Playing Etrian Odyssey Nexus puts me in a weird spot. It's the sixth mainline entry in the Etrian Odyssey series (and the tenth game overall), and the last on the 3DS. Atlus therefore engineered Nexus to be a celebration of its lush dungeon-crawlers. I, however, only began playing Etrian Odyssey with the fifth game, 2016's Beyond the Myth. I'm saying "Goodbye" to a friend I only just met.
While playing Nexus feels weird for that reason, it doesn't feel awkward. When I journey through the game's dungeons, I don't feel like an interloper crashing a goodbye party. True, I'm not able to fully appreciate the scope of the party Atlus is throwing here, but I know Etrian Odyssey is a great son of a gun who fully deserves the epic Viking send-off Nexus delivers. I can't help but wonder what happens next, though. Like I said, I just met this fella. I hate to think next time I see him, he'll be changed beyond recognition.
Don't let the uncertainty of the future keep you from this adventure, though. Nexus is a tip-top dungeon crawler for newcomers and veterans alike. It offers a mind-boggling number of ways for you to build your ideal vision of a party of warriors, but people who just want to draw maps and chill out shouldn't stress out about building a perfect team. In fact, the smooth jazz soundtrack composed by game music legend Yuzo Koshiro makes it impossible to feel anxious when playing an Etrian Odyssey game. "Negative perspiration, friend," the soft piano chords and soft saxophone croon, keeping you grounded even as a Field-On Enemy (F.O.E!) corners you in a dead end. "We're all just here to have a good time and climb Yggdrasil, hey?"
The "Nexus" in the sixth Etrian Odyssey's name references one of its defining mechanics: You re-visit a host of dungeons made famous by previous Etrian Odyssey games. Longtime players will enjoy the nostalgia and fanservice while they perform the usual duties of mapping the dungeons they walk through and fighting the hordes of enemies who get up in their business. I generally dislike random battles (a topic of discussion Kat and I have covered more than once on the Axe of the Blood God RPG podcast), but I'll readily admit random encounters still work in Etrian Odyssey, which provides you with a step counter that indicates when you can expect your next battle. It's a system that's well-suited for the sometimes-tense atmosphere that accompanies dungeon crawlers, and it fits for Nexus as well.
The Nintendo 3DS's bottom screen is likewise appropriate for Nexus. In fact, even though Atlus has confirmed Etrian Odyssey will see life away from the 3DS (presumably on the Nintendo Switch), I can't imagine a version of Etrian Odyssey that doesn't let us use a stylus and a conveniently-placed second screen to chart our course through every dungeon floor.
I'm saying this as someone who suffered through the obtuse games of the '80s because she couldn't be bothered making the sensible graph-paper maps her friends made to chart their progress through Metroid and Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest. Maybe it was the gentle jazz music that first encouraged me to break out my stylus and fill in walls as I walked. "Hey sister, gonna rap with you here for a moment. We're not in the business of telling you what to do, but if you don't take note of where you're going, you're probably going to wind up walking in circles until your archer's koala-inflicted wound turns septic and he dies because you couldn't find your way back to town."
Point is, Etrian Odyssey pushed me into mapmaking. While I'm not as rapturous about the act as some fans of dungeon crawlers and roguelikes (some fans named Jeremy Parish), I'm honestly not sure how much interest I'd have in the next Etrian Odyssey game if it didn't force me to slow down, chart course, and then step back to say "There! I made this cool map! Look, mom!"
It's not that I don't have faith in Atlus. I have all faith. I'm just "worriedly curious," for lack of a better term. More curious than worried, given Atlus' excellent touch with dungeon crawlers. But I can't deny it's the end of Etrian Odyssey as we've known it for the past decade—plus, and it feels… kind of fine, I guess?
Mark this spot and unwind a spool of Ariadne thread. We'll meet back here when Atlus unveils exactly what comes next for Etrian Odyssey.