb take-over-the-world plot. I won't spoil anything for you, but the entirety of the game is about immersion and adventure. I think Etrian Odyssey 4 managed to pull it off very well, especially considering the franchise's humble beginnings. As for whether I'll play any other games, I just bought Nexus, and I am curious to try out Millennium Girl. I hear that one's rather controversial for having a pre-established story and characters and for having a weird battle system, but I personally like those.
If you're looking for a game that'll really take you into its world and reward you for taking your time, give Etrian Odyssey 4 a try. It converted me into a fan, so why not?