The Etrian Odyssey series is a surprise favourite of mine, LusiFOES. Perhaps slightly less surprising in the face of my love for the first half of The 4 Heroes of Light, but surprising nonetheless.
For you new readers, first off: welcome and beware! Secondly, I, Ethan “Ethos” Pipher, am known around these parts for being a pansy. And with just cause! I refuse to play games like Dead Space, I was scared of movies like I Am Legend and I generally like RPGs because I can just grind my way into over-powered oblivion and tackle my enemies safely in the no-skill zone.
Therefore even I do not understand my passive enthusiasm toward accepting CatFancy’s commission to review the second entry in the series. I was warned on multiple occasions of the notorious difficulty that the games were known for and how even some of the more hardcore gamers on staff avoided the first game. I honestly have no idea why this did not scare me. It did not even make me want to prove them wrong. I just shrugged my shoulders and said “gimme dat game, yo!” Then I slipped on my shades and skateboarded into the sky.
Anyway, whatever the reason for my apathy, I am thankful for it because I had a great time with the game. The last section kinda blew, but the rest of the game was more than worth it. I loved how it did not try to be anything it was not and thrived on simplicity of premise and presentation. But that simplicity was just the context to not distract from the complex gameplay. The gameplay that made me feel like I was actually exploring a world in a way I had not experienced since Ocarina of Time. There is something incredibly thrilling about plunging into a labyrinth with no map except for what I have already charted. Thrilling because I knew I was responsible for my own survivial, and careless mapmaking or reckless exploration was a swift way to the game over screen.
For likely financial reasons, I never played Etrian Odyssey III, but I downloaded IV over the weekend through the 3DS eShop and let me say that it has been a long time since I have been so excited playing a video game. I am having a wonderful time with Ni no Kuni and Sly 4 and both are certainly giving me wonderful gaming moments, but remembering just how little the Etrian Odyssey series holds gamers hands was genuinely exciting. I create the name and class of every single party member. I am given missions, but there is no mercy, even early on.
And while the series appears to be taking more care to explain premise and mechanics, there are no laborious tutorials or extensive cutscenes. It is with games like Etrian Odyssey IV that I am more eager to explore every corner and uncover every word of dialogue. The minimalism makes me hungry for more. The premise and art style instantly create a vivid world, so it makes me feel like it is my job to explore it.
It is an increasingly rare experience in modern gaming and I am incredibly thankful for it. I was watching my girlfriend start a new game in Metal Gear Solid 3 and while I have seen that game in action and it looks like a lot of fun, I was blown away by not only the bad script, but the insulting repetitive nature of it. Snake is thrown into a jungle and instead of letting the player soak in the mood and nature of his surroundings, the game descends into unnecessary radio dialogue that would have said just as much and been more effective if it were shortened by ninety percent. It was such stark contrast to the game I had just downloaded to my 3DS.
Not to say that hefty scripts and epic cutscenes have no place in gaming, but Etrian Odyssey IV is a reminder of how effective the medium can be when it really embraces the factors that make it unique. And games do not even need Etrian‘s throwback sensibilities to accomplish this. The prime example being the almost cutscene-free Bioshock.
The fact that I love the Etrian Odyssey series is actually somewhat of a relief for me. It means that I do love a lot of the factors that makes an RPG an RPG. I love customization and battle strategy and really taking my time diving into a world. Because although grinding is somewhat possible in the games, there are always more difficult foes begging to be challenged. And boy how satisfying it is to win a tough battle in that series.
What about you, LusiMazes? Are there any games that you are both surprised and thankful that you are a fan of?