Etrian Odyssey has been widely credited with the revival of the classic first-person dungeon-crawling experience since its arrival in 2007. An unashamed love letter to the early days of classes and labyrinthine dungeons gave a most welcome trip into nostalgia for many RPG veterans and let those fresher to the RPG scene get an experience of the sort of systems that evolved into those of the present. The series makes the jump to Nintendo's latest handheld for Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, which looks set to continue its traditions in providing that throwback experience to the unflinching challenges of old.
"Excitement amongst series fans is high, as evidenced by its placing in RPGamer's Most Wanted Award."
Legends of the Titan starts off in the same fashion as previous entries, with players creating an Explorers Guild and selecting the five members to go on the game's dangerous excursions. The Explorers Guild is based in the city of Tharsis, where there is always a view of the giant tree, Yggdrassil, that no one yet has managed to reach. However, the Outland Count of Tharsis has decided to sponsor intrepid explorers and discover what secrets lie within its roots. Players are responsible for guiding their guild members to the tree, but will face many tough obstacles on the way.
As with Etrain Odyssey III, the classes available to players have been mixed up from the last game, although this time there is a selection of both returning classes, such as the sword-wielding Landsknecht, and new classes, like the Dancer, rather than a complete set of debutants. The number of classes available from the outset has been reduced to seven, but there is still a vast number of tactical party builds to choose from and each party is likely to be quite distinct thanks to the need to specialise that defines the series' character growth systems.
Combat remains largely the same overall, with both the party members and their opponents divided into two rows. With the exception of the long-range classes, those in the back row will not be able to hit their counterparts on the other side, often meaning the front line must be taken care of first. Row positioning can play an important part in battles, with a character potentially causing considerably more damage from the front row, but at the cost of being significantly more vulnerable to attacks. The Burst meter that builds up and allows special skills to be used as a free action is now shared between the party, while the UI for learning new skills have also been given a rejig, opting for a more direct and accessible approach, showing clearly the linkages and prerequisites for each skill.
As expected, the party will frequently be required to return to the base town to rest, accept new quests, change party members, and undertake the usual shopping trips to swap loot for money and new equipment, which is often unlocked depending on the loot sold to the store. Atlus' tradition of allowing players to not waste time on weaker enemies with a quicker auto-battle system naturally appears and is supported by the auto-pilot system that lets the party follow a route laid out on the bottom screen's map rather than forcing players through lots of tedious, manual backtracking. Other additional areas of streamlining should go a good way to improve general playability, with a full quest log always available that contains the bestiary and item list. However, those looking forward once more to the nostalgic series mainstay of leaving the map-making on the bottom screen entirely up to the player has not been compromised in favour of these interests.
The distance-restricted ship of Etrain Odyssey III makes way for an unlimited ranged balloon for the fourth game, which plays a more important role thanks to the replacement of the single dungeon with multiple locations that players must find using their airship. The very tough F.O.E.s that are more than happy to wipe parties with a single strike do return, however, although now they make a full appearance on both the world map and in dungeons as one of the welcome visual upgrades. F.O.E.s are a bit more interactive this time around, with both dungeons and battles that require manipulating their more detailed behaviour for various gains in both exploration and combat. The game does include some placating towards those who don't like to see progress between save points wiped out along with the party, with a new casual mode that simply sends players back to the nearest town instead of the dreaded Game Over screen, although the battles still retain their difficulty. It has been reported that Legends of the Titan is balanced slightly more aggressive than previous games, with players able to gain levels fairly quickly early on but counteracted with enemies that hit a little bit harder.
The move to 3DS has allowed the game's visuals to take a decent step up, allowing the game to replace the stagnant 2D enemy sprites with fully-animated 3D versions that bring a lot more life to the enemies and battles. Despite the move further towards 3D, Legends of the Titan keeps the distinctive and colourful visual style that defines the games, with Yuji Himukai once more stamping his mark on the game through his character art. Yuzo Koshiro once more takes charge of the game's music, although this time around has stepped away from the retro, FM-like sound used in the first three games, instead providing a far more orchestrated score.
Those looking for more unflinching challenges are set to find it in large abundance as Etrian Odyssey once more fills its highly regarded niche. Excitement amongst series fans is high, as evidenced by its placing in RPGamer's Most Wanted Award, and indications are good that this excitement will be well rewarded. Etrian Odyssey IV is due out in North America later this month on February 26, 2013, with a demo available from the eShop on February 7.