Once More in the Breach

I beat Etrian Odyssey IV a couple of days ago. It is a great game. Probably better than the other games in the series, all of which were good as well. But I didn’t like it quite as much. However, I feel that is my fault, not the games.

The Etrian Odyssey series is quite niche. They are bitch hard dungeon crawlers and there is little story to speak of. Still, they feature some finely crafted dungeons and generally well balanced classes that give players willing to put in the work a lot of tools to help master the game. I live building a party from the ground up, having 100% control over what is in my party. It is much like the first Final Fantasy game, only with more classes and more abilities per class. Don’t expect these games to coddle you either, because they don’t care if progress. That is on you. While it is hard, it makes it feel like such an accomplishment to reach the next floor of the next stratum.

While all of that is true for the series as a whole, Etrian Odyssey 4 is definitely friendlier than previous outings. Floors seem to be smaller, the dungeons are broken up and there is now a casual mode that kicks you back to town if you die instead of back to the start menu. Despite me loving the series, these are positive changes. The game still has significant bite, it has just been soften around the edges so that more people can enjoy it. It also has a greater focus on story. Not enough to be intrusive, but it is definitely more present than before. Again, I think this is a good change. It doesn’t mess with the player’s party, although you do get the chance to recruit some story characters as the game goes on they are not appreciably different than regular characters of their class. In all, it is the same tough dungeon crawling with some newbie friendly frills.

If I like the changes, then why do I not like this game as much as the rest of the series? That comes down to how the classes are set up this time. In previous games, each of the five members of my party was an island. They did their thing regardless of what the rest of the party was up to. My Dark Hunter used binds. My Medic healed and occasionally bashed stuff. The status of one didn’t really affect the other. Etrian Odyssey IV has a greater focus on party synergy. Your team has to actually work together. The Dancer can follow up attacks, so to get the most out of it you need to have a lot of attacks to follow up. So I had to build all of my party members together, so each of their abilities helped to trigger each other’s abilities. And I did a terrible job of it for three quarters of the game.

Don’t get me wrong, it feels awesome to have your whole team mercilessly bash away at enemies as your Landsknecht’s elemental chaser triggers your Dancer’s chase attack which triggers the Landsknecht’s chaser which triggers the dancer’s again which trigger’s the Landsknecht’s and so on. But once one party member goes down the whole machine grids to a halt. It is not a worse way to set up classes, it is just not one that fits my personal sensibilities when it comes to building a party. Still, I did get some enjoyment out of working with unfamiliar goals, like games that force defensive strategies on me that go against my usual glass cannon approach.

The first Etrian Odyssey game is one of the games that sold me a DS way back when. Etrian Odyssey IV continues its fine tradition. It is not the be all, end all of RPGs, but it is a masterfully made example of a first person dungeon crawler. With each entry Atlus does just enough refining to keep things fresh and appeal a little more to the average gamer. It helps to sometimes get a reminder that there are still games being made that cater directly to my wants, and Etrian Odyssey IV is just such a game.