Like the Monster Hunter series (which I only played after playing the first two Etrian Odyssey games), the merchants initially have a very slim stock of possible gear for your adventurers. The way to increase their stock is by collecting various monster parts. Each monster will drop one or two parts, and you can modify the frequency at which they drop those pieces of gear by investing Skill Points into special racial passive skills that will increase drop rates, or you can wear special rings that can increase the drop rate as well (although each character only has three armor slots so you really need to have a desire to waste a gear slot for that). Around 50% of the monsters you fight also have a special yellow quality (as opposed to the general white quality) monster part that they can drop, but it requires you to kill that monster in a very specific way. Some simple examples of this would be to defeat the monster with Fire damage, or to defeat them with Piercing damage type (bows and guns). However, there are often some rather complex ways of wringing out that special piece, such as forcing the creature to kill itself with Curse damage, or only defeating them while some part of their body (Head, Arms, or Legs) is Bound. Most of the time, if you read the monster description in your Codex, it will tell you exactly what you need to do in order to get that part to drop (or at least a major hint). However, towards the end of the game they stop giving you hints and you have to rely on purchasing that information from an Informant who resides in the Tavern (where you pick up side quests in Etrian Odyssey games).
You really do want to pursue those special pieces of gear, because they will form much more powerful equipment than standard drops do, especially when it comes from FOEs, or most importantly the Stratum bosses. Which is where my comment previously about how I defeated the FOEs up until the 4th Stratum comes into play. If you happen to be able to defeat a Stratum boss in such a way as to receive their special drop, you can unlock the most powerful weapons and armor in the game. And if you manage to do that early, like I did, it can totally break the progression of the game. I accidentally managed to defeat the first stratum boss the 2nd time I fought him (you can go back and defeat them after a certain number of days have passed for a lot of bonus XP and a fresh chance at their special drop) in the way that I needed to get the special drop. At first I didn’t realize how it was that I accomplished it, but having a Harbinger in my party to use a certain status attack on the minions turned out to be the key. After turning in that part I unlocked one of the most powerful weapons in the game, the Harbinger’s ultimate Scythe weapon. After that it just took a lot of grinding to earn the nearly 400,000 gold I needed to buy it. Once I had that on my character I was able to also kill the super FOE on floor 8 (which was almost as tough as the final story boss) to get my 2nd power artifact. And that led directly to getting the special part for the 2nd Stratum boss, which was also a pretty simple condition. For the 3rd and 4th Stratum bosses I just used Formaldehyde, which is an extremely rare item you can only find a couple of per game and forces the enemy to drop all it’s available drops if you defeat it the same turn as you use the item. So by the time I reached the boss of the 4th Stratum there was nothing in the rest of the game (until the post game) that could stand up to my party.
Even though the last half of the game was smooth sailing, the first half wasn’t quite as easy, and the 6th Stratum and the super bosses at the end were still a challenge. Party makeup is still an extreme focus of this series, even if the last couple of games have mitigated that issue somewhat with the addition of sub-classes, which in this game are called Legendary Titles. While there are definitely classes that focus on being strictly damage dealers, even that involves many different types of damage and you seldom want more than one pure damage dealer in any EO party. Control by binding enemy parts is extremely important, as are status attacks, so you will definitely want to balance that out, along with the ability to do all three types of elemental damage (there are some enemies that will not be able to really be damaged unless it’s elemental of some type).
Where this series always gets a little strange is in the classic trinity of class structures with their tanks and healers. There is almost never a traditional RPG type of tank or healer in any of these games, and this one is no different. The Fencer is kind of a tank, but really is focused mostly on DPS, and the Dragoon is much more of a classic tank but uses Guns as their primary weapon to encourage you to use them on your back row. Even though that may seem like a good idea due to receiving less melee damage, I still consider that a bad idea. Line attacks are such a common thing in this game that I still much preferred to use a tank on the front row. That is until I unlocked enough super weapons, and the Masurao ultimate armor, and I changed out my tank permanently for a Pugilist. Until that point I really needed my tank to protect my Masurao (effectively a Samurai) because I chose the Blade Dancer route for their Legendary Title. Legendary Titles are only unlocked once you reach the 3rd Stratum, but up until that point you will likely feel that each class is a bit limited. That is because they intentionally are, with access to only about half of their potential skills until that point, and none of their best ones. You have initial access to Racial Passive skills for each of the four races (you will want at least one of each race in your party, particularly to make use of the Gathering skills), and then you can build up the Basic skill trees for each Class. Once you enter the 3rd Stratum (and are at least level 20), you can choose to go down one of two different paths for each class, offering you a lot more options. Healers are really limited in the first two Stratum due to having very indirect healing methods, but once you can invest in Advanced Skills, you can make them much more adept at being a pure healer. And likewise with the other classes, you can make them a much more fine tuned killing machine (like my Blade Dancer equipping three or four swords at the same time for a ton more DPS but at the massive expense of armor) or a much better binder (like with my Barrage Brawler). Like with other Etrian Odyssey games, you can Rest your warrior to take them down a couple levels but allow you to respec your points, something you will immediately want to do, and you can also Retire them to start a new character over from level 20 with extra stats and bonus skill points (necessary if you want to go far in the post game or to make the 5th Stratum easier).
The disadvantage of having so many class combinations is that there are still some fairly bad combos that you will want to avoid, and that’s my largest complaint about this game other than the return to well trodden paths. For instance, if you have a Shaman healer and a Necromancer DPS, you really make the Warlock class useless. Also, a Harbinger is a class that I would not have kept on using if it wasn’t for having her ultimate weapon so early on. They aren’t bad, but everything they can do can be done better by a Masurao and Pugilist combo. That’s not to say that you can’t make things work with a lot of grinding, but you will discover some party makeups are very superior to others. But, at least there are so many combinations that it adds to the replay value by choosing to start over again (using New Game+ if you want, after defeating the main story boss) and using a completely new party. You can also just have a guild full of every type of class and just equip a ring (that you get fairly early on) that will send a portion of your party experience back to the guild. So that is another nice touch that they did add for quality of life, but the largest quality of life change was that you can warp to the entrance of each individual Floor as long as you register the previous level with the Council. That makes this game enormously easier than previous entries, and I’m not quite sure whether I like it or not.
Nothing really about the aesthetics of the game has changed: the art and dungeons still look largely the same and they are limited by the power of the 3DS in that respect. They are also extremely limited on streaming sound, so there is very little voice acting. I can’t help being very hopeful that the next entry will be on the Nintendo Switch to flesh out those things a bit more. So overall I have to say that this was a little more of a step back than a step forward, and as such it will get a slightly lower score from me than previous entries would have. At $39.99 it’s still worth the premium 3DS game price, even if it was shorter than previous games at only 60 hours (due to the easier mechanics and the floor warping). But 60 hours is still a lot for a portable game, and the combat of Etrian Odyssey still definitely stands the test of time. But I have to say that, at least for this reviewer, I actually liked the direction they took with Etrian Odyssey IV. And if it wasn’t for the super interesting 6th Stratum, this would have been a step back that I was really not on board with.
Review Copy Provided by the Publisher