If you’ve owned a handheld Nintendo device in the past 12 years and are a fan of dungeon crawler RPG’s chances are you’re a fan of the Etrian Odyssey series or at least heard of the franchise. A series known for it’s class based characters, dungeon exploration, difficult boss battles and for being the series that made best use of the DS’ second screen as a core gameplay mechanic. Etrian Odyssey Nexus is a title that new fans will really get a kick out of but it will truly be appreciated by fans of the series as the game celebrates the best parts of the franchise thus far while also farewelling the Nintendo 3DS system.
Right off the bat you’re thrown into the game’s main story. The core narrative felt a little thin for me personally as I normally prefer RPG’s that are more story heavy and driven by the numerous characters they often contain. You do have the option to influence the story slightly via dialogue choices when in conversation with other characters but I didn’t feel as though my selections changed the events of the game in a massive way.
The story of the game at a high level takes place in the land of Lemuria and it’s several floating islands. It’s your job to explore the mysterious floating islands, clearing out it’s dungeons floor by floor to discover their secrets, obtaining their treasures within to craft better gear to then go forth and complete harder dungeons.
To do so you’ll need to put together a team, so before setting off you’re tasked with creating your guild, selecting, naming and customising the skills and appearance of 5 other adventurers before heading off to explore your first dungeon.
In Etrian Odyssey Nexus you’ll have 19 different character classes available right from the start to pick your guild members from. All but one of these classes are returning classes from previous entries in the Etrian Odyssey franchise allowing you to build up a team of varied strengths using Gunners, Farmers, Zodiacs, Arcanists and many others. Each with their own attributes, pro’s & cons and skill trees to customise.
You can even develop the skill trees so that 2 characters of the same class can in fact work completely differently and have their own pro’s and con’s when compared to another party member of the same class. I wouldn’t recommend having a whole party of Ninjas for instance but if you wanted to do that, at least you could make each of them unique to a certain extent.
And the customisation options for each of your guild members doesn’t stop there either, with sub-classes becoming unlocked later in the game. This opens the doors for even higher levels of customisation for each party member. Opening them up to use an even wider range of skills and increasing the replay value of the game if you wanted to go back through and try things out with a different set of skills or party members.
The key returning feature and likely the main mechanic that differentiates Etrian Odyssey from other dungeon crawling RPG’s is the map crafting. When you’re first dropped into a dungeon or reach a new floor everything is new and undocumented. You don’t know what you’ll find around the next corner or up the next staircase. And where most other RPG’s will fill in and document things on the map as you adventure, Etrian Odyssey leaves the documenting up to you. Using the second screen you’ll be documenting the layout of the dungeon and noting down where the staircases, doors and secret treasures reside manually. Making your own personal map of your surroundings as you go.
There is also an auto-map option available for those that may not want to draw out the layout of the area. In this mode the core layout of the floors is filled in automatically but it’s still up to you to document where the treasures and doors etc are.
In an ode to many Etrian Odyssey games of the past, many of the story mission labyrinths are recreations of a number of the popular dungeons from the various prior entries in the series so if you have been a fan of the series for some time be prepared to get a hit, right in the nostalgia.
I appreciated the varied dungeon designs, puzzles and the numerous colour schemes and environment types that helped differentiate the levels and keep things interesting on the eye. But I did find that the 3DS is truly showing it’s age when it comes to visual fidelity, with the first person dungeon crawling sequences not doing many favours for the low resolution textures used in some of the assets seen while adventuring through the dungeons.
Etrian Odyssey Nexus does a great job at making the world you’re in feel very unknown and gives you a constant feeling of never being safe. Many of it’s enemies are difficult to take down, with each type having a certain strategy that works best against them.
It also nails handling risk and reward. And the game requires you to judge what the best thing to do is almost constantly. Knowing when to push on and when it’s best to head back to the main town and heal the party is an endless struggle throughout the dungeons. Encountering a boss when low on health is pretty terrifying. Dying while exploring will allow you to keep your mapped out dungeon layout but resets the rest of the progress of the dungeon, forcing you to do it again.
The boss battles in the game aren’t only difficult, they’re extremely long. Each one requiring a lot of strategy and clever management of your party to come out successful. The bosses carry a large amount of HP and it’s quite easy to lose 20-30 minutes of progress if you manage to slip up and die towards the end of a boss bout. While I like consequence in games, I felt many of the battles dragged on far longer than they needed to and would have enjoyed them more if the bosses didn’t turn into a marathon level grind.
Nexus is also incredibly welcoming to new players that may not have played any of the prior entries too. It has 4 different difficulty modes which can drastically change your gameplay experience. If you want a slightly more casual experience or enjoy working through the stages, levelling up your party members and progressing through the story I’d suggest picking one of the 2 lower difficulty options. Selecting expert or heroic will change the gameplay experience when it comes to combat. Enemies will often be stronger and planning out your moves strategically and managing your magic points becomes an absolute must.
Etrian Odyssey Nexus clear goal was to give existing fans more of what they want. If you were hoping the game would introduce a ton of new gameplay systems or new features I’m sorry to say you won’t really find that here. Nexus doesn’t go out of it’s way to push many boundaries. What you will find though is a game that has refined and included the key things that made the series enjoyable on the 3DS giving it a high quality send off. If you have been a fan of the series in the past it’s a pretty safe bet you’re going to love Etrian Odyssey Nexus too.
The marketing material summed it up best when they described Etrian Odyssey Nexus as ‘a love letter to Etrian’. Not only have the longtime series character designers and composers come back to produce a great send off for the 3DS, it’s also a great sendoff for the Etrian Odyssey series if it has no plans to move to Nintendo Switch and this is in fact the final entry in the franchise.
A 3DS review copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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