If you’re as massively old as I am then you probably remember playing games like The Bard’s Tale on PC or Sword of Hope on the Game Boy. You also remember having stacks of paper next to you where you had meticulously mapped out every inch of the dungeons in those games so that you wouldn’t get lost. Unlike many RPGs at that time which used a top down perspective those games had you going through maze-like dungeons from a first person view. The Etrian Odyssey franchise is a throwback to those days and shows how that style of game might have evolved if they were being made today.
Atlus released a demo for Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan on the 3DS eShop. This is my first foray into the franchise and I thought I’d chronicle my experiences with the demo. Let me just say I was not expecting what I was greeted with and I’m pleasantly surprised by my experience. How did I miss out on this series for so long?
When you first boot up the game you’re given the option of creating your party members. No picking from pre-selected people, no single character that the story revolves around. You create up to 30 different characters by picking from among six different classes. I figured I would create a balanced party so I just made one character from each class. Then you have to assign those characters that you’ve created to parties. You can only ever have five people in a party (I didn’t know this when I created six characters). You can choose their name, their appearance, and what class they are going to be. Then once you’ve created them all you can assign skill points to a tree of skills that you can use to customize those characters even more. The options mean that you’re party is going to be completely unique from anyone else who plays the game. I decided to go with a team of warrior women and made a party of all female characters. I focused on these five characters throughout the demo, but I fully plan to go back and create more to level up and customize.
All the adventurers in the land are in search of the legendary Yggdrasil, a tree said to hold great power. You can’t just go off in search of the tree however; you have to prove yourself to the local leaders. To do so they send you off in search of an ore that is used to power things like your skyship. It’s deep inside a forest, but it’s guarded by giant, angry baboons (which you can’t actually kill yet). You also don’t have a reliable map. When you first enter the forest you’re greeted by someone who gives you a partially completed map and it’s up to you to keep track of the rest of it while you’re in the forest or you’ll get lost. The 3DS bottom screen is used to draw the map, which is laid out in a nice grid pattern for easy use. You can apply different colors to the map to show things like watery area or you have a small selection of preset icons that you can use to note different landmarks or features of the dungeon you’re in. This is the part that really reminds me of those older RPGs that I played as a kid. It was not uncommon to find a notebook filled with maps on the couch next to me. The 3DS thankfully has that nice bottom screen that you can use to create your maps now. You get the option of making the map as detailed or useless as you actually want. What would be nice would be the ability to create maps and then trade them with your friends over the Nintendo Network, but I don’t know if that option is available.
Battles in the game are all completely random and are shown from a static first person perspective. The names of your party members appear at the bottom of the battle screen with the enemies displayed on the top. At the beginning of each battle you get the ability to select the actions of all of your party members so some careful planning will be needed. Battles are not turn based in that you take a turn, the enemies take a turn, but rather how quickly those characters move. Making sure your healers are on top of keeping your party healthy could become very crucial, especially during some of the tougher fights in the game. With the exception of the larger creatures, which are clearly visible on screen, your party shouldn’t have too much trouble with most fights in the demo.
The one thing that really stands out about the game is how beautiful it is. There are no intricately detailed character models. No flashy battle animations or dazzling spell effects. There are, however, gorgeously detailed environments that clearly show you where the paths are that you can proceed. It’s all done from a first person perspective so you see walls made of vines to your left and right and only the open area in front of you. Since everything is done on a grid the game uses the d-pad to control all of your movement. The circle pad is used to move the camera around and adjust the map on the bottom screen. The overworld shows lots of detail with huge creatures, which should be avoided at all cost, animals roaming the environment that can be taken for food supplies, and easily denoted areas that can be landed at and explored. The hand drawn characters that appear during conversations are some of the best looking to appear on the 3DS at this point.
If you’re looking for an action packed game with tons of people to talk to, beautiful cities to explore or lots of flashy effects then this probably isn’t the type of game you’re going to be interested in. Everything in the demo is done through the use of menus. You can select different places to go in the town from a preset list, each of which is typical to RPGs. You have a hotel that you can rest and heal up at. A blacksmith shop that will let you purchase and sell equipment for your party and a place where you can go and find quests to undertake.
Etrian Odyssey IV appears to be very much in the vein of classic RPGs. You can mix and match party members at any time. You’re in charge of keeping track where you need to go. You’re the one who has to visual how these party members move and fight. It leaves a lot to your imagination, which many games just don’t do anymore. You can level up all of your character to Level 10 in the demo. Any of the equipment, experience and money you earn in the demo will be transferred to the full game when it releases later this year. I’ve never played a game in this franchise before, but the demo firmly sold me on the game. If you’re a fan of classic RPGs then you’re going to want to check this one out when it launches.