Etrian Odyssey Nexus released last year as a final hoorah for the JRPG series on 3DS. It acts as a sort of greatest hits collection: pulling together and remixing classes, bosses, and locales from every previous game. But the overarching goal is the same. You travel from dungeon to dungeon, exploring tiles in a first-person view, before being pulled into turn-based battles featuring your party of five. With 19 classes (plus the Vampire pseudo-class) this is far and away the biggest roster of custom-created adventurers the series has ever featured. And god almighty, is that ever daunting.
I say this as someone who’s put about 200 collective hours into Etrian Odyssey since last month. I’m not the hardest of the hardcore dungeon-heads (as I’ve just now decided Etrian Odyssey fans call themselves), but I do more-or-less know what I’m doing. In fact, that’s why I dropped off Nexus last year. I got all the way past its first major dungeon (several floors of tormenting difficulty and randomized fuckery) before I realized this was not a game for people who don’t know the franchise. You’d think a massive remix of old content would be perfect for new players — a condensed way to experience years of games they might have missed.
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Nope! No, the opening hours of Etrian Odyssey Nexus are pure hell for newcomers. Now that I’ve beaten EO4 and EO5, and finally returned to the grand finale more prepared then ever, all I’ve gained is a better appreciation for why they’re such a huge pain in the ass.
Nexus doesn’t give much advice when it comes to creating your initial lineup. It doesn’t tell you that the Sovereign, for instance, is a fantastic support class best protected by a front line of beefier party members. That’s because TP (the Etrian Odyssey name for mana) is a tremendous commodity. And even early in the game, the Sovereign can restore TP to any unit on the field. They also passively heal the party every turn if they stay at full health. That means — despite being a melee unit — you want them at the back of your group, outside most enemies’ reach. That’ll save you the trouble of burning even more TP or cash on healing spells and items.
That one unit out of 19 requires so much initial information. You need to know how important TP is, how enemy aggression and attack ranges work, and what skills the Sovereign has access to at level one. Nexus only gives you one to two sentences vaguely describing each character’s role… And that’s before you throw subclasses into the mix.
I came into this title with a lot of those details. I don’t just mean my experience from the past games. I mean that and dozens more hours collecting tips, tricks, and minutiae not explained within the games themselves — from GameFAQs forums and Reddit posts. And I’m still terrified of screwing up.
More than that, though, my problem is with the starting dungeon. It’s tiny, but filled with enemies that can annihilate your team by pure chance. Some do damage that cuts through to your back line. Others inflict poison. If one of your units gets hit by both in a single turn, they’re gone, without any way to prevent it. There are, of course, units that can resurrect each other inside or out of battle. But that locks you into very specific lineups — something Etrian Odyssey games never ought to do. Half the fun is finding unique arrangements and grinding until they’re viable. Sometimes you even “retire” high-level party members in exchange for under-leveled ones. The replacements aren’t as powerful, at first, but do some more grinding and you’ll find they have higher stat ceilings.
You’ll find all that and more in Etrian Odyssey Nexus, but there’s no clear path to it for literal hours. That opening dungeon is torture. It doesn’t featuring gathering points (spots where you can obtain items to sell in town and upgrade your gear) like most locations. You also can’t buy Ariadne Threads: a mainstay Etrian Odyssey item that lets you teleport safely back to town. And if you do die, you lose all the progress you made since the last time you stepped foot at home base.
Knowing What You Missed
I’m more forgiving of grinding than some folks. In fact, I often quite like it. I enjoy the sense of guaranteed progress — of always becoming stronger as I overcome obstacles. It’s not just watching the numbers go up in Etrian Odyssey, either. It’s the joy of using lineups and characters that once felt frail or useless in powerful combinations.
You won’t find any of that in the bizarre tutorial level of Nexus. It’s all the punishment of Etrian Odyssey with few of the tools to overcome them. Once you get past that, you’re right back into the expected flow of things, but the road there is anything but welcoming. It’s weird to worry now — a year after the game came out — that Nexus didn’t serve as the entry point it could have. But that’s where I find myself. I took me that long to discover what a fan of this series I would become.
Had Nexus done a better job getting me aboard before, I might have been able to appreciate it sooner. Maybe a lot of players could have! As it stands, I feel like I’m a bit late to this particular party. At least I finally found my way there eventually.