Posted on July 1, 2013 AT 07:00am
Once upon time in Nintendoland three RPGs came out for the Wii and they were Xenoblade: Chronicles, The Last Story, and finally, Pandora’s Tower. These three games won acclaim from critics and fans the world over, quickly becoming cult classics in their own rite. There was however one slight problem with all this: the grouchy execs at Nintendo of America, who refused for several years to publish or even localize these wondrous games that everyone in the other regions of the world adored. Even Australia had these games. Australia. And they rarely get anything good (no offense Aussies, but you know it’s true). And yet, despite all this, NoA still said “Nope. Not happening. We’re stubborn.” There were several petitions started by fans under the name “Operation Rainfall”, perhaps you may have heard of them. Fans in America pleaded with NoA, until finally, in 2011, the execs in NoA gave in, and announced they would be bringing the European release of Xenoblade: Chronicles to American shores in April of 2012, however there was a catch: the game would only be made available online and exclusively through GameStop. As a result, copies of the game now sell for over double the original retail price, even when used. As much as I love that game, I wouldn’t say it’s really worth double retail, damn collectors. A few months after the Xenoblade announcement, NoA announced The Last Story would also be coming stateside by the end of Summer 2012. Two down, one to go. Story had a much broader release then Xenoblade, and probably with good reason. I personally found Story to be a much better game overall, even with the odd map glitches. And so, all that was left, was Pandora’s Tower. So fans were pretty happy when the final game of the trio was announced to arrive in NA in April 2013.
So now the question must be asked, was it really worth all that trouble and waiting for NoA to get the sticks out of their ass? You can figure that part out by the end of this review, but in my opinion… yes.
Pandora’s Tower is by far a much more simple story then the other two games. It only features four main characters: Elena, the Damsel In Distress, Aeron, the Hero, Mavda, the Sage Advice Giver and Only Merchant, and Mavda’s partner, a nonsensical skeleton on her back. There are 12 dungeons, and 13 bosses. Every time a boss is beaten, the plot is given a little more development. The entire game can theoretically be beaten within 15 hours, maybe a little more. My first try took over 26 hours, this, of course, compared to the freaking 60hrs I spent on Xenoblade. In other words, Tower is short and sweet by most RPG standards.
The story begins with the Harvest Festival, celebrating half a century of peace in the nation of Imperia, in the state of Elyria. The star of the show is the singing maiden, Elena. Her best friend, Aeron, tags along to support her and watch from the crowd. Unfortunately, things go south when Elena is mysteriously cursed and turns into a ravaging beast, accidentally killing a few people while rampaging around the city. Aeron manages to find her unconscious body, briefly turned human again, when he is discovered by the Vestra Merchant, Mavda, who offers to help him escape the Elerian Army. Mavda takes the couple to the Thirteen Towers, and they set up camp in the Observatory, a building which looks over the Towers. Mavda explains in order to lift the curse, Aeron must enter the Towers and kill each of the 12 Tower Masters, bringing back their magic flesh for Elena to consume. After consuming the flesh of all 12 Masters the curse will be gone and everything back to normal. The problem though, is that Elena is a follower of Aios, and as such, is a strict vegetarian, and consuming any flesh is considered a mortal sin against her religion. Mavda explains she can either hold true to her religion, and turn into a monstrous beast, or eat the flesh and possibly be cured. Reluctantly, Elena accepts the offer and agrees to eat the Masters’ Flesh. And so Aeron sets off on his quest to kill the 12 Masters.
Aeron was a pretty interesting guy as far as RPG heroes go. He managed to find a happy medium between the iconic Silent Hero of such games like the Zelda series, and the Talkitive Hero from games like the Tales series. Aeron was normally silent and stoic, but when it came to Elena, he would offer a little more to the conversation, even if it was just a few words. Throughout the game, he would constantly discuss important plot points with Mavda through questions the game allowed the player to ask. When he wasn’t at the Observatory, he was kicking ass in the Towers. Another interesting part about Aeron was the fact that he took it upon himself to show as little emotion as possible. Often times I find emotionless heroes to be a little overdone, just look at Link from Zelda. However in this case, it was fine. As is learned form Elena, Aeron is generally shy by nature, and seems to prefer using actions as a means of expression rather then words and silly facial expressions.
While Aeron is silent, Elena is anything but. Elena is the one and only Damsel in Distress, but instead taking on the persona of a pathetic girl, she constantly talks to Aeron, cooks food, cleans their living space, sews new garments, in other words, makes herself useful. On the other hand, there was still a pathetic side to her, which was inescapable, and at times, hard to watch. As was mentioned before, Elena is a vegetarian because her religion abhors the consumption of meat. She considers eating meat to be very morally wrong, however, in order to stay alive and not become a beast herself, she is forced to go against her religion and eat meat. To really drive the point home, the game actually makes you watch her eat the raw flesh, you see her cringe at the sight, suck it up and then take a few bites and swallow, until it’s all gone. The one saving grace is that these cut scenes are skippable, but the fact that they were even there did sometimes leave a bad taste in my mouth. Even Aeron shows noticeable distaste and worry at the sight of Elena forcing the meat down her throat. This mechanic of feeding Elena meat was actually a fundamental part of the game. Not only was the player forced to feed her the Master Fleshes, but also the flesh from the lesser “Servant Beasts”, because Servant Flesh helped ward off the curse until Aeron could get some Master Flesh.
This gave the game a timer mechanic. Every time Aeron entered a dungon, Elena’s curse progression was shown as a circular meter. The goal was make sure the meter didn’t get all the way into the red, because if went full on red, she went full on beast and it was game over. Feeding Elena Servant Flesh back at the Observatory would refill the meter, granting a little more time in the dungeon to make more progression. Feeding her Master Flesh would refill the meter entirely and also offer some plot progression.
Elena also served another purpose, through her bond with Aeron. Their bond was shown physically as a golden, swirly chain. The bond can be grown through a few minor mechanics, first of all, there’s just simply talking to Elena. Using the Chat option, or extra conversation options when available, would often gain a few points towards Elena’s bond. Using the Give Gift option, the player can give Elena small gifts such as jewelry, flowers, even clothes, all of which could be bought from Mavda. The Gift mechanic is also how the player feeds Elena Flesh, which, as luck would have it, also helps grow the bond with Elena. The bond between Elena and Aeron affects the ending, and allows the player to get one of four possible endings depending on high the player gets the bond between Elena and Aeron.
The last set characters somehow still managed to not become minor in the story, and they were the Vestra Merchant Mavda and her nonsensical skeleton. Mavda is the story’s primary guide, offering up information on the world outside and helping Aeron make sense of the mystery of the Thirteen Towers. Mavda gives Aeron the Oraclos Chain, a chain that acts as a dungeon exploration tool and a formidable weapon. Mavda is the only store in the game, where the player can purchase, sell, create and repair items. Mavda also provides a means to upgrade weapons received throughout the game. The one problem though, is that Mavda only sells one of each item per in-game 24hrs. The Create option can be used to make multiple items at once, but it was a little annoying to gather all the necessary materials for that. And as for her skeletal partner, well he just sits and and says “#!@$%!” all the time. Lord only knows what the hell that means.
Though the characters were great, it was in the dungeon design where the game really shined. The primary mechanic was the Chain, which was used to grapple to footholds on walls, swing to far away ledges, and strike distant switches, among other things. The game manged to find unique ways of using the chain in every dungeon, forcing the player to think critically. Then there was the Master’s Doors, or boss door, as other games might call it. Master Doors were always tethered shut by special chains, which had to be broken at their end points in order to unlock the Door. This mechanic, in conjunction with Elena’s curse meter forced the player to do dungeons in 5-10 minute sections, depending on how comfortable they were with letting the curse meter drop. The idea of forcing the player to constantly leave a dungeon and come back may seem like a major annoyance to some, but this game did an excellent job of making it work. First of all, the only means of saving in dungeons is through checkpoints scattered throughout the dungeon, but these only provide a temporary save that is deleted when the game is turned off. Additionally the game can be saved and quit through a Quick Save option, but this is still not a full save. That is where leaving to go back to Observatory comes into play as being an advantage. First of all, while there, Elena can be fed and the curse meter filled back up, extra meat can be sold off to Mavda, extra items bought from her, but most importantly, the player can do a full save only while in the Observatory. By forcing the player to constantly go back to Observatory, the game designers were also giving players a means of saving progress, heal without wasting items, and chat it up with Elena.
The concepts behind the dungeons was also very well done. Each dungeon was designed after one of the game’s 12 elements (technically there’s only 5, with a light and dark to each, plus the elements of “pure” light and dark, but I digress), for instance the fire dungeons were covered with molten lava and littered with fire monsters. The water dungeons, normally every gamer’s bane, were actually really well designed and a joy to play through. The rock dungeons had the player slinging spiked rocks into soft walls to create grapple points for climbing. The wood dungeons had exploding plants and sentient hornet nests. The list of awesome mechanics goes on and on. All of it was very well thought out and very enjoyable to play through.
Just like with any game, Pandora’s Tower was wrought with flaws. First of all, there’s the chain, the game’s primary exploration mechanic. Playing with the Classic Controller, the left analog stick was used for moving Aeron, the right to move the chain’s cursor. Using the Classic, it made the chain mechanic harder then it needed to be, and I found the game got much easier after switching to the Nunchuck, which aimed the chain cursor using the wiimote’s motion controls. There was also the problem of hitboxes for the chain. For many things, hit boxes were annoyingly hard to find because they were never directly on the object, often off to the side, above it or even under, but almost never directly on the stupid object. Using the Zoom function made finding the pesky hitboxes a little easier, but honestly, I don’t think that should have been necessary. However, all that paled in comparison a glaring glitch involving the final two dungeons.
There is a glitch that is activated whenever entering the game’s final two dungeons. It is such an annoying and glaring glitch, I am very surprised it wasn’t caught during beta or even alpha testing of the game while it was still in development. Basically, whenever entering the game’s final two dungeons there is a very high chance of the game freezing on the dungeon load screen, making a high pitched beep noise and remaining like that until the Wii is force shut down. What really sucks is those last two dungeons are otherwise my fave dungeons in the game because of their concept and design, but my word that glitch just kills it. As much as I loved playing through those dungeons I couldn’t have been happier to be done with them so I wouldn’t’ have to worry about constantly working around that goddamn glitch to get into them. Oh and by the way, if you’re playing the game, unlocked those last two dungeons and wondering about a workaround, see if these tips help.
So overall, Pandora’s Tower is good stuff. As far as RPGs go, it’s a bit on the short side. It’s very straightforward with zero sidequests to speak of, and as a result not a lot of replay value. However, the dungeons are an absolute joy to play through, even if one has to constantly leave and come back to explore them entirely. There was some minor flaws with the chain hitboxes and a major glitch with the final dungeons, but despite all that, I still had fun and am glad Nintendo of America finally decided to localize the game here in NA.
Summary: A nice, short RPG that’s all about the chains of love and destiny.
- Pros: Excellent dungeon design. Characters very well done. Awesome gameplay.
- Cons: No sidequests. Not much replay value. Major glitch can prevent entrance to last dungeons and induce much rage quiting. So much rage quit.
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