A Year in Games - Etrian Odyssey 4

3:29 AM

Imageby Bluetenbin

After a brief break, we return to the final installation of the series. On the cusp of the new year, we visit a game I've been enjoying a lot as of late, though only recently starting. Strap in for a write up on a game that probably entertains as much as it frustrates players. This one's reaaaalll long. I added a little write up on the classes and my party build after the divide at the end of the post proper. I'd be happy if you read it, because it gets into the more strategic part of the game and one of my favourite parts of it. Definitely consider reading it if you're considering playing it, or just getting started.

Etrian Odyssey is the 4th installment in a series of RPGs harkening back to the days where you played games with a pen and pad of paper. If you've watched Sword Art Online or the older Tower of Druaga, Etrian Odyssey games follow a similar progression: you progress through stratas of the world. In the case of EOIV, you travel from the Outlands, towards the center where the World Tree is.

Known for it's unforgiving difficulty, the Etrian Odyssey series is, in essence, the Dark Souls of the portable console. All characters being KO'd (which is very easy) sends you to a game over screen. Getting shot out of the sky by various enemies on the overworld will result in a game over. Enemies and especially FOEs (I'll explain later), always pose a threat, and with no way to recover TP (basically MP) other than using items (which are actually really difficult to get) or finding rest points, your Medic might find him or herself stretched thing keeping your party alive. New to the series is the Casual Mode, described as being slightly easier, with battles being easier, and replacing Game Over screens with being taken back to Tharsis. Certain items also won't be expended, meaning that you'll have more money to spend (potions will still be used). Difficulty can be changed at anytime, so if you're having a tough time, or find it too easy, try switching to the other difficulty and see what happens.

In terms of visuals, EOIV boasts colourful designs and some pretty beautifully drawn backgrounds. Enemies are animated with 3-D polygons, though recolours are a plenty, as typical of most RPGs. Every dungeon introduces a new monster or a few, with usually at least one new (as in not recoloured) enemy. Your own characters aren't shown in battle, though you see their portraits when choosing their actions. It's a stylistic choice that keeps with the series' old school vibe, like the older Dragon Quest games. The portraits aren't too shabby either. Not 3-D like enemies, but they have a unique art-style. Most characters are like the models in Fire Emblem Awakening - where are the feet? Their drawn to have little feet, be it because of the angle of their leg in the portrait of what, but they've generally got little feets. 

Starting off with characters, your party of 5 is completely customizable. You choose your characters' names, class (7 initial classes, with 3 unlockable ones), gender, portrait (5 choices, two colours) and initial skills (5 points initially). Classes are pretty standard RPG jobs, each with multiple builds. I really like the idea of building a party that is able to cover it's weaknesses and build up strategies. For example, my Dancer's build focuses on chasing as many attacks as possible, while my Landsknecht is a link build, meaning that she also is built to chase other character attacks. My Sniper is built to bind (disable) enemies so that my party can avoid taking a lot of damage, while doling out attack after attack. I'll save my party build for the end because it'll take some time to explain. Further complicating thing, you'll eventually be able to assign Sub-Classes to your characters, letting them use most skills from a second class. The possibilities are endless!

Etrian Odyssey's game play is unique in it's intricate map making mechanic, coupled with the old-school-esque RPG elements. First thing you'll notice playing it is that the main town, Tharsis, is essentially seven different menu items. There really isn't a city for you to explore save for the 7 locations given, and even the locations are only 1 NPC save for the Dancing Peacock (the bar). It's kind of like what you might get if your D&D map has a town and the DM reads out a list of locations in the town you can visit.

EOIV is the first title in the series to feature an overworld which you traverse via airship. Previous titles had you leave your hub location (Tharsis in this case), and go directly to your destination strata. The overworld is broken up into lands, each land being unique, having it's own theme, monsters, and harvestable items. 

Story progression takes place in the main dungeon, though each land usually has another 3 optional dungeons for you to explore. The dungeons of the earlier stratas are relatively straight forward, while the latter introduce more puzzle-y elements, like limiting how many steps you can take or ice sliding puzzles. You have a first person perspective traversing the dungeons, mapping it as you go along. The side bar on the lower screen allows you to draw your map, adding as many details as you need. There are icons for numbers (which I use a lot), gathering points where you collect materials, a variety of symbols and even markings for a really neat feature, the auto-pilot function. Put these marks down on the path your want autopilot to follow, hit play and the game will travel along the indicated path until there's either a battle or your indictions stop. It's useful for level grinding, or for when you're constantly dying against a boss and need to get back to it quick. 

In the dungeon (and on the overworld), FOEs roam the map. Standing for some silly 3 three word Latin thing, they're tough "mini-boss" monsters that wander dungeons and the overworld (overworld ones tend to be tougher). They have their own models which are visible on the map, and will chase you if you walk into their vision range. 

FOEs, along with normal monster, typically have very obvious weaknesses. Fauna, flora, and insects are typically weak to fire, while birds, other flying creatures and machines are typically weak to lightning. Unlike other RPGs, like maybe Final Fantasy, you don't typically factor in what element is strong against what. If it looks like it'd be weak to fire, it probably is. If it has flames, hit it with ice. If it's ice, hit it with fire to melt it. Monster names also tend to denote it's weakness, like Cold Watchman, which is weak to fire. In addition to the three magic elements (fire, ice, lightning), you also have three melee types, Slash, Pierce and Strike. Like the magic elements, monsters will often have melee weaknesses - plants to slash, flying things to pierce, etc. Once you've defeated an enemy, it goes into the Codex, which you can access mid-battle (a super great feature), to view details on the weaknesses, drops, stats and skills of a monster. 

The story is nothing to write home about, but it's interesting to see a story about rediscovery. Through your missions, you slowly discover, or in world, rediscover the history of the world. It's got some interesting points, but is generally not the game's strongest point. 

Street Pass, like in Monster Hunter, allows you to collect Guild Cards from passing by players. It has Medals the player has collected, as well various stats about the player's game, like enemies defeated, steps taken, item discovery, etc.

Guild Cards usually come with a treasure map, which is a set of coordinates leading to hidden treasure, as well as a hireable character of the player's choice. It can sometimes be useful just to see how another player has built their character, though out of context, it can be hard to understand why a character is built the way they are. Street Pass isn't quite as integrated into the game as it is in say Monster Hunter or Pokemon (few games are up to the level of Pokemon), and the game, being as niche as it is, doesn't get pinged often.

Etrian Odyssey 4 is a strong titles for the 3DS, satisfies that craving for a deep strategically built RPG. Watching an anime like Log Horizon, and watching Shiroe command his party using each classes strengths is really what this game really plays to. Mapping dungeons is oddly really satisfying too. Heading back into a dungeon to complete a side quest and having every square of the dungeon mapped, with all of it's resource points and hidden routes mapped gives me a sense of accomplishment, and makes these side quests infinitely easier than re-exploring the dungeon. Brings out the inner perfection drive cartographer in everybody! I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a fun and challenging title on the 3DS.

Etrian Odyssey 4 was released in North America, February 26, 2013 and is only available on the 3DS. (I think it was on sale at the eShop not too long ago, and still might be!)

* * *

As a post script, I thought I'd talk about the classes as well as my own party build.

First, the initial 7 classes.

Landsknecht - Front Line Attacker
With rounded stats, the Landsknecht has basically two different purposes. You can either have them be your heavy hitter, possessing skills that boost their attack as well as powerful weapon skills, or having the chase the rest of your party's attacks with elemental attack skills (links). Links are difficult to use early on because of TP restraints and low stats, but once you're further in the game, link damage can add up to devastating amounts.

Fortress - Front Line Tank
Your tank character. High in defense and possesses many useful defensive skills, from protecting your party from attacks to pulling aggro, Fortresses make keeping your party alive easier by taking hits for the team. They're no slouches in attacking either, wielding powerful maces and weapon skills. Generally, you can go full support, pumping skill points into tanking and defending the party, or focus on pumping defense and attacking.

Sniper - Back Row Attacker
Your ranged character. Even from the back line, your Sniper can hit enemies in either line. Though they have lower attack than the first two, as an Attacker, they're range and skills make them highly valuable in battle. They can specialize in scoring critical hits, dealing massive damage to enemies with Pierce weaknesses. Build-wise, they're typically built to either hit multiple enemies with one attack using weapon skills, or disable enemies with various binding skills. Leg binds dramatically lower the Evade stat of an enemy, allowing you to score hits much easier. Arm binds lower ATK, as well as disable enemy skills that might use the arm. Head binds stop skills that use the head, like bites or breath attacks. 

Dancer: Front or Back Line Attack and Support
A highly versatile character, Dancers can weild either a Sword or Bow, allowing them to be on either line. Their dances have various effects and effect the line they are on. Some dances allow the dancer to chase line member attacks, while others decrease the amount of TP expended on skills. They don't have high DEF, but can get really high AGI and evade stats, allowing them to dodge many attacks.
Builds for this class vary, but differences are generally what dances they have.

Medic: Front or Back Line Support
Medics are more or less essential in this game. You don't heal as you walk or after battles (unless you have a medic), and enemies could easily take your party members out. Medics have all sorts of support skills, from healing to curing the various inflictions enemies can dole out. They've also got the nifty ability to heal the party a bit after battles, ensuring that you're good to go for the next one. They can wield staves (everybody can), daggers and most importantly, maces, and can deal out a hefty amount of damage with their weapon skills. Builds typically vary which healing skills they possess as well as whether they have weapon skills or not.

Runemaster: Back Line Special Attacker
Your standard mage - low phyiscal stats, with high TP and MAG stats. Mages are essentially for punching through enemies with tough physical defenses, and with their magic buffing skills, can dole out huge amounts of damage. They have the nifty ability to increase elemental resistance for your party, and decreasing enemy resistances at the same time, meaning that if an enemy doesn't have a weakness, you can give them one. Builds generally differ based on element, but most passive skills remain the same.

Nightblade: Front or Backline Attacker
Your assassin type character. Low defense, high AGI and ATK. They wield swords and daggers, and have a range of ailment inflicting weapon skills. They'll be your DPS character as an early skill is available that allows them to attack twice when equiped with two weapons. Builds differ based on what status effects are inflicted as well as the ratio between those and the attacking skills. 

Here we get to the 3 unlockable classes. I don't know a lot about these classes because I don't use them as main classes, but I can see the general gist of them.

Arcanist: Back Line Special Attackers
A mage type character who specializes in magic that debilitates enemies. They can bind, inflict status ailments, deal damage and heal. Versatile, but difficult to integrate because of their overlap with snipers and mages. Their main stat is LUK, which impacts the effectiveness of their magic. I don't know much about the builds for this, but I'd say it differs based on which status effects you choose.

Bushi: Front Line Attackers
Heavy hitting warriors. With high ATK stats, Bushi can deal incredibly high damage off regular attack. They're essentially the Berserker or Barbarian class, and can sacrifice HP with the skill Blood Surge, allowing their already high ATK to be boosted even higher. Their weapon skills aren't too shabby either, with access to a number of different elemental and powerful skills, some hitting entire enemy lines.

Imperial: Front Line Attackers
Heavy hitting warriors that can deal incredible amounts of damage in a single strike. This class relies largely upon it's weapon skills, mainly the Drive skills, as they easily do some of the most damage in the game. The only drawback to their sheer power is that after the Drives, they enter a cool down period, where they'll be unable to use them. They're equipped with skills that lower the cool down, as well as skills that can eliminate them all together for a brief amount of time. They also possess poor AGI stats, meaning that they'll more or less move last. Just as an example, an Imperial I had did roughly 1700 damage against an enemy with a fire weakness when using the Blaze Drive skill.

Aaaaand now my party. It revolves around two characters, the Landsknecht and the Dancer, and it's strategy depends on the ability to constantly pelt the enemy with attacks. It'll get complicated as I go into specifics of the skills, so it's mainly players who will understand, but I've tried to explain it to the best of my abilities in layman terms.

I'll abbreviate each class by the bolded first letter of it's name, and sub-classes in parenthethese "( )". 

L (R) M (F) D (N)
S (A) R (M)

Landskneckt (Runemaster):
Main skills: Improved Links, Elemental Links
Primary Passive Skills: Link Mastery, (Runic Guidance), (Runic Flare)

The idea around my Landsknecht is to power through battles spamming Links. Setting Improved Links up allow Links, which usually chase the next immediate attack, to chase many, many more attacks from everybody in the party, even those using skills to attack. Link Mastery powers up Links progressively as they hit. Each Link is slightly more powerful than the last, which can result in some scary damage. The two runemaster skills power up the Landsknecht's Link skills. Guidance increases damage when attacking using an enemy's weakness, and this includes melee weakness damage (which is really nifty). Flare powers up elemental power, and is not tied only to the Runemaster's spells. All elemental attacks, including the Imperial's Drives, Landsknecht's Links and maybe even weapon elements are effected by it. 

Dancer (Night Blade):
Main Skills: Chase Samba, Trick Samba
Primary Passive Skills: Sword Dance, (Blade Fury)

The second half of my party strategy revolves around my Dancer. Chase Samba lets her follow up a line member's attack with an attack of her own, while Trick Samba has her line mates following up her own attacks. Blade Fury allows her to attack twice when two weapons are equipped, and Sword Dance allows her to attack again up to 6 times after the first attack. See the strategy yet? I'll explain. 

The entire idea around this build is to attack as much as possible, thus triggering as many Links as possible. Blade Fury + Sword Dance means that, she can attack a total of 12 times, each time triggering a Link from my Landsknecht. Each Chase Samba attack also draws Links. Trick Samba hits don't trigger links, but can be added to each Sword Dance attack. If everything goes in my favour, she'll attack 12 times, each attack chased by one from each of her line mates, bringing the total to 36. Each of the 12 hits is chased by the Landsknecht's Link, bringing the total to 48. The Landsknecht has to set up the Link, adding one attack. The medic's attack would be chased by Dancer via Chase Samba, drawing another link, bringing the total to 52 with the front line alone. Add in the two more attacks and two more Links, and you've got a total of 56 attacks.

Sniper (Arcanist)
Main Skills: Binds
Primary Passive Skills: (Ailment Boost), Chase Bind, Bullseye

The Sniper is on the team to reduce as much damage the party takes by disabling the enemy. Binding head and arms means that the party is safe from some of the most damaging skills FOEs and bosses can throw, allowing them to spam their chases. It also buys time to heal and set up the skill necessary to pull off the flurry of attacks that my party really depends on. Ailment Boost increases the likelihood of successfully binding an enemy, though the success rate still isn't super good. Chase Bind seems pretty useless initially. It allows the sniper to follow up a successful bind by party members with an attack. Unless you have Binding weapon enhancements or an Arcanist, this skill seems pretty useless until you realize that it applies to the Sniper as well. This means that my sniper will use the bind skill (which does damage), and follow up her Bind with an attack for some extra damage. Bullseye increases her crit rate to maximize damage output.

Runemaster (Medic)
Main Skills: Runic Gleam, Rune Spells
Primary Passive Skills: Runic Flare, Runic Guidance, Rune Mastery

My Runemaster easily does the most damage in the party and I rely on her to be a consistent source of heavy damage. Her main purpose is to blast the enemy's weakness with powerful rune spells, and  to maintain resistances. The basic rune spells (Fire Rune, Ice Rune, Volt Rune) boost party resistance and lower enemy resistance to the element. Setting an enemy with neutral resistance to be weak to fire means that the Landsknecht's Blaze Link will do increased damage, including all the chasing Links. It also means that her own Rune spells will do more damage, boosting her spells to sometimes devastating levels. Sublass is there simply to provide another source of TP boost, though I'm considering whether Arcanist would work.

Medic (Fortress)
Main Skills: All healing skills, (Holy Blessing), (Rampart)
Primary Passive Skills: (Iron Wall), (Knight's Boon), Auto-Heal

My medic's purpose is to keep everybody alive to ensure that the links and chases keep going. When he's not healing, he's drawing Links and chases. Simple as that. The Fortress sub-class allows him to beef up his defense, ensuring that he doesn't go down before the others. Not nearly as "specialized" as the Landsknecht or the Dancer, but an integral part of my party.

Pretty complicated but really cool at the same time, huh? There's all sorts of crazy parties people have made, and while there's really no wrong answer to your party make up! Just make sure you have a general idea of what build you want for your characters early on, or things will get a bit hairy.

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