Release Date: February 5th, 2019 (Nintendo 3DS)
Genre: JRPG, Dungeon Crawler
Publisher: Atlus USA
ESRB: Teen (Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes)
Many gamers, including myself, are no strangers to Atlus games. They tend to cover niche Japanese products and localize them to great effect here in the west. Their latest game coming to the west is Etrian Odyssey Nexus, which is the sixth mainline title in the popular franchise. With this being the last Etrian game to be released on the 3DS, Etrian Odyssey Nexus provides a worthy send off to this fantastic franchise. I am no expert myself when it comes to the Etrian series of games, but I have played a few in the past. The most recent of those being the Persona based spin-off Persona Q. While I may not be an end all authority of the series by any means, I am a fan of them. What makes this a worthy send off for the series on the Nintendo 3DS? Well read on to find out, of course!
Thankfully, not much has changed for the veterans of the series this time around. It keeps the same map drawing, first person point of view, dungeon crawling, and turn based combat from its predecessors that lends to the enjoyable time-tested Etrianexperience. The game offers a heap of customization options through the player’s appearance, colors, and armor. There are nineteen classes to choose from, as well as battle formations to consider when mixing these classes and more. Each class does hold a separate skill tree that you can invest into and thus further the assembled team with different abilities – be that magic skills, defense skills, or anything in between. This is just another layer of customization that the game offers. A skill tree is nothing revolutionary, but with so many classes, and the open ended nature of the skill tree, it combines to create more of a personal experience. This may sound a bit complicated to the uninitiated, but it could be a good place for newcomers to the series to start. It introduces things slowly enough for the average curious gamer to get involved, but it does not overstay its welcome to frustrate the more hardcore crowd. It truly just feels like a love letter for Etrianfans to give the series a proper farewell to the Nintendo 3DS.
As with most Atlus games, the player will get their money’s worth out of the title and it will keep them busy for quite some time. Half the game includes completing missions, progressing through the story, and dungeon crawling. The other major half, one could argue, is the map drawing. Have you ever wanted to feel like a dungeon explorer AND a cartographer? Well here is your chance to do just that. This is one of the standout features in the series, and it makes a welcome return here. The player can get lost with just drawing and customizing their maps to their own taste and it provides quite a creative outlet for the player. The game has a decently robust map editor for them to use as well. That is not to say that the player can draw their own custom labyrinths though. They are static dungeons, but the player has the ability to personalize each and every map and floor. There is an auto-map feature available, but I recommend against it to get the full experience. Sure, it will help the player find that corridor they may be missing, as they tend to hide them well, but I think it detracts from the experience if the player has the game draw it out for them in its entirety. It is to the player’s benefit to mark down any event or item that may come in handy for the future as well. For example, I found a seemingly unimportant water fountain in one dungeon, but luckily I had marked it down. Later on, I came across a villager request that was looking for that specific fountain. As I had marked it down when I was drawing my map, I knew exactly where to go and finished the quest very easily.
Sadly, the story never really grabbed me through my hours, upon hours, of gameplay. Explorers have been gathered to the land of Lemuria in order to explore and discover the secrets held within these floating isles. The end goal is to find the Yggdrasil tree and uncover the mysteries that surround it. The player’s base camp, of sorts, is a city named Maginia and is where the player will find their guild HQ, inn, shop and more. The player will be coming here often, and it is charming in its own way. With that said, the plot is trying to be a bit grander in its scope than it really needed to be. While it was fine, it just did not engage me like I thought it should. You do meet new characters that contribute to the story along the way within dungeons, and this proved to be one of my more favorite aspects of the plot. In some instances you get to travel with them, and while they do not engage in battle with you in most cases, they can provide some benefits such as healing your party after battles or providing you with environmental data about the current labyrinth. I was too focused on the gameplay and exploring that next dungeon, mapping it out in its entirety, to really care though. I found myself sort of glazing over the dialogue, just to get to where I could start playing again and working on my team. This does not feel so much a fault with the game, just a personal hang up, as I can easily see how one could get caught up in the story. The gameplay is what really sold it for me, and I could not get enough.
Moving on to the dungeons and labyrinths, they come in two distinct layouts: the bigger labyrinths that pushes forward the narrative of the game and the smaller little mazes. These smaller areas serve as an easy way to get loot or grind to get through the harder sections the player is having difficulties with, or to upgrade the weaker weapons the player may have. There does exists some static gathering points on the world map that respawn after a certain period. These are collected by clicking on them from the map, but be careful as sometimes large enemies meander their way to these spots to ravage the place. You can intercept them, however, which will activate a boss fight to protect the area. The monsters within the dungeons come in a few different flavors. Regular enemies, a sparkle variant that is harder and yields higher rewards, roaming bigger enemies that can affect the environment (such as breaking down walls), and boss monsters. The cool thing about the loot drops from all these different beasts is how you use them to your advantage once you are back to the main hub of the game. They can be used to either complete requests from the townsfolk, or more importantly: use them for your personal gain.
When the player sells materials to the shopkeeper, she offers a new item within her shop – whether that be armor, weapons or accessories. The key is, these items for purchase require the player to have sold her a certain amount of the material needed to obtain it. It is a bit like a crafting system in a way, except it involves the shop dealer in “crafting” the item for you with the bits sold to her. Another use for these items beyond the shopkeeper-craft system is the ability to forge and upgrade favorite weapons to stronger variants. The game does encourage grinding in that regard, and it is only to the player’s benefit not only because of the levels they gain, but the items they can make, forge, and upgrade down the line. That said, I did not have to grind much to continue on with the story, it mostly came down to getting the materials needed for new weapons and armor. I did find myself going into dungeons grinding out the quests for the townsfolk, but that was only for a change of pace. I never felt like I ever had to do this to continue, it was just something that came naturally to the player and I, for one, enjoyed that.
Lastly, the graphics and music are top notch, even without the excuse of it being a Nintendo 3DS game. Production values of Etrian Odyssey Nexusare very high and it shows through the overall high level of polish. The dungeons are varied in their looks and offer surprises of their own for the player to discover. The artwork is also superb, with the character portraits looking nice and all the backdrops having a certain life of their own. The music is also something that can stick in the player’s head easily, and I never found myself tiring of it one bit. The 3D effect is very nicely implemented (played on a New Nintendo 3DS XL), and as a heavy user of the 3D function, it is a welcome one, given the absence of it in some newer key titles for the Nintendo 3DS. The depth it provides just enhances the already spectacular look of the game and if the player likes the effect, I say use it as much as possible in this title. I suffered zero performance issues and the load times were quick. The game offers no English dub option and all of the voiced characters are in their native Japanese. This is not so much a problem, just something to mention and let players be aware of if they are expecting that sort of thing. As an English speaker, it does take a little of the charm out of the game for me, as those unique voices are exactly that: unique. It added some flavor to the game, but it is what it is.
Etrian Odyssey Nexusis a great game through and through, only blemished by a few superficial things such as my disinterest in the story, the difficulty spikes in the dungeons, and the lack of an English dub. All in all, it gets a great recommendation from me even if it is still not my favorite dungeon crawler. Though, it sure did weasel itself way up the list to become one of the more fun times I have had with the genre. Pick this up if you are looking for a new JRPG to sink your teeth into or are just part of the Atlus faithful. (Frank Granados; Gaming Staff Writer)
Review copy provided by Atlus.