Pandora’s Tower (Wii) Review
The Wii has not been without its hardcore games now for quite some time. If you’re one of those people who complain about the console receiving nothing but casual shovelware, you either clinically blind, not trying or looking hard enough or just plain ignorant. We’ve had two amazing RPGs for the Wii in the past year, both of which caused quite a bit of fuss in the States. The third, while still somewhat an RPG, is more of an action game and easily my favourite of the “trilogy” of games coming out of Japan. Pandora’s Tower is an incredibly dark story filled with incredibly interesting gameplay. Is it a game for you – are the towers worth a climb? I think, for the most part, yes. Of course you might need to know more before making any decisions. That’s what I’m here for.
The story of Pandora’s Tower is quite simple. You play as Aeron, a soldier who is 22 years old and befriends Elena, an 18 year old girl who is a strong believer of Aios, which is a religion. The story opens with Elena singing at the Harvest Festival of her town, Athos. During the ceremony, monsters attack the kingdom and essentially curse Elena. With no options but to flee the town, Aeron and Elena meet Mavda, a merchant of the mysterious Vestra race. Mavda insists that in order for Elena to be cured of the curse, she must consume the flesh of the masters of “the towers”, thirteen ominous structures each housing an old and ancient being. Of course, Aeron, being the rather chivalrous lad he is, decides to head off to each of the thirteen towers, find the master flesh, and force feed it to Elena to cure her of the curse and prevent her from turning into a beast.
As it sounds, Pandora’s Tower is an incredibly dark and twisted story that really surprised me; I did not expect Nintendo to publish something that is so perturbing. It’s not something that is befitting of an 18+ or MA15+ rating, mind you, but it is a bit weird to boot the game up and force a young girl to consume what is essentially the meat of slain monsters. Still, overall the game itself does tell a very interesting story and thankfully, while you’ll think one thing is going to happen, the conclusion will satisfy and possibly surprise you. Unlike The Last Story, the big twists are not so obviously telegraphed in advance. Essentially, you’ll want to keep playing to find out what’s going on and that’s always a plus. In addition to this, the relationship between Elena and Aeron is well developed, and you’ll probably find yourself wanting to care for her as time goes on. The only real issue I have overall with the game’s story is Aeron himself. He’s not a silent protagonist, as such, but he is so boring and uninteresting. It makes you wonder why Elena is attracted to him.
Pandora’s Tower is a little bit of a mixed bag when it comes to presentation. The graphics themselves are serviceable; the character and monster designs (especially the bosses) look great and animate well and the environments are very well designed. The landscapes, in particular, are beautiful and are designed and presented in a way that makes you feel like the places you’re going to are absolutely huge. As most of the game takes place in vertical space rather than horizontal space, this is very important and it’s great to see that this “vibe” has been captured pretty much perfectly. The colours themselves are a bit of a letdown. There were more times than not where it’s quite noticeable that the game is just brown and yellow, but when you get to some more colourful and vibrant towers, it’s great. During all the action, the frame rate stays steady too.
The action is punctuated with some very ominous orchestral and choral tracks, some of which just feel so damn oppressing. It really helps convey a sense of isolation inside each of the towers and somehow makes you feel like what you’re doing is more important than anything else. It’s a weird feeling but that’s the sign of a good soundtrack – it evokes emotions from you that tie you to the game experience. The voice work in particular is top notch; Elena is incredibly cute and Mavda sounds old and experienced with her voice. As previously mentioned, Aeron is flat, boring and dull and it’s a wonder why they bothered making him speak at all!
When it boils down to it, Pandora’s Tower is an action game with very light RPG elements. It’s easily compared to Zelda, but I would be a little bit controversial and say that it has a bit more depth in its combat than Zelda does. The reason for this is the weapons that you are provided with; the developers give you three weapons and a chain. The chain itself is your main “tool” to play around with in battle and with such a small amount of weapons in the game, the developers really do a great job at making sure you use all of them. It’s clear the game was designed around using the chain to complete puzzles, defeat enemies and of course, retrieve beast flesh for Elena.
Pandora’s Tower, as the name suggests, has you searching towers for beast flesh to cure Elena. The game is pretty much the same throughout the whole adventure; you must enter a tower, destroy the chains blocking the boss door, enter the boss’s chamber and defeat them. It sounds simple and it kind of is, but each tower has a unique and distinct art style, and there are some interesting puzzles between you and each of the chains to keep things feeling fresh. I guess my main point here is that while the game sounds boring and repetitive with the way it’s structured, it’s not. Throughout the whole game I didn’t really feel like I was getting bored and I never wanted to turn it off. It was a great experience, whether you were just exploring the towers and taking in the scenery or battling enemies.
There are three weapons for Aeron to use; a sword, twin blades and a scythe. Each provides more or less power or speed than the other and can be upgraded, but the real star of the show is the Oraclos Chain. This chain can be used for anything, and that alone is the reason we recommend you play this with the Wii Remote rather than anything else. At any point in battle Aeron can target enemies and wrap one end of the chain around them. From this point, he can either throw them, tie them to certain objects to bind their movement, or even bind them to another enemy. When bound to another enemy, enemies who are linked take damage together. I was amazed at how well thought out this system was as it really gave the combat depth that I was not expecting at all. What’s even more cool is that specific parts can be bound too. For example, bound a creatures legs and watch it trip, or bound it’s weapon and flick the Wii Remote to rip it out of their hands (and subsequently use it against them). It’s a cool combat system that keeps things fresh and interesting, and you’ll really enjoy finding new and exciting ways to murder things. The part I enjoyed most (but please don’t view me as a psychopath) was ripping the flesh out of dead bodies of enemies to take back to Elena with the Wii Remote – it just feels so good! The boss battles are almost puzzle-like in the way they are designed, with some requiring the player to use their main weapons, their chain, or even both.
The biggest and most contentious issue with regards to this game is definitely Elena. She is a good character, at times – bringing her certain items will allow her to craft you better ones and bringing her gifts (and chatting with her regularly) raises her affinity which affects your ending. But then, there’s the whole “curse” mechanic. When Aeron is out in the towers finding flesh for Elena, there is a timer running down constantly. Let it reach zero, and Elena will succumb to the curse and its game over for the player.
I will be honest here. This is a mechanic that will really annoy some players, but for others they will not find fault with it. While I fall into the latter group, I understand there are some who hate timers and will hate it, but at the same time I must mention that at no points throughout this whole game did I feel like I was being rushed nor did I feel like Elena was being annoying. You almost always have flesh on you if you are battling enemies, and you will (if you’re a smart player) return to your “base” anyway to stock up on items before a boss battle or something so most of the time you will find the time to help her out and reset the timer. It’s very Majora’s Mask-esque and to be honest I kind of like it! Too many times do games mention that something is urgent but then doesn’t give you a sense of urgency. I felt that Pandora’s Tower gave me this sense but at the same time it wasn’t limiting or annoying.
Pandora’s Tower is a journey that is quite lengthy, but not something too ridiculous. At no point did I want it to end, but I was satisfied with everything that happened throughout the whole fifteen hour journey. For those who really want everything, changing your affinity level with Elena will affect how the ending plays out. It’s a nice touch to offer replay value, but many frankly, may not be bothered. Additionally, players can continue to upgrade their weapons or even craft new items and such to get everything out of the game, but really once you’ve finished Pandora’s Tower there is little to come back to. At fifteen hours (or twenty depending on how much you explore) you’ve really got a well-rounded and substantial package. The game is quite difficult at times too, so it provides a great challenge to the player.
Overall, Pandora’s Tower is a great action game that manages to combine a very interesting and well-developed locale with some truly innovative and well thought-out battle mechanics to provide a solid action adventure. Sure, there are light RPG elements in equipment crafting, but this is wholeheartedly an action game – or to be more accurate, an action-drama-puzzle-romance. It’s a weird combination of genres but surprisingly it handles them all rather well. I’m interested to see more stories set in the Pandora’s Tower universe, as it is a well-crafted one. If you’re into something that doesn’t demand a massive time sink from the player, nor devotion to learning it’s intricacies, this one is just for you. The story and combat alone are worth the price of admission. An unexpected and unfounded gem in the Wii’s library.