Order of battle

My Etrian Odyssey IV review lurks quietly in the bowels of IGN’s CMS. Biding its time, waiting for the moment to strike. It’ll go up… eventually.


Writing for IGN reminds me a lot of writing for EGM back in the day. Content needs to be more compact and less verbose. It also needs to work for a larger and therefore more general audience than what I’m accustomed to dealing with at 1UP (not to mention here). There’s nothing wrong with a disciplined approach to writing — I’ve done many more editing passes on this one review than any article in ages so I can hit the right tone without losing its color and voice — but it does mean I can’t really wander off into the weeds with specific tangents on game design and minutiae.

In the case of Etrian IV, this means I wasn’t able to go on at length about how brilliantly the quest’s structure improves the game experience. The first two entries in the series simply thrust players into a single 30-floor labyrinth with a mandate to explore, map, and conquer every last inch. It was decidedly old-school in nature, which means it often became somewhat repetitive as you trudged through five floors of identical visuals to reach the next five-level stratum (lather, rinse, repeat). Etrian III broke this up slightly by separating the strata and reducing them to four floors apiece while providing an ocean to explore on the side, breaking up the monotony somewhat. But only somewhat. I love the series, but I can see where they can wear on others.

Etrian IV, however, takes its predecessor’s style and runs with it. Instead of dividing the labyrinth into strata, the game instead breaks the world into different areas, or Lands. Each area features a main dungeon in the traditional Etrian style: A steady, progressive foray into increasingly hostile territory with a boss and the means to reach the next Land at the end. You dodge or defeat F.O.E.s, you alter the state of the environment, you find shortcuts to make subsequent outings progressively less toilsome until at last you have a shortcut to the boss. It’s business as usual, but this time there’s less of it.

This is not to say Etrian IV contains less content than its predecessors, though. On the contrary, I’d say it contains more. The world map becomes an integral aspect of exploration here, forcing you to map your way and avoid or battle F.O.E.s the same as in dungeons. Various obstacles hinder your way, and you steadily add new abilities to your airship to expand your freedom to roam and explore: The ability to fly at different altitudes, to survive whirlwinds, to distract F.O.E.s, to press through gusty passages, etc.

Meanwhile, as you explore, you uncover a number of smaller side dungeons in each Land. Despite featuring the same core gameplay as the story dungeons, these help add a tremendous amount of variety to the adventure. Each mini-dungeon has its own hook, from vanishing F.O.E.s on patrol to pillars of ice that melt and flood the paths. Most of the side areas revolve around the behavior of their specific F.O.E.s: Kill the baby F.O.E.s in one and their mother will come and hunt you down to destroy you. Navigate a treacherous swamp while trying to stay out of the way of frog F.O.E.s that travel at odd angles. Face off against lizards that vomit poison and make huge swaths of floor into a toxic death zone.

Another great thing about the side dungeons is that, as numerous NPCs remind you, they’re a great place to train your levels. Like every game in the series, you will eventually hit a wall that absolutely destroys you (in my case, that was the third Land’s boss) and halts your progress. Before, that meant trekking through previously explored areas to grind for levels. In Etrian IV, you need simply delve into the side areas and take on their assorted threats and treasures. In doing so, you’ll almost invariably gain the levels, loot, and cash you need to advance without ever once feeling like you’re treading water or burning time to overcome some unreasonable threat.

What’s that word? Ah yes: Balance. Etrian IV manages to be exquisitely tough yet neatly balanced in a way its predecessors lacked. And it goes about it by addressing the other biggest complaint people had: The repetition.

Seriously, I can’t say enough good about this game. It’s aces. If you enjoy RPGs and don’t need Prada-inspired FMV parades once every hour to keep you engaged, I highly recommend it.

9 thoughts on “Order of battle

  1. I don’t think I can play EOIV. After downloading and playing the demo beyond the level limit there is one thing that really bothers me-
    the sound has been “upgraded” from the PC88-style synthiness to newer orchestrated battle tracks. This normally wouldn’t be a big problem since I enjoy Yuzo Koshiro’s compositions either way. The problem is that this upgraded sound distorts over my 3DS XL’s speakers! Playing the demo this was in my mind the entire time. ‘ll stick to my hand-drawn 2D sprites and retro synth sounds. EOIII forever.

    it’s sad though, because I was looking forward to this release. I’ve had my 3DS for almost half a year and still the only games I’ve bought aside from Crimson Shroud have been DSiWare or rereleases like Ikachan and Metroid II. It takes a lot for me to dish out $40 for a game, I don’t need to play OoT or Starfox 64 again.

    Luigi’s Mansion may be my first in-store purchase. I really hope that it carries the lost legacy of Nintendo R&D1’s development style with the Wario Land treasure system and exploration of the first game.

    Oh well, I guess I’ll just play through Crimson Shroud again. (interesting how the New Game+ feature is a necessity to really beat the game)

    anyways sorry for the long comment
    looking forward to your future posts here!


  2. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The only thing I’d say I miss at this point is the FM synth soundtrack, but Koshiro knows how to arrange with the best of them so the orchestral soundtrack has been good too.

  3. I loved the synth OSTs, but the more varied texture of these arrangements fits the more diverse style of the game itself, so it’s A-OK by me.

  4. This has turned into one of my favorite series ever, and I have to thank you for introducing me to it via your extensive write-ups over the years. Glad to see EOIV getting lots of love around the internet – its relatively early release in the 3DS cycle means it’s less likely to get lost in the shuffle (just consider all the other amazing DS RPGs that EO had to compete with).

    One question: does EOIV show your time played? I always felt it was sort of a boon that the DS games didn’t show it – it’s sort of troubling when you see that hour count hit 100 (as I did recently once with DQIX)… but on the other hand, I sometimes get an itch to know just how much I’ve played.

    The series also introduced me to the old-school dungeon crawl – a genre I had shunned, being raised on a steady diet of linear, story-driven JRPGs. Any other recommendations for DS/PSP/3DS/Vita? I’ve tried SMT: Strange Journey (great) and The Dark Spire (not so great); any others come to mind?

    • The game doesn’t show time played, but the 3DS activity log will give you stats if you’re curious. Or you can ignore them.

  5. “Various obstacles hinder your way, and you steadily add new abilities to your airship to expand your freedom to roam and explore.”

    It feels very strange to me how I can barely recall the last time I saw a non-DQ game include this sort of thing… kinda weird to have EO pick up the torch but I’m not complaining…

    … or won’t be when I finally manage to snag a 3DS anyway.

  6. I’m sure you’ll be able to go into more depth in IGN blog posts. I’ll look forward to reading them if/when you start doing more in depth analysis on the blog.

  7. I guess EO is just too hardcore for me. I got some kind of gratification when I realized I’d completely mapped the first dungeony-area in the demo, but I don’t think I can imagine spending that kind of time doing it for however many countless hours the game will require. There are just too many other games I want to play.

    Regarding IGN, I’m glad you’re taking a positive spin on the changes required of your writing to meet the needs of that audience…but I’m also hoping you’ll continue doing what you’re known for here.

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