With oodles of callbacks to older games, Etrian Odyssey Nexus is a fitting end to the series on DS and 3DS.
2019 is a year of reflection for the 3DS. Let’s get real: this is likely the death throes of the console. The system launched in 2011 and as it ends its eighth year, one of the few constants over the handheld’s life still kicking around today has been the Etrian Odyssey series. Debuting on the DS in 2007 before kicking over to 3DS in 2012, the map-making dungeon-crawling wonder of this Atlus-made series is intrinsically linked to the design of Nintendo’s dual-screened system. Etrian Odyssey Nexus - advertised as the eighth and final entry of the series on DS and 3DS - is a culmination of all the games that came before. With callbacks to past games, Nexus is a successful celebration of what has become a personal favorite of mine, but it also has a number of tweaks and changes that make it a more approachable game even if it might take a little too long to get going for some.
Nexus starts off as Etrian games often do: you’re in a new area and must create characters for your guild so you can explore dungeons, fight monsters, and help out others around you. 19 different classes are available, coming from every corner of Etrian history. It’s overwhelming, though pointed, concise descriptions help sort them out. Once you have a party of five, the story kicks off, but unlike other games in the series, the experience is a lot more guided. A world map leads you along a linear narrative path that does include the typical labyrinths but also has other landmarks that start up quests, story segments, or battles. While I haven’t played the Persona Q games yet (Persona Q2 is technically the real “final” Etrian game on 3DS coming to the west in June 2019), I’m told this more hands-on guided flow is something found there that made its way back over to the main series.
I like the tweak because it makes the moments when you wander around labyrinths more special as they don’t happen constantly. The amount of main dungeons hit the double digits, with a slew of them being callbacks to earlier games. In addition, mini-dungeons allow for even more variety of settings that also reference past Etrian adventures. The world map ultimately doesn’t change much of the gameplay, but it offers a more enjoyable presentation and flow.
The map-making tools are seemingly unchanged from 2017’s Etrian Odyssey V and really at this point they’re intuitive and excellent after a decade of fine-tuning. It’s a blast exploring a new area and playing the role of amateur cartographer. And with how challenging the battles can be, the tension is always high as you explore, because who knows if you’ll run into a fierce battle against a random enemy or a larger map-wandering F.O.E. (for the uninformed: those are large, powerful enemies that show up on the map screen).
Overall, Nexus is the same old Etrian gameplay, just polished and excellent. It’s still terrifyingly difficult in spots, but variable difficulty settings can ease the burden. The laughably easy Picnic mode is there if you’re just down for map making and hilariously simple fights. Stick to the other three options and you’ll be challenged, needing to make good use of complementary characters while always keeping your head on a swivel while exploring.
To the trained Etrian ear, the fact that the soundtrack from Yuzo Koshiro is masterful shouldn’t be a surprise. Like every single entry in the series, Koshiro’s music is beautiful, fitting peaceful times and aggressive battles alike. Of special note are the callbacks to Etrian Odyssey III, which is the only DS game not to get a remake on 3DS, so this is the first time that entry’s music is getting a modern update.
Etrian Odyssey Nexus reminds me a whole lot of another recent 3DS game - WarioWare Gold. Like Wario’s 2018 escapade, Nexus delights and relishes in its history, putting together the biggest amount of raw content in series history. However, if you’re very well versed in that line of games, some of the callbacks might come off as repetitive. For me, Nexus’ references were joyful; my memory of the past games flooded back to me as I went through the onslaught of dungeons. The celebration of a series with 12 excellent years of games is a journey well worth taking. For newcomers, the only barrier is the same barrier every game in the series has: it’s very hard. The references don’t hinder the fun and this game stands on its own strongly. Etrian Odyssey Nexus is an elegant farewell to a series and a system. If this is the last we see of the Etrian series, this is a high note to go out on.