Quick-Look: Etrian Odyssey Nexus

Etrian Odyssey Nexus kicked my ass.

I’d love to say, as a video game reviewer, that I am a master that can crush any game that comes my way, but, alas, that would be a complete lie. There’s still some series and genres that I can never really hope to get a firm grasp on, whether due to lack of skill, lack of time, or both. The Etrian Odyssey series has long been one of those.

I tried out the first Etrian Odyssey when it released way back in 2007, and I remember being unable to complete the first dungeon. I actually managed to scrape through the next entry I tried, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold, and felt quite the sense of accomplishment…only to find out that the series’ fans consider it an “easy” game.

When Etrian Odyssey Nexus walked its way into my inbox, I jumped in intending to give it a full review. That is, until I hit a wall at the boss of the second main dungeon of the game. It would be disingenuous to provide a full “review” of this title having only been able to get through such a small portion of it.

So, rather than that, I wanted to share with everyone the experience of the first ten-or-so hours of Nexus from the view of someone terrible at the game. Perhaps it will give some newcomers to the series interested in the game some idea of what they’re in for.

Let me preface this by saying: I enjoyed most of my time with Nexus. It’s far from a bad game, it just unfortunately falls a little outside of my skill set. If I were to give a score to what I was able to play, you’d be looking at a 7/10 or 8/10 final score.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Etrian Odyssey series, it’s a set of rather pure dungeon-crawling games made to take advantage of the dual-screen setup of the DS and 3DS. The main gimmick is having to make your own maps of each dungeon using your system’s touch screen, which is something I’ve found addicting in each entry I’ve tried. Nexus does offer up an auto-map function, but honestly, mapping things yourself is half the fun, and I’d recommend staying away from that option.

You enter each dungeon with a team of five characters, and Nexus offers up 19 classes you can choose from for each of them. Allow me to introduce you to my team:

  • Ginger, the Imperial. A knight that uses a “Drive Blade” which allows for devastating attacks, but can overheat, keeping him from using powerful skills until it cools down.
  • Naomi, the Protector. A class whose entire focus is on protecting the other members of your party.
  • Casey, the Gunner. Just what it says on the tin, Casey wields a gun and can snipe at certain enemy body parts to make them unusable.
  • The Boss, the Zodiac. A pure elemental mage that I added to my party because, of course, I needed a magic user. The Boss would end up being one of my downfalls…
  • Jesus, the Medic. Again, exactly what you think of when you read the class title, Jesus was entirely focused on healing the rest of the party.

In all, I had two physical attackers, someone for defense, a mage, and a healer. A pretty well-balanced party, if I do say so myself. With this, I let the opening story play out (Nexus does not have much focus on story, so this is done rather quickly) and then jumped into the first labyrinth available to me…and proceeded to get torn limb from limb.

Now, Nexus, like other Etrian Odyssey games I’ve played, is not a game I would call just straight-up “hard.” Rather, I think a more fitting term is “unforgiving.” Nexus doesn’t do anything to hold your hand – either you complete its challenges, or you go grind for a while until you’re able to.

This leads to a gameplay loop made up of slow but steady progress. Jump into a dungeon, make your way as far as you can with the resources you have available, then return to town to heal and buy new items and equipment before going back into the dungeon again. This was frustrating in the first labyrinth, as leaving the dungeon meant I had to retrace my steps to the entrance every time, limiting how far away I could explore with my resources. After completing this one, though, you get access to the “Ariadne Thread” item, which allows you to escape from a dungeon wherever you may be standing.

Don’t forget to always be carrying one of these items. If you over-extend yourself only to realize you don’t have any, you’re in for a world of hurt.

I managed to clear the first labyrinth in a reasonable amount of time, with some struggles here and there. Diving into the second one, though, started to reveal some weaknesses in my team setup. Namely, Ginger (my Imperial) was the only member of my team that could deal any real damage.

To be fair, two-fifths of my team weren’t made to be damage dealers: Jesus was just around for healing, and with the amount of damage I would be taking from just trash mobs, he hardly had any time to try and bonk enemies on the head with his magic staff. Naomi was defense-minded, but I at least hoped she’d be able to put out a bit of damage when needed…and I was mistaken in that regard. What she did have, though, was a skill that could disable enemies’ arms, keeping some of them from pulling off devastating special attacks.

The real sink in my party, though, was The Boss. Now, the skillset I unlocked for her was pretty decent: fire, ice, and electric attacks, all of which could hit multiple enemies on the screen at once. The issue, though, was her pitiful amount of TP, which is used to cast the spells. Each spell cost about 8TP to use, and by the time I hit the end of the second labyrinth, she only had about 70 available…and I had yet to discover any way of replenishing it.

This meant that, as I approached the boss of the second dungeon, The Boss became a useless member of my party, defending every turn as I had to save every precious TP point she had for the final battle. She did have a limit-break-style skill that would let her cast spells for half-cost, but building up the energy to use it takes quite a while, meaning I never wanted to risk using it on random encounters.

I did have a few glimmers of hope, though. The second labyrinth is when Nexus introduces its “F.O.E.s,” monsters that appear on the map itself and chase you down if they see you. These creatures are about equivalent to (or sometimes more powerful than) a dungeon’s boss, meaning you should probably dodge them when you first see them. Doing so does lead to some interesting movement puzzles throughout the labyrinths.

I found myself cornered by a bear-like F.O.E. in the second dungeon, with no choice but to fight my way out. I threw everything I could at it – no amount of TP was too much, I used every “Break” skill I could (an ultimate skill you can use when your limit-break skill is active, but it prevents you from using said limit break again until you leave the dungeon), I went through every healing item I had…and I defeated it.

I was rewarded with an item that let me craft a nice Drive Blade for Ginger, and I pushed my way through the rest of the second labyrinth, riding high on the knowledge that I’d probably do just fine at the final boss.

And so I approach said boss…the massive Berserker King. I once again enter a battle of attrition, throwing everything I possible have at it, and at the very last moment…

THE BERSERKER KING IS FALLEN. THE LABYRINTH IS CLEARED!

Alas, I forgot, I was playing a JRPG. The moment this thing that took every resource I had to defeat falls, another boss springs up – the “true” boss of the dungeon. Proceed to party wipe, and nearly pitching my 3DS out the nearest window. While the game did allow me to save before fighting it and healed a bit of my HP and TP, I wasn’t nearly at the level that allowed me to take it down.

Of course, this is a wall that could be overcome with more grinding, but it wasn’t grinding I had time (or desire) for. I laid the game down, a disgraced gamer and defeated man.

Unfortunately, my time with Nexus has barely scratched the surface, as hunting around the internet has told me that there’s at least ten main labyrinths in the game. I had to face the reality that this is the kind of game that I just don’t have the time to play at this moment.

Etrian Odyssey Nexus was a good, yet frustrating, time in the ten-or-so hours I spent with it. The gameplay loop is addicting, as is the mapping of each dungeon floor. The soundtrack is endearing, and the graphical presentation…well, it’s a first-person dungeon crawler, and I’ve yet to meet one that doesn’t get somewhat repetitive.

If you have the time and patience to pour into a single game, especially if you’re already a fan of the franchise, Nexus is definitely worth a look. I, unfortunately, must sport my badge of shame at being utterly defeated so early in the game…although, with as fun as it was, I will admit it hurts in a good way.

Review copy provided by Atlus. Screenshots provided by Atlus.