By William Haderlie / March 1st, 2019
|Title||Etrian Odyssey Nexus|
|Release Date||February 5th, 2019|
|Genre||Dungeon Crawler RPG|
|Platform||New Nintendo 3DS XL|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen|
Games that represent a series culmination can be difficult to review for a general audience. Ideally they should be built, from the ground up, for the fans of that series. That also hinges on how much of the development process was entered into knowing that it would be the final entry. All too often in any genre of entertainment, the cancellation of a series is sudden and there ends up being a perfunctory ending (famous examples being Metal Gear Solid V in gaming and Firefly on TV). But when you do know it’s going to be the final entry, you can build upon the entire series and come out with a satisfying conclusion (such as Uncharted 4 and Return of the Jedi). Of course, endings don’t always work out and can end up besmirching the reputation of the series as a whole for some fans (Mass Effect 3 and The Sopranos come to mind). Etrian Odyssey Nexus is the sixth continuous entry of the series, and the eighth if you include the two remix games. So there is quite a series history to compile into one final game entry.
It’s entirely possible that this may not be the absolute last thing we see from the Etrian Odyssey series of games. But by all indications it is, and even if it comes back it will have to change its form in some ways. The reason ATLUS appears to have developed Nexus with the explicit intention of creating a final entry has less to with series sales and more to do with the hardware that they are on. Almost more than any other series of games, the EO games are built from the ground up to take advantage of the Nintendo DS series of hardware. One of the primary appeals of the series has been using your stylus to draw out the dungeon maps as you explore. This is a modern take on the original style of dungeon crawler RPGs, where we used to use graph paper to draw out our own maps. With their new hybrid handheld console, the Nintendo Switch, the company is showing signs of discontinuing production of all SKU Nintendo 3DS models. And even if they were to still keep the handheld consoles going for a bit longer, there is no question that the audience has almost entirely migrated over to the Switch. So while I do hope that they find a way to make the series work in the future, there is no question that it will have to change if it’s going to. ATLUS knows this more than anyone, so they made Etrian Odyssey Nexus as a capstone to the best dungeon crawler series is many years, if not the greatest of all time.
From the start of the game you will be on a flying city heading to the Yggdrasil Tree in order to unearth a sacred treasure said to create infinite prosperity for a country. Of course from the ground up that sounds quite suspiciously too good to be true, but it will be a long time before the foundation mission will be directly addressed. As a dungeon crawler series, the Etrian Odyssey games have always focused more on the dungeon design than the story, but there is a bit more story here than in all but the two remake games. In the previous games you are usually in a similar city, and also trying to climb the World Tree, but you will discover that this game takes a hard turn from that in interesting ways. Once you leave the confines of the city you will discover that there is a world map that will spread out all the various different labyrinths, slightly reminiscent of Etrian Odyssey IV, but without the ship travel. And, story-wise, you will also discover that the labyrinths surrounding the Yggdrasil are strongly reminiscent of some areas that you have seen elsewhere in the world. After several of these zones the player, and the NPC characters, will start to wonder why all these regions are suddenly appearing together in one place.
My largest issue with Etrian Odyssey V was that they seemed to take a step back from the innovations of Etrian Odyssey IV. It was still a really good game, but I really missed the overworld travel and interactions. And most of all, by separating the various dungeons, it made them seem more diverse and interesting. Even from the beginning the dungeons of the EO games did change about every 5 levels or so, but it was still all just one major dungeon dive. With Etrian Odyssey Nexus they have made even more discrete dungeons than in any prior game. There have been some people complaining about the reused enemy designs and labyrinth looks, but that not only makes sense story-wise, but they also change the monsters enough to make it interesting. It ends up being a call back more than just a cost or time saving measure, which is an important distinction to make. Altogether players will be shocked at how many dungeons this game has, 14 main labyrinths and 10 side dungeons. The main labyrinths can be as many as 5 levels deep and the side dungeons are always 1 level but usually very large and with severely upgraded enemies that are most definitely optional (but feature some very strong upgrades as a reward, as well as new side story sequences). They also brought back many of the series classic dungeon mechanics and designs, but remixed them in interesting ways that will make you use your head.
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