Pandora’s Tower Review
Platform(s): Nintendo Wii
Genre: Action/Adventure, RPG
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer(s): Ganbarion, Nintendo
Release Date: April 16, 2013
Well folks, it finally happened. The final piece of what I like to call the “Operation Rainfall Trilogy” has made landfall in North America, marking the campaign as a monumental success not only for Wii owners, but for gamers as a whole. The fact that I was able to play Pandora’s Tower, an action/adventure RPG with a few similarities to Nintendo’s own representation of the genre, The Legend of Zelda, is a testament to the power of gamers in being able to unite for a common cause, even if that cause was only to bring some unique role-playing games to the US. I wished we could have received better games out of the deal, though. Xenoblade was a great game, don’t get me wrong, but The Last Story was a pretty big disappointment, in my eyes. Pandora’s Tower was to be the game that would justify the effort in bringing these games to North America. Unfortunately, it has utterly and completely failed to do so, existing as an even bigger letdown than The Last Story.
The game follows the unfortunate love story between Aeron, a quiet, yet brave young soldier, and his lover, a songstress by the name of Elena, who has been afflicted with a curse that, left unchecked, will turn her into a monstrosity. Along with a mysterious woman by the name of Mavda, who offers to help the couple lift the curse, they set out for the Thirteen Towers, which hang by chains over a large pit known as The Scar, keeping the pit from spreading wider and wider and thus causing serious damage to the world. In order to cure Elena, Aeron must ascend each of the towers in order to defeat each “Master”, or boss, if you will, extract the “master flesh” from their bodies, and feed them to Elena.
I will admit that the story was at least decent. It manages to throw a few curveballs your way, and while some of them you can see coming from a mile away, it still managed to keep my interest somewhat. Watching Elena struggle with the curse tends to get old and overly melodramatic, though, and watching her transform, moan and gasp every time she eats flesh had me skipping the cutscenes, as they grew old very fast and were nothing but awkward to watch. She makes so much noise that I thought someone was eventually going to peek into my room and expect me to be watching porn.
The game does manage to throw more than one possible ending your way, depending on your affinity with Elena. You can give her gifts and chat with her in an effort to strengthen your relationship, and the higher your affinity, the better ending you’ll get. I legitimately tried hard to gain her favor, but wound up with a middle-of-the-road ending. I can’t imagine the amount of hoops you’d have to jump through to get her to like you enough, as I spent a lot of my precious money buying her gifts, only for her to destroy them when she would start mutating. It felt like an endless money pit with nothing to really show for it.
Speaking of Elena’s mutation, Pandora’s Tower is time-based, meaning every time you go to a tower, you have a circular timer on the lower left of the screen ticking away. If you let it go empty, Elena mutates completely and it’s game over, so you’ll get the worst possible ending. The ways to avoid this are to either get the master flesh and bring it to her, or bring her some of the more common flesh from the regular baddies you’ll run into in each tower in order to hold the curse back temporarily before you dive back in to finish the tower. Yes, the concept of feeding your loved one flesh is very macabre and one of the more interesting elements of Pandora’s Tower. It’s gruesome to watch her eat it, and if you’re squeamish, you might feel more comfortable simply looking away or skipping the scenes altogether. However, it definitely shows the toll the curse is taking on their relationship in a very effective and emotional manner.
In order to feed her that flesh, though, you unfortunately have to traverse each tower, with the goal being to break every chain blocking the Master’s door at the end. This is where things go south, and fast. For starters, the dungeons are simply as dull as a well-used razor. The first five towers each have their own theme, with one being earth and another being water, etc., just like the Zelda franchise. That’s exactly it, though. This sort of thing has been done before, over and over again. We’ve dealt with element-based dungeons before, but the most criminal thing with Pandora’s Tower’s dungeon designs is that they get recycled halfway through the game. What’s that? You already did a water tower with a giant water wheel? Here’s another one that looks almost identical, but instead we made traveling between the floors more of a pain in the ass this time. You already went through a fire tower that had a smelter room? Have another one with what is essentially the same room with the same gimmicks, but with a more convoluted layout. See what I’m getting at here? Not only are the dungeon designs not all that great to begin with, but the developers actually recycled the damn things. It’s embarrassingly lazy and shows a complete lack of innovation on Ganbarion’s part, instead opting to pad the game with unoriginal and recycled ideas. They clearly took the easy way out.
While you trudge about traveling through those god-forsaken abominations, you’ll be wielding one major facet of Aeron’s arsenal besides his standard sword, called the Oraclos Chain. This chain is what helps him to get around, allowing him to grapple onto objects, hooks, swings, and even enemies, making for a rather versatile tool. How you control it, though, definitely has room for improvement. You have two choices; you can use the Wii remote to point the chain as you grapple on to things, or go the Classic Controller Pro route and use the right stick to move a reticule around the screen. I found the Wiimote option to be far superior, as you can aim while attacking enemies at the same time and you have greater precision and faster movement, whereas the Classic Controller forces you to take your thumb off of the face buttons in order to aim the rather slow reticule, leading to some frustrations during combat. I normally don’t favor motion controlled options, but it’s clearly the better control scheme here. The game doesn’t use waggle for attacking, either, which is a definite plus.
No matter which option you select, though, there is no lock-on option, which makes using the chain problematic at times. A lock-on feature would have improved this game dramatically, as I found that, since the game is time-based, I had to get around quickly and precisely, but sometimes objects I needed to grab on to were very small, making it tougher to aim. The greater problem is when enemies decide to obscure the object I was trying to grab, a I instead grab the enemy, making matters more aggravating. The Oraclos Chain is also used for puzzles, but they are pretty much nothing but pulling switches and platforms, are overly simplistic, and have been done a million times before, with the only really creative use being using it to lock enemies in objects in place by tethering them to another object. One instance with a water wheel and rotating it to the right position was so downright infuriating that I almost shut off the game and walked away. For a time-based game, it was far too tedious and every time I moved it into a different position, I felt like I was taking a shot in the dark, which there simply isn’t time for trial and error here.
Then there’s the combat of Pandora’s Tower, which also fails to impress. Here is a typical battle in a nutshell. You come across an enemy, start hammering the A button until it gets ready to attack as it rarely flinches from your attack, then quickly try to dodge or block hoping you were in time. If you dodged it, repeat the same combo over and over again until it finally dies, and if it’s a pretty large enemy (most are), expect to hammer that A button for about ten full combos. If you were hit, you’re likely now missing about a third of your health, at least. I kid you not. Throughout the entire game, enemies typically did outrageous amounts of damage, no matter what my level was. If you happen to be fighting two or more large enemies, it’s a death wish. Some enemies are capable of one-hit kills, especially ones that have a purple fog surrounding them. It seems their purpose in the game was to break it, as they take any sort of balance this game has, which is little, and throw it off a bridge. What is even more infuriating is not only how little the amount of healing items you can find and buy (you can only buy one of each type per shop visit for each tower), but using them forces Aeron into an animation of him digging into his pocket and ten throwing it into the air, leaving him vulnerable to attack the entire time. I’ve had healing items wasted this way, and considering the limited availability of them, it simply made fights worse.
To that end, I found myself constantly avoiding fights, as they were drawn out and infuriating affairs with little depth and meaning, as boss fights really aren’t much easier if you happen to be a higher level. The Oraclos Chain is only ever useful during fights with one enemy because if you actually want to do any sort of decent amount of damage, you have to pull back on the chain with the left stick to charge it after you’ve grappled with it, which is impossible when enemies are attacking you from behind and you’re forced to rely on the abysmal evasion system.
Which brings me to the boss fights. I am happy to say (yes, happy) that the boss fights are the only truly satisfying element of Pandora’s Tower. Every fight is varied, though the one key element in damaging every boss is the Oraclos Chain. In fact, it’s the only way to hurt them, as you have to expose their weak spot, grapple on, charge it by pulling away from the boss, then give the Wiimote a yank once the meter is full, dealing some serious damage. One boss tasks you with pulling armor off of its body, which will either reveal the weak spot or a tendril that will attack you. Another has you pulling the enemy out of sunlight so you can hack away at it enough to expose the weak spot, then quickly grappling on to do some damage before it makes its way back into the light. Yet another has you rotating armor around its body in order to line it up with the weak spot before the enemy leaps into the air and resets the position of its armor and weakness, serving as a timed puzzle of sorts on top of being a boss fight. Some can be a bit frustrating at times, but my experiences with the boss fights are actually far more positive than negative, as I felt like the developers gave a damn in how they designed each one. The final boss itself is definitely climactic and demands absolute mastery of the Oraclos Chain, as well as quite a few healing items. One big thing with boss fights is, as I mentioned a bit earlier, avoiding regular battles and thus not leveling up isn’t really a big deal because you never use your sword to actually deal damage to the boss, and perhaps the only advantage is the amount of health you have, which also doesn’t really matter because the bosses actually don’t feel overpowered, which is a severe contrast to regular enemies, further bringing into question the overall imbalanced design of the game. Your Oraclos Chain gains power every time you defeat a boss, not every time you level up, so you’ll always be able to do more and more damage with it as the game rolls on regardless of your level, rendering normal fights pretty much as pointless as I stated above.
Pandora’s Tower’s visuals are at least decent, with a fantasy style injected into its design that won’t blow you away in the slightest. It’s far from the best-looking title the Wii has to offer, but at least it’s clean and consistent. The only problem, as I stated before in regards to dungeons, are reused assets that greatly limit the variety of visuals you’ll get to see. The camera can be an issue as well, as it is fixed, but at times won’t always provide you with the best angle of the platform you need to leap towards, which can make platforming (which is done in the same vein as Zelda) awkward and very hit-or-miss, leading to several moments of frustration. The camera also has issues during some fights where it simply won’t follow Aeron to the side of the screen, instead cutting your view off to the point where you can’t see Aeron at all.
The technical issues certainly do not end there. Perhaps one of the most laughable issues with Pandora’s Tower is a game-breaking bug when you try to enter Towers 11 and 12 for the first time. If you happen to select one of them, the game will freeze up and lock you Wii console, forcing you to shut down your Wii by holding down the Power button, forcing it off. There is a workaround that entails you falling asleep for an hour, chatting with Elena until she has nothing new left to say, then leaving, but even then it doesn’t always work. This issue, as far as I read into it, did not exist in the European version of the game released last year, meaning XSEED screwed the pooch somewhere. I don’t care if there’s a tedious workaround. An issue like this should not exist and it boggles the mind how so many people are running into this issue, yet XSEED somehow didn’t pick up on this during testing. It’s yet another black eye on a title I’ve already spent almost this entire review beating to death.
I wanted to like this game, more than anything. I needed a game to help justify the effort for Operation Rainfall, but Pandora’s Tower has shattered my hopes. It has great boss fights, and the plot is half decent, but that’s all it has going for it and can’t replace the amount of moments I became frustrated with the game over a cheap death against a regular enemy, struggled with the platforming, or was simply bored to the point that I wanted to shut down the Wii and walk away to play something much better. It’s by and far an atrocious way to sendoff the Wii, as it likely doesn’t have any releases left down the line and it definitely deserves far better. As dire as Elena’s situation is with the curse, you’re better off just letting her turn into a monster, as picking up Pandora’s Tower is a far more painful experience for you than what she’ll ever have to go through.