ATLUS are well known as a developer for three amazing franchises; Persona, Shin Megami Tensei, and Etrian Odyssey. All of these have their own look, fell, and personality literally oozing out of them as you play. Personally, I wasn’t really a big fan of Persona until a few years ago and I’ve not played any Shin Megami Tensei titles, yet I’ve played every single Etrian Odyssey title on my Nintendo DS and 3DS. You see, I easily become addicted to dungeon crawlers as I love diving deeper into the unknown as I manually draw out my own map – it’s all very therapeutic for me. That’s why I simply couldn’t turn down the chance to try out Etrian Odyssey Nexus, the final chapter in the franchises perfectly adapted gameplay style.
Even though Etrian Odyssey is surely going to live on, either on the Nintendo Switch or other platforms, this will be the last outing which we’ll receive with its dual-screen setup, a setup which is absolutely perfect for the gameplay mechanics we’ve all come to love. Personally, I can’t see how the series will work without certain aspects, but it’s all very exciting and I can’t wait to find out. However, we’re here to talk about the present and not the future, so let’s see if this latest incarnation is worthy of your time…
The story within Etrian Odyssey Nexus is one of the least defined we’ve seen so far – this isn’t a bad thing. Previous Etrian Odyssey games have also shipped with less of a focus on story and more on the actual combat and dungeons, Nexus isn’t any different. It is, however, a nice homage to the previous games in the franchise, as you’ll be returning to a lot of places which will be very familiar to those who have played any of the previous games on both the Nintendo DS and the 3DS.
The ‘story’ as such revolves around our protagonist, the leader of a newly created guild who has turned up in Lemuria at the call of Princess Persephone. As Princess of the floating city of Maginia, she has put out a request for guilds and adventurers across the land to seek out a fabled treasure which will grant the bearer endless prosperity. This once in a lifetime request has come off the back of various ruins and mysterious dungeons cropping up around the region, locations which are simply begging to be searched and mapped for their treasures and secrets.
So, once you’ve rounded up your team and stocked up on supplies, of you go to seek out the hidden treasures as you delve deeper into the unknown.
The first thing you’ll do in Etrian Odyssey Nexus is, as I stated above, rounding up your team. You have a choice from a staggering 19 classes to choose from! These contain classics such as the Protector, Medic, Ronin, Highlander, and Gunner, among many others. Each one also comes with up to eight different designs to pick from (four male and four female) as well as customisation of the hair, eyes and skin colour, what voice they use, and their name. You can only take five of them into battle with you, but you can technically create and store up to 60 characters within the Explorers Guild. This won’t really be needed at first, but later on, you can get items which share experience points with non-fighting characters as well.
Among the crazy amount of classes you can choose between, there is a single new class, the Hero class. They are pretty much a balanced character who can both aid the characters and offer a decent amount of offensive and defensive combat. There’s no right or wrong layout, in terms of who you hire and where you place them in your two rows of party members, but you can get quite strategic as you try and balance out your team so you have access to health support as well as a good defence and strong attacks.
What I loved about Etrian Odyssey Nexus was that once your characters reached a certain level, you can give them a new ‘subclass’ which can be any of the other eighteen classes. This means you may struggle or have a few difficulty spikes at first, but once you can double-dip things will get a lot more interesting and easier. It’s also a great mechanic for people like me, who tend to stick to one particular character or class but then finds out after playing for many hours, that I’ve been levelling up a character who is useless against certain enemies or situations. Having the chance to be multiple classes helps expand the gameplay and offer much more diversity.
Let’s go adventuring!
Now you’ve got your team of unlikely heroes, it’s time for the main event – crawling those dungeons! If you’ve played any of the previous Etrian Odyssey games, or any dungeon crawlers such as The Lost Child or the Labyrinth of Refrain, then the gameplay will look very familiar. On the top screen, you’ll see a first-person view from your character’s perspective. The D-Pad moves you back and forth with the left and right directions turning you on the spot. L and R allow you to strafe in said direction and the Circle Pad allows you to look around the area you’re facing. So, your basic dungeon crawler.
The rather inventive and intuitive mechanic that Etrian Odyssey brings is the map. Sure, most (if not all) dungeon crawlers have no map upon entry and it’s up to you to explore as the map is gradually penned in with every step you take. However, this is where the dual screen of the 3DS comes into play. In standard mode, you have the map on the lower screen and a bunch of icons, paint brushes, symbols and text input options. With every step, it’s up to you to literally draw out the map and mark off key areas and items you need to come back to later on. I love doing this as you even get rewarded for fully completing a map.
For those out there who don’t want to do this – you can actually turn on an ‘automap’ feature which will automatically draw out the map once you step on a square. This is how usual dungeon crawlers work but I wasn’t away Etrian Odyssey Nexus did this until I was messing in the settings menu earlier on. I personally always have it on manual map mode as I enjoy taking the time to draw it out as I go – it leaves you with a much more satisfying experience once you finish it off and claim your reward.
Other than mapping out your adventures, what else do you do within these labyrinths? Fend off terrible creatures, that’s what! Etrian Odyssey Nexus deals with random encounters like the previous games, in a way I’ve never understood. Basically, there’s a meter in the lower corner which gets filled up as you walk around – once it’s full then you can expect a random encounter any moment. I’ve never found out how or if you can reduce this meter and how to avoid the encounters. Regardless, it’s best you engage in the fight as it gives you more experience to get stronger.
Fights are your standard JRPG battles. You choose all of your characters attacks/actions and then the fight takes place based on the characters, and enemies, speed. Once it’s done, you can set up the next round. Just like you, the enemies can come on two rows – the front line will take more damage from melee weapons yet the rear members will deliver weaker attacks if they can only attack with melee – this is why you want projectile users in your rear row and melee on the front. You can also use skills (which you unlock in the rather elaborate skill trees), items, defend or try and run.
A mechanic which I don’t recall seeing in previous games is the Boost and Break system. this seems to operate a little like the break system in Final Fantasy games in that each character has a bar which gradually fills up throughout combat. Once this bar is full, the character can activate their own unique boost which will greatly benefit the whole team – the catch is, each of these only lasts for three turns. This is where the Break comes into play. If you want, you can leave the boost active for all three turns, or you can opt to end it early and ‘break’ it by performing a super-powerful attack or ability against the enemies. This move can single-handily change the tide of the battle.
However, if you use a Break attack then you can’t use a Boost or Break for that character until you’ve returned back to your base. If you let the Boost run out naturally then it will continue to regeneration without having to leave. So, it all comes down to how much trouble are you in and can you afford to risk the ability regen in your current run?
Just like previous Etrian Odyssey games, not all enemies should be met face-on – especially not the ones you can actually see and aren’t random! That’s right, F.O.E.s are back (Field-on Enemies). These are much stronger than your characters the first time you’ll bump into them and you’ll want to stay far away from them – which is why it’s lucky you can see them walking around the map. However, they can be useful in some circumstances. For example, the first one you’ll encounter is a massive bear with a temper. If you get him to follow you and you lead him to passages which are blocked by vines, he’ll rip the vines to shreds, allowing you to pass through them.
If you do decide to take one of these formidable beasts on, and you win, then you’ll be rewarded with a lot of loot and experience points. This gives me a perfect segway to the…
Okay, we’ve seen these before in previous versions of the game but the one in Etrian Odyssey Nexus is massive! Each of the nineteen classes has their own skill trees which are split up by level chunks. For example, you can’t activate the second page until you hit a certain level. The catch here is that you need to plan way in advance which pathway you wish to expand your skills. There are many options with one to eight levels in each skill, with an increase in duration, power, defence, or AOE as you increase the levels. Once a certain skill hits a certain level, you can then opt to invest in the next linked skill. So, if you want a certain high-level skill which is unlockable much later into the game, you will have to invest in many others in succession beforehand.
I love skill trees like this, the ones which give you total control over every little thing all of your characters have access to. However, those who don’t like to micromanage and would rather have the game auto assign everything may not think the same as I do.
Navigating your way through the dungeons isn’t just all about drawing maps and fighting enemies, you’ll also come across some rather key story elements. This is where the narrative within Etrian Odyssey Nexus becomes quite interesting. There were quite a few moments where the game offered me a choice of what I wished to do next – did I want to help someone out, Should I eat the unknown mushroom growing on the wall, do we open a crate and risk there being a trap, etc… Each choice and outcome sparked some form of narrative which was most likely different to if I had chosen the other option.
Once you return back to the camp, either by choice or necessity as you run low on health and your party members begin to drop like flies, there are a number of places you can visit. First of all, you can visit the shop, which is run by Napier from Etrian Odyssey 3. You can buy, sell, forge, upgrade and chat here – you’ll be coming here before every journey going forward! Next, you can visit the Bar to receive some mini-quests from the barkeeper. These aren’t as important as the main quests but you’ll get some decent items and gold as a reward for finding certain objects or killing enemies. If your team just isn’t working for you, head over to the guild and create some new guild members to take out with you. Also, if you are running low on health or need a top up for your TP (or if anyone is literally dead), go have a sleep in the Inn, you’ll all feel much better in the morning!
You can also take your drawn out maps to the town and get rewarded for completing a map with a bunch of gold. The same woman will also take a look at what new items and beasts you have discovered, hit a certain amount and you also get a reward for that as well. So, regularly visiting the town after an eventful trip to a dungeon can end up rewarding you quite a lot sometimes.
Etrian Odyssey Nexus looks absolutely stunning on the 240p screens of the Nintendo 3DS. The 2D avatars for the characters are all really high quality, the menus are nice and sharp and easy to read, the map screen is a perfect scale with a zoom so you can get a closer look, and the 3D models during battles also look really good. However, the star of the show here is the actual 3D (the stereoscopic effect). It’s been a while since I’ve played a 3DS game and I’d forgotten how well certain games can get with it turned on. Nothing pops out of the screen, but it’s given a great sense of depth as layers of the game are pushed back, into the game screen.
I’m using a ‘New 3DSXL’ and everything ran super smooth and looked amazing both in and out of 3D. I’m going to miss this ‘gimmick’ once all games move on from the 3DS and proceed over to the Switch, just like how I missed games having a map in my hand when I was playing games on the Wii U – I tend to love the things people don’t seem to care about!
Soundwise, I literally can’t say anything negative about it! Etrian Odyssey Nexus has an amazing soundtrack which really sticks with you as you proceed from dungeon to dungeon. It also has a sort of dynamically adjusting feeling to it as it’ll change based on what’s going on and seamlessly adjust from one track to the next. Also, as there are returning locations from previous games in the franchise, some of their music tracks have also made their way into the game as well.
One thing I do need to point out though is that the game is fully voiced in Japanese, with no English VO as an option. I also noticed a few parts during the city where the NPCs will be chatting away in Japanese but I couldn’t understand them, and there are no subtitles at that point. This doesn’t happen a lot and never in a critical location, just random chatter as you browse the store.
Etrian Odyssey Nexus is a great way to see off the 3DS with many references and borrowed assets from the previous games. Even though not much has changed in terms of the core gameplay mechanics or the overall feeling of the game, everything feels very polished and really fun to play. ATLUS have kept things interesting by bringing back some of the fan favourite elements of other games in the franchise as well as mixing in a few new mechanics and even a new class for you to experiment with.
Fans of the Etrian Odyssey games will not be disappointed with this latest and final iteration on the 3DS. It’s sad knowing that there will no longer be a dual-screened, easy-mappable version going forward, but I’m sure that whatever ATLUS does, It’ll be awesome.
Etrian Odyssey Nexus£35.99
- - The 3D depth is really good. Very sharp images with no obvious dip in performance
- - An amazing sountrack with lots of new tracks and familiar ones
- - A perfect collection of over 60 dungeons from previous games as well as some cameos and a bunch of new areas to explore as well
- - A fitting end to the double-screened era
- - Very challenging yet tonnes of fun as there's always something to do
- - Can be quite hard for newcomers to the series
- - More of the same (feels just like previous games, but with a lot more content and a combination of their mechanics)
- - Only Japanese VO with some town areas not subtitled - no English voices (didn't bother me but may bother some people)