Etrian Odyssey Nexus is the final outing of the Atlus dungeon crawler RPG series on Nintendo 3DS, intended as a celebration of everything great about the games. However, this was actually my first time playing the series, so I went into it without any preconceived notions about what the game should or shouldn’t be. Ultimately, I think Nexus succeeds at delivering a robust dungeon crawling experience, but it might not win over anyone who doesn’t already love the genre.
The instant the game begins, you are invited to name your guild and create a party of adventurers from scratch. You get to select their appearance from a multitude of gorgeous premade portraits, and you can even tweak the color scheme. There are also an incredible 19 character classes available from the start, most of them selected from previous games in the series, and they all function in unique ways.
Furthermore, each level up allows you to place one point into developing their skill trees, so even two characters of the same class can start to function a little differently. The replay value is through the roof in Etrian Odyssey Nexus just because of how many different parties you can create. The fact that subclasses are later unlocked only adds to the complexity.
Although, the tradeoff is that story is virtually nonexistent. Sure, plenty of recurring NPCs appear and push the narrative forward, but the singular purpose of the narrative is to offer up an excuse for your party to go exploring another labyrinth. If story is critically important to you in an RPG – don’t play this game.
A labyrinth of labyrinths
The hallmark of Etrian Odyssey is labyrinthine mazes that get mapped out on the DS/3DS’s touch screen, and Nexus delivers a whole lot of that. If you so choose, the game will auto-map for you as you explore, but you will still need to mark doors, stairs, secret passages, etc. manually. It’s strangely satisfying to create your own hard-earned maps.
Apparently, many of the story dungeons in this game are actually lifted from previous series entries, so long-time fans will have a lot to geek out about. Regardless, I appreciated that each story labyrinth at least tries to differentiate itself from the last one. Sometimes you’re tiptoeing past damage-dealing tiles while evading dangerous on-map enemies; sometimes you’re purposely manipulating giant enemies into chasing you across the map. The visuals of each dungeon make an effort to be distinct as well, but as with most 3DS games, the graphics are nothing to marvel over. The 3D effect works well for judging distances when drawing maps though.
I did feel some fatigue with the dungeons after a while though, since I’m not a regular player of this genre. There is an inherent repetition to navigating mazes over and over. Fortunately, the stellar soundtrack kept me going. The quality of the music in this game is truly awesome, with so many songs that are worth humming even when you’re not playing the game.
Survival isn’t guaranteed
When traversing labyrinths, resource management is everything. The game has four difficulties, and it subtly encourages you to select “Expert,” the second most difficult. On this setting, mashing the attack command and trying to conserve TP (magic points) will get you killed almost immediately. You need to make tactical use of special skills in every fight in order to win, and you can never get complacent. Etrian Odyssey Nexus stresses the value of inflicting both status effects and binds, the latter of which seal off the ability to use skills associated with specific body parts. You better get good at this, because the enemies sure are.
That being said, the regular battles usually aren’t brutal, and trying to run from battle typically succeeds within two turns. Even if you die, the game is kind enough to let you save your map data while your other progress is lost. But there’s a cheap item that whisks you back to town instantly, so basically, the trick is just understanding your party’s limits and knowing when to run back to town to heal.
Survival is not the only reason to approach combat creatively though. Defeating enemies drops specific materials, and defeating enemies via specific methods can make them drop rarer materials. Almost all items in Etrian Odyssey Nexus are made from these materials (or materials gathered from specially marked spots on the map), so if you want to equip the best gear and use the best healing items, you need to stock up.
Boss with a capital B
Gear and healing items matter all the time, but they matter most in the boss fights that punctuate every labyrinth. Bosses, on Expert setting at least, are no joke. Each one has some unique quality or gimmick to overcome, and “just remember to heal every round” isn’t enough strategy to survive. To me, boss battles always felt like a losing fight up until the moment I actually won, and I can’t remember the last time an RPG made me feel such dread and elation with its bosses.
However, a major reason boss fights are so challenging is because their HP is enormous. It’s entirely common for a boss fight to extend well over half an hour as a result, and if you die, it feels like you wasted a huge amount of time. It just gets exhausting after a while. Granted, you can lower the difficulty at any time (unless you pick the highest difficulty) to alleviate things, but it’s a shame a better middle ground couldn’t have been struck.
Etrian Odyssey Nexus is dungeon crawling excellence – and nothing else
Etrian Odyssey Nexus is Christmas morning for dungeon crawler lovers, thanks to its incredible party customization and abundant maps. The difficulty will keep you on your toes but not sweating too badly, except in the brutal and lengthy boss fights. And the exceptional soundtrack will keep you in a great mood to go exploring. However, the paper-thin story and lack of things to do outside of traversing mazes make this game unlikely to entice new players to the genre. Basically, Etrian Odyssey Nexus perfectly satisfies its target audience, and it doesn’t try to do anything else.
A review code was provided by the publisher.