Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan Review
It goes without saying that not every positively reviewed game is appropriate for every last gamer out there. M ratings are supposed to restrict the titles adorned with them from the younger set. Similarly, games with the Atlus logo on their packaging do their own restricting; the lauded company's games are, more often than not, niche titles. Just because the hardcore RPG gamer loves stuff like Persona 4 Golden, Radiant Historia or Yggdra Union doesn't mean everyone will, despite the high critical scores they receive. No exception to the Atlus rule, Etrian Odyssey 4: Legends of the Titan earns high marks from myself and most of the gaming community, but the title won't appeal to more to than that small community of gamers who like their RPGs to be as punishing as they are old school.
Your first clue that Etrian Odyssey 4 will be a hardcore dungeon crawling RPG is the fact that you begin the game by creating your own set of five guild members to aid in your journey. With user created protagonists, players expect to be less a part of the game's story and more a bystander, letting the tale wash over them with little direct input. If that is what you're expecting, you won't be disappointed; the plot is nearly non-existent and what little story you do get comes entirely from NPC interactions and conversations. I will say, though, that what little plot EO4 does give the player is leaps and bounds more than all three previous EO games combined. I expect this concession was made to drag in new players (and it certainly isn't the only indicator of that very goal), but if you want a RPG with a sweeping narrative, check out Fire Emblem: Awakening or Tales of the Abyss instead.
Instead of a compelling story, EO4 uses its gameplay to affix the player to their handheld for dozens, if not hundreds of hours. The thing is that if you aren't head over heels in love with the concepts at work here, you'll more than likely hate this game. All of EO4's dungeon crawling takes place in the first person perspective, and borrows from the roguelike RPG genre by equating each movement on a grid with one turn. Players move their team of five around ever-larger dungeons and areas, fighting enemies, gaining experience and levels and, my favorite part, drawing their own maps. Huh? That's right, part of this title's fun comes from learning each area's layout and using the touch screen and stylus to construct fairly detailed maps. For me, the slower pace of the action got tiresome at times, but the drive to create the perfect map kept me playing. There aren't really any rewards for the activity except for self-satisfaction of a job well done, but the finished maps are rewards in and of themselves. If you want to appreciate EO4 you'll need to find perverse joy in either the constant RPG grind for levels or the job of a cartographer. If neither sounds fun, this definitely isn't for you.
Remember the concessions made to new players I mentioned a little while ago? The biggest one is the addition of a casual mode. For a series known for its brutal difficulty, this comes as a welcome change. The hardcore may scoff at the prospect of making things a little easier but it feels necessary. Even those enamored with the dungeon crawling and/or map-making could be turned off by a chance encounter with a monster they have no business tangling with, or worse, a low level monster that decimates their party with a little luck (or poor planning on the player's part). Having to redo hours of exploring because of one miscalculation would be enough to make anyone put the game down, but casual mode decreases the chance of that happening. It also lessens the need for grinding levels, which can streamline the adventure nicely. My advice to interested parties is to start on the normal difficulty. If after an hour you've been obliterated by a baboon or kangaroo and feel the urge to quit, give casual mode a shot. There is no shame in it, and if it makes the game more fun then where's the harm?
As with most Atlus RPGs, EO4 can be needlessly complicated at some times and way too difficult at others. It can confuse all manner of gamers with the constant introduction of new systems to worry about and rules that only make sense after some serious time is put in. But (you knew there was a but, right?) if you are into this type of game, or simply wish to try it out without the worry of an oppressively high difficulty level, then EO4 is for you. The game's appeal to less seasoned players could facilitate the growth of the hardcore RPG fanbase, and Etrian Odyssey 4 is the perfect jumping off point. Good luck, and always remember - if a monster looks too strong for you, it probably is. Run and live to fight another day.
Final Rating: 89%. It's your gateway RPG to the hardcore stuff.