Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review #78: Pandora's Tower

 Operation Rainfall: Success
 Pandora's Tower can be considered as somewhat of a swan song for the Wii on North America. Crossing overseas was never a certainty with this game, but we finally got it, and even if Companies want to downplay the effects of Operation Rainfall, the point remains: We got all three games. The good news? The game is really good. The bad news? There's some pretty infuriating game-breaking bugs near the end.
 The gist of the story is as follows: Aeron's sweetheart, Elena, gets cursed, and she will soon turn into a monster unless Aeron can gather the flesh of the 12 masters of the Thirteen towers in order to break the curse. Besides Elena, there's Mavda, a mysterious old woman who serves as a shop, there are no other NPCs. As Aeron traverses the towers, he'll come across notes and letters that further explain the mystery behind the towers and how the 12 Masters came to be. While it's not the greatest of stories, it delves into some pretty dark subjects.
 You start the game at the observatory, the only place in which Elena's curse won't develop, probably due to the power of love? Before heading to each tower, you can speak with Elena and gift her things, which you must do if you want to enhance your relationship with her. Yes, it does feel pretty date-simish. It's not all that bad, if you gift her leather, she will enhance you backpack, gift her food and she'll cook. There are some time-related events too, such as talking to her before dining. While at the observatory, you can also save your game, or talk to Mavda in order to buy or sell items, repair your items(Both equipment and items can be broken by enemies) or craft new items, you can also sleep which helps to restore your health or move the clock forward, as the items you can find on each tower sometimes change depending on the hour at which you tackle them.
 The moment you step into the towers, a gauge on the lower right part of the screen starts decreasing, this is Elena's curse. If you let it deplete, you automatically lose the game. Beating each tower and the boss on your first go is nigh impossible, so you'll have to return to Elena and give her flesh from normal enemies in order to increase this gauge. While it sounds as artificially extending the game's length, returning to the observatory is actually beneficial, as you have limited space on your inventory, plus you get to heal, so it's not as annoying as it sounds, plus, you can activate shortcuts to the exit on the towers themselves, so going back and returning to where you were is not much of a hassle.
 Each tower functions somewhat in the same way. You must find and destroy a certain number of chains, from 2 to 4, in order to open the door to the boss, and then you must find the boss door in order to fight him. The game is more of an adventure game than action game, this means that it's filled with puzzles, usually involving the use of your chain. You see, Aeron is equipped with a chain that he can use for combat, by binding enemy's limbs, chaining enemies together, chaining enemies to objects, shooting at them with it or simply throwing them with it, it also serves as your main tool for most of the puzzles. You will use it to grapple to higher places, spin cogs, pull or push levers and objects and a few other actions. Bosses also follow suit, being puzzle fights, most are pretty easy to figure out, but figuring out what you have to do and then do it while avoiding damage is a bit harder.
  Combat is very basic and simple. The A button is your attack button, you can also charge it for slower, rhythm based blows. Eventually your charge attacks will become your go-to attacks, as they are so much stronger than your normal attacks with the added bonus of interrupting most enemy attacks, and since the clock is ticking, there's no better way to off your enemies. There's three different weapons, and an extra joke weapon, a Sword, two Knives or the Spear, and they function the same, but with different combos, damage and speed, heck, they also affect your moving speed. Aeron also gets a block button, and moving while holding it down produces a dodge, and you'll better get used to, as enemies later on deal quite a hefty amount of damage.
 Rounding up Aeron's options are items that you can carry. There are healing items, items that give you temporary boosts and a couple of offensive-explosive kind of weapons. You also have to keep in mind that Aeron's bag holds a very limited space, so you can't carry everything you find and want, plus, the you equip things in a grid, so you have to sort and turn items in order to make the most of it. Everything but your weapons can break, this includes potions, from enemy attacks, if this happens you have to return to the observatory and have Mavda repair them for a fee. Some enemies also have attacks that place debuffs on Aeron, from the usual poisoning to burning, to attack or armor debuffs, some can even buff themselves up.
 While Aeron starts off pretty weak, as you defeat enemies you earn experience and level up, which gives you higher attack power, a longer life bar and occasionally more room to equip items. Regardless, the game has a very clear emphasis on puzzle solving rather than combat, at times it's even encouraged to avoid it altogether. Occasionally you'll also come across enemies with purple auras, these are more resistant and deal even larger amount of damage than common enemies, earlier in the game it's better to just stay clear away from them, although by the time you can tackle them, they will grant you a large amount of experience points.
  I liked the gameplay, for the most part, although combat quickly became repetitive, dodge attacks and counter with a charged Combo. Sometimes, don't even bother dodging, interrupt them with charge attacks and pummel them. Some enemies are a bit more interesting, you may have to bind their legs in order to trip them, or bind an enemy's wings in order to bring them to the ground in order to attack them. Still, there's a huge setback: The camera. The player has no control over the fixed camera angles, and sometimes the switch can mess up your controls, you may end up attacking the air. It can become pretty annoying when you find yourself fighting in between to different pre-set camera angles. Then there are the deadly game-freezing bugs. As soon as you get to the 11th and 12th towers, the game will freeze when loading them. Luckily there are roundabout ways to get them to load(Copying your savefile to the second slot and then loading your original save, for some reason, works). Every time you return to the observatory you have to quit and repeat the process if you don't want the game to freeze on you. This is quite aggravating, especially since these two towers are very long and will require at least three trips back and forth.
 While nothing too fancy, the game does look very pretty. The thirteen tower are visually appealing, and the 12 Masters are pretty unique. Character designs are pretty alright, Aeron looks like any other anime-hero, who likes to bare his midriff for some reason, and Elena is pretty basic as well, Mavda's design fares much better though. The music serves the game well if anything, and voice acting gets the job done. Aeron's voice isn't very convincing, but he hardly gets any lines so it's no biggie. The game lasts a solid 14-15 hours, with about 5 endings, and finishing the game unlocks a key to open up previously locked red doors, the rewards aren't really worth it(Besides the joke weapon), but it's something. There's also a New Game plus that let's you pick up from different moments in the game, so getting each ending becomes easy.

 Bottom line: Pandora's Tower is a really good game, it's not the game that could've saved the Wii, but it's a great swan song for the system. But as good as it is, the end-game bugs can't be excused or forgiven, which is why I can't give it an 8.0, as much as I would've liked to, as I really enjoyed the game, up to that point.
 6.5 out of 10.

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