The Towers Of Pandora.
Which Operation Rainfall game do you have?
In case you want to get the game yourself.
I still can't believe that this actually happened. When Operation Rainfall started back in 2011, I knew in my gut that both Xenobalde and The Last Story had at least a shot of getting a North American release. Why? Because both games had famous names attached to them. The head developer of Xenoblade was Tetsuya Takahashi, the same man who made the beautifully dark Xenogears on the PSone, and the Xenosaga Trilogy on the PS2. While The Last Story was made by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy series. So understandably the demand for these games was high amongst gamers, and both games were a financial and critical success when released. But Pandora's Tower on the other hand....I had very little hope for. It was a new IP from a company no one had heard of, there was no real demand for it when compared to the other two, and by the time Rainfall got around to promoting it, Nintendo was gearing up for the release of the WiiU. Faced with this and dwindling interest in the overall campaign, Operation Rainfall retired its efforts and now primarily exists as a great niche gaming news site. But for a long while, it seemed as though my original assumption about Pandora's Tower was correct....and then game publisher Xseed (the same company that brought over The Last Story), dropped the ball and announced that they would be releasing Pandora's Tower in the spring of this year (last month to be exact . This was a huge shock, and let me tell you....it was a VERY pleasant shock. Because this game is AMAZING!
Story 9 out of 10.
Pandora's Tower at its core is a love story. It takes place in a fantasy world recovering from a decades long war between the Kingdom of Elyria and the nation of Athos that nearly ripped the world apart. You play as Aeron, a former Athos soldier living in Elyria. During the harvest festival, your girlfriend, a young singer from Elyria and strong believer in the religion of Aios named Elena, is cursed when monsters attack the Elyrian capital. After escaping pursuit from the city guard with the help of a traveling merchant/ old crone named Mavda (and her freaky backpack) you discover that, if left untreated, the curse will eventually turn Elena into a monster. The way to lifting the curse lies in the wastelands of Elyria, where a massive chasm called "the Scar" is held together by a structure called the Thirteen Towers and its massive chains. Aeron must traverse into the towers and bring back the flesh of each of the thirteen masters at top of each tower for Elena to eat, only when she's eaten flesh from all of the masters will the curse be lifted.
In a way, the plot is reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus, only without the minimalist approach to story. At the same time, the game also adopts the Dark Souls practice of having an overabundance of lore. Although these usually take on the form of documents that you find throughout each area, its also dispensed by talking with Elena and Mavda, heck some of the documents can only be translated by Elena so interacting with them is mandatory. Thankfully these documents are well written and interesting to read. But reading them also has a practical purpose, as some of the lore is actually quite useful, I.e. some of it will tell you the weakness of a boss, so you'll want to hunt this stuff down, and thankfully its fun to do and never feels like busy work.
The development of Aeron and Elena's relationship is what drives the plot. Elena and Mavda will stay behind in a nearby observation post while you go into the towers. So when you're not fighting monsters you'll be spending time with Elena and that takes up a big part of the game. Which makes sense. After all, it is a love story. So you'll want to spend time talking to her, giving her gifts, giving her enemy meat to eat to hold back the curse (which I'll talk about later) and generally making this difficult time as comfortable as possible for her. Doing so will strengthen their relationship, and depending on how strong their relationship is will affect the outcome of the story. Some people might see this as a little misogynistic (in a "shes weak because she's depending on a man" sort of way); but honestly i don't see it that way, and I don't think that the developers meant it that way either. I actually found myself wanting to help her while playing. Sure, she looks more comfortable playing house than cutting through hordes of bad guys, but I don't really see that as a negative thing here. She has a different kind of strength, an inner strength that helps everyone in face of a hopeless situation.
As a result, the game has one of the strongest plots that I've experienced in a long time. It's simple and heartwarming, you can actually feel the love between these two characters grow as you progress. I don't have a single bad thing to say about it.
Gameplay: 9 out of 10.
A word on the controllers.
You can use either the Wiimote & nunchuck or the Classic Controller/Classic Controller pro. But I really can't recommend using the Wiimote and nunchuck. Why? Because, although the game is perfectly playable using the Wiimote, it's still kinda awkward to use, your movements don't always register and your arm will get tired from waving the bloody thing around. So yeah, definitely use the classic controller if you have it. But if you don't, then I highly recommend getting an to replace the pitiful sensor the console came with, and a Ultra Sensor Bar (which is built into the newer models). Trust me, it will make your life alot easier. Wii motion plus
Aside from hanging out with Elena, gameplay in Pandora's Tower can best be described as a cross between The Legend of Zelda's dungeon crawling, Metroid's exploration, and the (good) Bionic Commando games. The goal of each tower is simple, to reach the top of the level and beat the boss without dying. But the door to each boss is held shut by a set of chains that you have to destroy, and that's where the Zelda and Metroid aspect of the game play comes in. Each Tower is massive, tempting you explore every nook and cranny for loot, lore and a piece of beast flesh or two. What makes this more interesting is a chain that Mavda gives you early on. And that's where Bionic Commando's influence comes in.
The chain is primarily used in combat, you can grab an enemy with it and then pull them towards you, whip them around, throw them, jerk on it for some damage or to collect flesh to take back to Elena, or you can chain monsters to an object or another monster to do some extra damage to both targets.The chain is used for exploration as well, as you'll need it to reach certain areas, solve puzzles, open certain doors and so on. It never really gets old. As for healing yourself, well, your healing items are shown in the bottom right corner of the screen, and you can scroll through them using the left and right buttons on the d-pad. You use them by hitting up on the up button. Its not the most convenient thing in the world, but it gets the job done.
Be warned though, rushing through the game is not recommended. Because Elena's condition will deteriorate as you explore the towers, and if you let the curse consume her, you'll get a game over. Fortunately, you can keep track of her condition thanks to a circular gauge in the bottom left corner. You can replenish the gauge by returning to the observatory from time to time and giving her fresh flesh from certain monsters. Some flesh works better than others, but if you take too long it will spoil and do nothing. So I recommend giving her the best flesh you've got, and then selling the rest to Mavda.
Speaking of Mavda, she's serves as the game's store who does...well, what merchants do in real life and games. She can also upgrade your equipment if the have the coin and the right materials. She can also craft and repair items and equipment for you and she'll sometime times have useful hints if you talk to her. Like for example, the game has a day and night cycle and some of the enemies and bosses are weaker during different times during the day. So talking to her is worth it sometimes.
One of the brightest highlights of the game are the bosses, each one is like a puzzle, requiring a little strategic thinking to best them. The basic idea behind each one, though, is to expose their weak spot and then shoot the chain at the weak spot. once done, you tug on it to build up the tension and, when that is maxed out, you jerk on the chain for massive amounts of damage. It can get pretty challenging, but not unfairly so.
I really only have two complaints. The first is that you have limited inventory space to start with, and your equipment window is frustrating similar to Resident Evil 4's attache case in the sense that each bit of equipment takes up a certain amount of squares. The observatory has an item box so you can store extra gear and you can upgrade both your inventory space and equipment window as the game progresses. So its not that big of a deal. My second complaint is that, outside of boss battles, none of your attacks actually seem to have any sort of weight behind them. Seriously, you can whack at them till the cat jumps over the moon, but they rarely even stagger unless you use a charge attack, or wrap them up in the chain. You learn more progressively more powerful skills as your weapons get upgraded, which is nice, but it still would have been better to actually feel like you're doing some damage.
Final Score: 9 out of 10.
The Wii couldn't have asked for a better swan song. Yes it's a shame that this game couldn't arrive in America before the Wii U but I say better late than never. If you're a fan of RPG's or just want one final adventure with your Wii then I say brave the Towers and get it. You'll be glad that you did ^_^.
© 2013 Will English.