I approached Etrian Odyssey Nexus with a mixture of anticipation and sadness. Scuttlebutt assumes this is the final entry in this old-fashioned turn-based role-playing game series from Atlus, but that’s not the primary reason for my melancholy.

Back in 2006, when I first started as the copy desk chief for Ziff Davis Media’s Game Group (at the time, our publications were Electronic Gaming Monthly, Computing Gaming World, Official PlayStation Magazine, and 1UP.com), one of my copy editors was Andrew Fitch. Some of you may know him from his work on 1UP.com, its podcast, the 1UP Show, and the later incarnation of EGM. He introduced me to Etrian Odyssey after we discussed our shared love or Japanese RPGs, especially Dragon Quest and others that stem from Western RPGs from Wizardry.

And we bonded over the upcoming Etrian Odyssey, which hit in 2007. When he reviewed it, I edited it, and we discussed what he found in the Yggdrasil Labyrinth, the challenges awaiting there, the fierce FOE (Formido Oppugnatura Exsequens), the powerful monsters that stalk the maze’s floors. We discussed the best ways to organize parties, which characters synergized well with others, and how we took notes on character formations and squads we made for different forays into the labyrinth. And we celebrated how you could use the bottom DS (and later 3DS) screen to make your own maps, leaving notes and symbols for its features, dangers, and other mysteries.

We’d talk much more over the years about other Etrian Odyssey games. But not this one. Cancer took my friend last fall. When I played Nexus after receiving a 3DS code on January 14, I got misty-eyed, thinking about how for the first time, I didn’t have my friend to talk to about it.

Rest in peace, Andrew, and if whatever awaits us after death has video games, I hope you’ve been playing Etrian Odyssey Nexus, which lives up to its billing as “the ultimate Etrian Odyssey fan experience” with its mazes, hidden goodies, dizzying array of classes, and map-making.

What you’ll like

Above: These critters aren’t cute and cuddly to me.

More Etrian than ever before

This final 3DS Etrian Odyssey has 19 classes, bringing in every role from the all of the past games … and introducing a new one, the Hero. Your party can have five characters in it, so you can have a wide variety of parties. You open by dealing with a small starter dungeon, moving on to the real labyrinth before discovering another side dungeon.

Oh, and Lemuria, your base city, flies.

The dungeon levels are about the same size, not counting the side dungeons, but so far, I’ve encountered a number of secret paths and other hidden discoveries. Some play into quests, like some insect eggs, and others are just there to make your life easier … or harder.

If it sounds overwhelming to an Etrian Odyssey rookie, I imagine it is. For those of us who have been delving these deep dungeons for 12 years, it’s like that last Double-Stuffed Oreo in the bag.

Squad planning

Years ago, RPG players drew maps on graph paper and made notes as they explored. Now, the map-making tools on the 3DS’s second screen render these obsolete, at least when it comes to tracking your explorations. But I still use a notepad to track my party makeup.

You see, with 19 different character classes, I of course made one adventurer for each class. So, I needed a way to link names to class without going the route of naming the character that class (how gauche). So I made a paper list (yes, a spreadsheet would’ve worked better, but I play in bed, and I don’t want anything I can do work on invading the my bedroom sanctum). This tracking involves party composition based on:

  • Resource abilities (who can Mine, Gather, and Take).
  • Elemental abilities (doing weapon or spell damage from fire, ice, and lightning)
  • Buffs and debuffs
  • Defense

I have six different squads. Some are for fighting and exploring. Others are for when I find monsters weak to certain elements or skills. And three of them are suited to resource gathering. And with my old man, it’s easier to track all of this with paper than my memory. Now, some of you might not like or enjoy doing this, but for me, it’s a callback to playing RPGs as a child, pencil and graph paper in hand. And I love it.

It’s brutal

Above: Map-making remains my favorite part of Etrian Odyssey.

So far, I’ve had a number of party wipes. This happens in Etrian Odyssey. And it was all my fault because it turns out I hadn’t found the ideal party composition for the monsters on that level of the dungeon. Once I ditched my elemental mage for a Harbinger, a scythe-wielding badass that deals in debuffs and skill ailments to your foes, I sliced through their defenses and had no trouble exploring the floor and finding the next level.

But it took three different attempts to come up with a well-tuned party for that floor. And while I enjoy this level of challenge, others may not.

What you won’t like

Too many classes? 

The other Etrian Odyssey games don’t have 19 classes. This may be too much for those of you (like me) who want a taste of everything and can’t stop themselves from this folly. It’s a lot of choice, and you need to know your Etrian Odyssey history to help figure out which classes you should assign your adventurers, based on the monsters you’ll find in a particular level of a labyrinth and the way classes work together.

Conclusion

Etrian Odyssey Nexus feels like the finale for the series. And it certainly is on the 3DS. I bet it’s the final game I play on that old Nintendo handheld. And for this dungeon-crawler’s swan-song, it’s a pretty good way to go out.

Nexus ties together the best aspects from the entire series while also preserving the charm and challenge that makes Etrian Odyssey such a brilliant franchise.

I just hope this unique dungeon-crawler doesn’t end up buried on its final stage and finds its next adventure on the Nintendo Switch.

Score: 86/100

Etrian Odyssey Nexus is out now for the Nintendo 3DS. The publisher provided a digital 3DS code for the purposes of this review.