Release Date: April 16, 2013
ESRB: T for Teen
It's a small miracle that I'm reviewing Pandora's Tower now. The third of three Wii RPGs that made it to Europe before hitting our shores, fans made quite the ruckus to bring this, Xenoblade Chronicles, and The Last Story over to North America.
While Nintendo listened to their cries and brought Xenoblade over, XSeed did the same for Last Story shortly after, but Pandora's Tower seemed like a lost cause. The Wii U was already released, and Wii support was dropped like a rock. Fans despaired; there was practically no hope for the third game in this role-playing trio to be release for an NA system.
But, XSeed pulled through for the fans again, and announced their localization for Pandora's Tower a few months back. Now that eager gamers have what is likely to be the Wii's final true game, does Pandora's Tower live up to its Operation Rainfall brethren and help us say farewell to the Wii with a bang?
Pandora's Tower weaves a very interesting tale: The young Elena has been marked by a terrible curse that slowly turns her into a monster. The only way to possibly put an end to this curse is to traverse the Thirteen Towers and defeat each tower's Master, obtaining their Master Flesh and feeding it to the girl. As one might imagine, these towers are quite perilous, but protagonist Aeron is no slouch in the ways of fighting, and with the Oraclos Chain given to him by the mysterious Mavda, he'll make his way through the towers to find the cure for his love.
Since the gist of the game is to save Elena, a lot of the focus is put on her in relation to the plot. She'll always be safe inside the Observatory, and when you return from your visits to the Thirteen Towers, she'll always be there waiting. Chatting with her and giving her gifts is the key to keeping her happy and hopeful of the eventual eradication of her curse. In addition, raising Elena's affinity in Aeron plays a big role on the ending you may see.
However, that's not all - Elena's curse does slowly turn her into a beast, and this means that you need to keep her from turning while you fight for the Master Flesh. To do so, you need to pull servant flesh from the normal monsters in the dungeon, and feed them to her. This slows the curse down and ensures you enough time to complete the Towers, so time isn't a big issue here.
Over time, you'll really start to care about Elena. Through chats with her and from her reactions to the gifts you give, you'll learn more about the sweet girl, like her past and her dreams. It's almost heart-breaking watching her suffer throughout the course of the game, but it's uplifting when she speaks full of hope for the future... even if the underlying curse causes some unusual changes.
On the flip side, though, you will learn almost nothing about Aeron himself. There is a bit explained within a few later cutscenes and with chatting, but the quiet and stoic Aeron is more there to save Elena than he is to be an interesting character model. It's a little disappointing, however given that this sort of background might detract from Elena's story, it's understandable that Garbarion put the spotlight on her.
It's also interesting to note that, while the setting is very pointed in its execution, you still learn a lot about the world of Pandora's Tower. Through the various books and notes scattered about, you learn about how the Masters were created, and more about the Cataclysm that struck the land and created the giant gash in the earth known as The Scar. Mavda's musings also give clue to the effects that Elena's sudden onslaught of her curse had on the people that were attacked... and even on the country itself. The way this game creates its world is very effective, with every new article or letter bringing just a bit more light into various aspects of the world.
While the plot and execution are great, however, as an Action RPG Pandora's Tower needs to play well to be completely enjoyable... so does it succeed in that part? For the most part it does, though there are some odd quirks.
Aeron has many ways of dispatching enemies at his disposal. First, we can use his sword (and other weapons later) to dispatch foes in a typical ARPG-combo fashion. You can also have Mavda upgrade these weapons by using materials found in the Towers; this will raise their attack power and even add new attacks to your combo after a time.
Also, you'll have access to the immensely versatile Oraclos Chain. In battle, you can use the chain to latch on to the enemy, for a number of effects. You can, for example, throw them into other foes, latch the chain onto a second enemy so they share the damage you deal, pull at the chain to raise its tension then pull away quickly to do massive damage, amongst other techniques. Most players will find themselves using the chain during most of their battles, especially since attacking the Masters with weaponry is rarely effective in itself.
In addition, the Oraclos Chain is the best way to make your way through the Thirteen Towers. You can latch onto footholds and ledges, swing about, and generally get to areas you'd never be able to otherwise. It lends itself to some fun platforming, though at times is can be a little nerve-wracking, especially when suspended above perilous pits or while persistent enemies are afoot.
While we're talking about the chain, I have to state this to get it out of the way - there are two control schemes, one with the Wiimote and Nunchuk and one with the Classic Controller. Do not use the Classic Controller scheme! This game was made with the Wiimote in mind, as you control where your chain goes with it... if you use the Classic Controller, this important function is relegated to the right stick. While that may not seem to bad, when you're in a position that needs quick reflexes (which is every time you're fighting a Master), you'll find the right stick's speed and accuracy sorely lacking.
Despite how well done the package is overall, though, there are some sticking points that unfortunately stop the game from being perfect. For starters, Many times throughout the game the same animations will repeat themselves. This is fine for the first few times, but after you've seen Mavda slowly emerge through the door for the umpteenth times you'll be mashing the plus button to skip it. It's a minor issue, but one that really sticks out.
Also, the affinity bar inches up the screen incredibly slowly. For most people playing the game normally, despite tons of gifts, the bar probably won't make it far enough to get the better endings. It's entirely possible to raise Elena's affinity to the required amounts, but it tends to devolve into exhausting chat until she has nothing left to say, rest, repeat, maybe give her a berry, and so on. Had the bar moved up a just a bit of a faster rate, or some of the really big or expensive gifts given a large boost, this wouldn't be needed. It's an unfortunate misstep on a mechanic that's very important.
Finally, there are some points that can get frustrating. Missing a chain to break or failing to find a shortcut can cause a lot of backtracking, and with the advancement of the curse clicking down in the lower right corner, backtracking is more stressful than the norm. As well, there are times where you can go too long without finding a monster that drops servant flesh, making it stressful to find something to slow the curse's progression. Couple that with a few of the towers being long and maze-like, and it turns into an experience that can be more stressful than it needs to be.
So, the final verdict? Pandora's Tower is a game just a little shy of fantastic. The plot and setting are beautifully done, but it falls short on other aspects that keep it from being a perfect gaming experience. Even so, it's a game every Wii RPG fan should grab, especially if they enjoyed Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story. While it's a completely different experience, it's one that comes as a great send-off to the Wii.
+ The plot and setting are well presented and written
+ Your interactions with Elena make you truly care about her
+ Fighting the unique and varied Masters is for the most part fun
- The music, while not bad, has few tracks and isn't memorable
- The rate the curse advances adds a level of frustration and tension that is a bit much
- Getting the Affinity bar to a good level is more work than it should be
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
Pandora's Tower may have some small annoyances, but overall it's a great experience for Wii owners and RPG fans.