Sometimes the pain just hurts so good. Etrian Odyssey IV, I love to hate you.
The fourth game in the Etrian Odyssey series is much like all of the rest: intricate, challenging, and unabashedly hardcore. It hits you really hard, but that's okay, because you know you love it.
I've spent the weekend with Etrian Odyssey IV, which comes out today for 3DS, and although I haven't gotten quite far enough in Atlus's new dungeon crawler to write a full review—and probably won't for a while—I'm really digging it so far.
For the uninitiated: Etrian Odyssey IV is a first-person role-playing game not unlike Wizardry or the old Might & Magic games. You start out in a big town, create a party of five people, and head into the world to explore dungeons, fight monsters in grueling rounds of turn-based combat, collect treasure, and adventure your ass off.
Outside of the standard RPG fare—the lovely music, the whimsical translation, the never-ending vault of loot—EOIV has two major hooks that are keeping me in love. The first is the map system. As you explore dungeons, you get to play cartographer on the bottom screen of your 3DS, drawing lines and placing icons in order to chart your progress and try to organize some of the chaos that confronts you every time you enter a new dungeon.
It's like playing with graphing paper, or gradually piecing together a very large puzzle. You can draw lines and place colors and use special icons, which only signify what you want them to signify. It's addictive in the way that filling out a connect-the-dot puzzle is addictive. An outsider might look at the game and say something like, "Why the hell would I want to fill in a map? Shouldn't the game be doing that for me?" But! Believe it or not, the monotonous act of filling in lines and squares actually makes dungeon exploring feel less monotonous than it might if you were relying on an auto-mapper. It's a lovely paradox.
Etrian Odyssey IV's second major hook is that it's really, really hard. When you play it, you will die. Your characters will be one-shotted and you will want to throw your 3DS against a wall. (Do not throw your 3DS against a wall.)
To some this might sound unappetizing, but what I love about Etrian Odyssey IV's difficulty is that it's all about resource management. Your spells and items are limited, and unlike most RPGs, EOIV doesn't give you any easy ways to restore magic points or revive your characters. This is not Final Fantasy. Phoenix Downs are not cheap and plentiful here. You have to be smart to keep fighting.
So yes, like its predecessors, Etrian Odyssey IV has already turned into that game—the punishing, hardcore portable RPG that I just can't seem to stop playing. I sure do love to hate it.