This being my first foray into the Etrian series and one that to be honest I had never heard of before, I approached it with trepidation as it just screams that it’s an JRPG with the classic anime style presentation of characters and a turn based fighting mechanic. Even the initial hour or so of gameplay did not really quash any doubts, with the game just throwing a load of instructions at you through quite a stale motionless screen; but beyond the rather predictable visuals, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan turned out to be yet another amazing title for the 3DS.
The city of Tharsis has for centuries lived a relatively self-imposed exile from the rest of the world, not very aware of the wonders that surround them other than the huge and mystical tree, Yggdrasil that looms in the far off distance. However all that is starting to change, with the Outland Count of Tharsis beginning to approve guilds of explorers to venture the lands to find the source of Yggdrasil and discover its secrets. You are one of these new explorers, setting up a guild of fellow adventurers who are willing to risk it all for the glory of a new discovery.
Before jaunting out though you must first create your guild and also prove your worth as a leader of a guild, selecting from a large range of different character classes with varied fighting styles, you have your usual line up here, like the hard hitting Fortress, magical Arcanist, silent and deadly Nightseeker, long ranged Sniper and the essential Medic; each has their own pros and cons, allowing you to take out a group of five onto the field.
Once you have proven yourself to the Outland Count, the city of Tharsis is pretty much opened up to you, visiting the various areas via a rather stale list of places, with the actual shops and hotels being rather matter of fact and not bogged down with fancy graphics. Through Tharsis you can rest and recharge your powers at the hotel, purchase, sell and forge items at the blacksmith, hire more members for you guild and also visit the pub, where there are plenty of other quests to find and carry out for the locals.
When you are finally ready to venture out you board your Skyship and take to the skies to begin your quest in earnest. The lands surrounding Tharsis are totally unmapped, with the folk relying on you to use your cartography skills and make note of resources, hidden paths and wild and dangerous animals that roam the plains. With the top screen you can easily navigate the world a grid at a time, looking around to see if there is anything of interest for you to explore, with the touch screen used to plot out a map, adding walls and locations of resources and treasures.
Once you have spotted one of the many locations to land at, your guild can disembark from the Skyship and then go on foot. There are two types of on foot areas, both play the same but vary wildly in size, from the relatively small dungeons to the multileveled and huge labyrinths. Just like the land surrounding them, these areas are totally unmapped, relying on you to use the bottom half of the 3DS to draw the corridors and dead ends and marking off enemy locations and treasure, this alone give a real deep feeling of adventure, never quite knowing what will happen with every step you make.
Whilst you are plotting the ins and outs of the lands you are discovering, the top screen is where all of the action is, with a first person view of the dungeons available, allowing you to walk freely along the miles of twisting corridors. Not only do you have to deal with the maze like corridors and paths and the occasional trap but there are also plenty of enemies that lurk these areas which come in two forms, the first are the smaller "random" fights. As you walk along you have an alarm on the side of the screen, starting green and gradually turning red with every step you make, at which point you know a fight is about to happen. The others are huge enemies called FOE’s that roam the lands, wandering on set paths until they spot you, then charging you down; its these guys you need to avoid as they are capable of wiping out your team with relative ease, however you can use their strengths to open up other secrets on the maps.
When you do get pulled into a fight its more or less the standard fare of a turn based approach, your team is set up in two battle lines which is customisable, classically the heavy troops up front with ranged and clerics at the rear, you then choose the move from a selection of standard attacks, special moves and Burst Attacks and let the fight commence, with successful wins earning experience and other goodies to tale back to Tharsis. Each of your guild members have their own independent ranking and along with that, their own skill tree that is full of moves and powers to unlock, with the more you spend on certain skills opening up even more, allowing you to create very personal characters ideal for certain enemies. These areas of the game, again are quite matter of fact in their presentation but in turn they are very easy to follow, with each area enplaning what they do and at what cost.
The well-drawn but basic presentation aside, the whole cartography element of the game really makes this stand out from the very busy JRPG crowd; making you feel like you are making genuine discoveries and pushing your guild further into the unknown adventures make this a 3DS RPG game well worth trying out.