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Etrian Odyssey IV is a strange mix, layering brutal difficulty and hardcore complexity over a friendly anime-eyed face. But there's a reason we have "every extremity crossed tight" (trademarked, Nintendo Gamer issue 74) for a UK release. That reason? It's as compelling as it is complex.
So, it's Etrian as we know it: dungeon crawling, dungeon mapping and dungeon dying, the latter at the hands of impossibly cute, impossibly tough FOEs. IV, however, sees the series make its largest technological leap, offering a raft of improvements.
Atlus get their money's worth from the stereoscopic screen by upgrading 2D sprites into 3D models. We're fond of Etrian's anime beasties - courtesy of Pokémon Trading Card artist Shin Nagasawa - and seeing them fully animated in 3D should be a treat. That's if eyes can tear themselves off background art inked by Studio Ghibli's Nizo Yamamoto.
There's an even more welcoming change: the difficulty. In Etrians of old, death came suddenly, brutally and often. Fine for Billy Hardcore; less so for Jimmy Justlikeswiisports. Enter casual mode. Skills are more effective and enemies sweat away hit points: perfectly enticing for those yet to take the plunge. But 'Et vets' shouldn't worry; this only gives Atlus free reign to amp normal mode's difficulty right up. It's the best of both worlds.
Ah yes, 'world'. Etrian Odyssey III's boat gets upgraded to hot air balloon, letting you make like Branson through icy caverns, green valleys and blue skies. It's a perfect complement to more intense dungeon looting down below, which this time offers extra-tough 'mini labyrinths' filled with rare goodies unobtainable anywhere else alongside traditional massive ones. Careful, though, as FOEs can take to the skies, too.
Don't let the thought of massive-hot-air-balloon-popping monsters scare you (though that's perfectly understandable), as your team are more than capable in battle. There are now seven classes: the Rune Master excels at elemental attacks, Fortress protects team members with an iron wall, Sniper damages from afar, and the mincing character buffer Dancer supports allies with, er, dance. Hey, Strictly Come Dancing gives us bloodlust, too.
Etrian Odyssey is one of DS' most underrated, underplayed and - in the UK - under-released series. Will IV's more accommodating approach make it an attractive prospect to European publishers? Make it so, and colour us mappy.