I hate grinding. Seriously, it makes me physically ill to just think about walking in circles, fighting the same monsters over and over, spamming attacks, and waiting to earn enough XP before continuing the game. In my opinion, it feels like poor game design. Though somehow, Etrian Odyssey IV manages to appeal to both hardcore dungeon crawl junkies, and those of us with more things to do in our lives.
EO4 is a first person RPG that gives you a lot of freedom. You don’t even have much of story to tie down your character; you’re just one of hundreds of other adventurers to show up in the city of Tharsis looking for a way to Ygdrassil, a massive magical tree said to be the key to eternal paradise. You start off by naming your guild and creating a bunch of wizards and warriors for your party. There are seven classes available at the start, and you can pick from eight appearances each, but new classes become available as you progress. and you let the questing begin!
Exploring dungeons in the first person is surprisingly immersive. I actually turned up the 3D to fully enjoy the beautiful scenery. On the downside, you never actually get to see your characters perform their cool moves in battle, just a simple slash or bang animation over the enemy.
For my first run, I set the difficulty to Normal, because I’m a man after all, and I don’t need no kid gloves on the game! But after hitting the second floor of the first dungeon, I was running into monsters who could one-shot my characters. And with no way to revive them outside of town yet, it meant I had to trek back to Tharsis every time it happened. So yeah, I had to grind on the very first floor of the very first dungeon: not fun.
I toughed it out at first and grinded away while learning the intricacies of the game. When you do the same battle over and over again, you certainly get a feel for your party members’ strengths and weaknesses, making my equipment and skill purchases easier to decide. I also discovered lots of little secrets throughout the dungeon, like hidden passageways and side events. It makes the experience interesting and adds spark to the crawl, even if they don’t have plot significance. This is when I started utilizing the map making feature where you can draw your own grid-based dungeon map on the touch screen, complete with icons and annotations. You can even set arrows on the map that let your party move on auto-pilot: handy for patrolling around my favorite hunting grounds.
But not even the first floor was completely safe to explore, as “FOEs” lurk in every corner. These are particularly fearsome monsters that don’t appear in random encounters. Rather, they are visible on the map and will hunt you down on sight. Pray you don’t get into a random battle while running from one, because they can catch up and join the battle if you take too long. And the music when you face one in battle pretty much made me soil myself.
It was probably the 3rd time one of these killed me (erasing any progress since my last save) that I decided to swallow my pride and turn the difficulty to “Casual.” And just like that, this game became much more playable. In fact, I started to really like it!
Not only did the monsters pose a less tedious challenge (though I was a little over-leveled at this point), you don’t have to fear losing all your progress when you die. That freed me up to try out a lot of fun party dynamics; there are just so many directions you can take each class. Not to mention when you eventually get to add subclasses, the strategic possibilities can make your head spin. You can even reset a character’s skill points and go in a completely new direction with them at the mere cost of three experience levels.
No matter which difficulty you choose, the game outside of the dungeons is executed with efficiency and charm. You navigate the city through a few quick menus, and you always know where to go, whether it’s the Golden Peacock for quests, the Altelier for all your shopping needs, or the Guild to adjust your party setup. The people in charge of each location are memorable characters you’ll feel like you know over time. They’re also fun to talk to since they often have something new to say. From the City Gate you can even make a quick jump to any dungeon you’ve previously visited, or set off on your Skyship to explore the world map.
Everywhere you go, the music is great. Dungeons have a relaxing, almost transient feel to them. But the battle music brings you right into the action with an awesome orchestral/metal power ballad that I never get tired of. Some of the music even changes to a more jazzy beat to set the mood at night.
It’s not often I applaud a game for offering an “easy” mode, but Etrian Odyssey IV is a rare case indeed. Atlus took the extra step to include everyone in the experience. I still don’t have nearly enough time on my hands to delve into the unfathomable depths of this game, but if you can buy just one RPG for your 3DS, this might be the right choice.
WHAT ARE YOUR OPINIONS ON GRINDING IN RPGS? TELL US IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!