There's something beautiful and serene about completing a task. We get it in small bursts when we clear missions in games, and get it in a larger dose when we roll the credits.
Etrian Odyssey is a series that understands the satisfaction of clearing a task - or, in this case, drawing a complete map. It's a game that forces you to take things slow, and offers big doses of endorphins once you finally clear floors of the game's many labyrinths.
For those that don't know yet, Etrian Odyssey Nexus is the latest game in the Etrian Odyssey series, a game which sees RPG archetypes stomp through long labyrinths, all while making a complete map of the environment on the way. It's the kind of game that's a natural fit for the 3DS' touch screen.
As you take steps you slowly scratch away at the grid on your touch screen, marking locations where you can find items, doors, dangerous panels, and more. The satisfaction you feel at the end of a large labyrinth floor is ecstatic. Though, there is an auto-draw function which fills in tiles you stand on.
But what Etrian Odyssey Nexus lacks is a strong cast of characters. Interestingly, your entire party is made up of units that you create.
You pick from a range variety of job classes, and edit a character's features from four basic options. You name them, equip them, and, yeah, you create the entire party.
The problem with this is that every party member is your generic silent protagonist, with the only "character development" being small scenes inside the labyrinth where you pick which character performs an action.
It's a bit strange when every other character in the world has a real personality, many of them incredibly distinct, especially the various shopkeepers at HQ.
It feels like a game which is built with gameplay in mind first, not story - somewhat uncommon in JRPGs, and the Etrian series has had plenty of strong protagonists in the past.
But, on the other hand, creating your own cast is pretty interesting, and since you can recruit as many characters as you like, you can freely change your party for completely different scenarios.
Big FOEsBattles take the usual turn-based route, with all the standard Etrian trappings. Skills, binding effects, poisons, magic, a big variety of weapons to use - that old chestnut. Things feel easier here than they have in most of the other games in the series.
Even FOEs - larger, more ferocious mini-bosses that chase you through the stage - feel less threatening than before - I felt like I could defeat them on my first runs through various labyrinths, which is a bit strange.
FOEs were previously something that always frustrated me about the later Etrian Odyssey games, but they have a different rhythm here. Unlike the Etrian Odyssey remakes that included them, labyrinths here are specifically designed for them.
FOEs will have habits like clearing certain pathways, and guiding them around the stage will open up more areas, so unlike the traditional method of just avoiding them, here you can use them to your advantage.
You never feel trapped by them either - most labyrinths will have sections for you to use to avoid FOEs entirely or outrun them, while I often felt like fighting was the only option in older games.
It all comes together to make for a more refined Etrian Odyssey experience than ever before, with one caveat - if you're not already invested in this style of gameplay, the light story and party characters might not make you want to play through.
It's a long game, and incredibly satisfying, but the problem is plain and simple: if you're an Etrian Odyssey fan, you already know you'll enjoy Nexus; if you're brand new to the series, then a different game might give you a better introduction.