Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: Pandora's Tower

Ok I've said this on Twitter like a dozen times but this game is what a 3D Castlevania should be like and if Konami gets Ganbarion to make it for them for the PS Move this can be it's template. Ahem... this is the 3rd game in the Operation: Rainfall wish list and if the NOA Testers in the credits is a clue then this will see a North American release. Anyway... after nearly 40 hours of play I'm here to review Pandora's Tower, the last great Wii game before the Wii U swallows up the Wii's existence.

Ok the story is a dark tale about a woman named Elena and a man named Aeron(the Japanese names are different by the way.) Elena is afflicted with a curse that is turning her into a monster. Aeron, Elena and the mysterious old woman named Mavda travel to the Thirteen Towers to cure Elena's curse using the beast flesh of the towers guardians called "Masters". Aeron must brave the towers using the Oraclos Chain to defeat the Masters and cure Elena. That almost sounds like what'd you'd expect from the back of the box huh? Maybe I'm getting better at this?

Gameplay is a little hard to describe because no one game plays similar to this. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, Devil May Cry and Legend of Zelda are the first few that come to mind as games that may have inspired this but it's so unique as well. Before I go into further details let me warn you to not use the Classic Controller with this game because it's too awkward and since there's a pointer the Wiimote is preferred. The game is an action game like Castlevania and Devil May Cry in it's major combat but you have a chain which can be used to bound enemies, depending on where you target them. This chain is also used in platforming like the hookshot in Legend of Zelda and is used to extract items from fallen enemy corpses... or you can destroy the bodies with your weapon, though doing so will not yield beast flesh very often. Also since the game has no auto or manual targeting system you'll have to make sure you're facing the enemy to hit it.

The games basic layout is a lot like Legend of Zelda. There are 12 dungeons in total, each with it's own special unique items to collect and consisting of the basic elemental environments like water, fire, earth, forest, steel, light and darkness. Along with traversing dungeons you'll need to head back to base every so often to feed Elena beast flesh to stop her from transforming, the longer you wait the worse the transformation and if the gauge in the bottom left corner empties... well it's Game Over... duh! The game also uses a time cycle mechanic that effects what items and enemies you'll find at certain times of the day. This is vital to know when item hunting or trying to avoid tougher monsters. The dungeons have a lot of puzzles to solve and can be challenging to complete and there are time puzzles so failure will happen a few time while solving them.

The game has items to collect for a variety of things, most are either healing items or materials that can be used to make new items and equipment. Some items can be purchased from Mavda to save time hunting but some can only be bought through her. You'll also find books in the dungeons during your journey as well as books in the base after each dungeon. Some books require translating and Elena will do it for you. You can sell these books to Mavda for some cash too.

Some of the items bought or made are gifts that can be given to Elena to either give you more carrying capacity or grow your bond with her. The point of growing the bond between Elena and Aeron is for each ending so depending on which of the 5 endings your after, you should shower her with gifts and talk to her enough for each ending you're after.

There are a few weapons to collect in the game, these can be upgraded with the materials obtained throughout the towers. Each weapon has levels to earn and at certain levels your charge attack will gain more power and additional attacks. To perform these attacks you hold A and release, pressing A again as a blue circle shrinks towards Aeron.

Along side your weapons leveling up this game also has you earning experience as you defeat monsters. In addition to leveling up to boost stats you'll earn more equipment space to equip more accessories and armor. Each time you level up you'll restore health so there's a little comfort from level grinding in a tough area.

At the top of each tower there is a Master to fight. These monster each have a unique strategy required to beat them and all have a flashing weak point that can only be damaged by the Oraclos Chain. These fights are challenging and the difficult curve between each boss is relatively well balanced. Defeating a boss will land you the Master Flesh needed to help cure Elena and unlock the next tower and sometimes new stock at Mavda's shop.

The game can be cleared in about 12 hours on a rush through and depending on how much effort you put into your relationship with Elena. After finishing the game you'll unlock a New Game+ mode that will carry over everything from your last play and let you choose which point in the game to start from. You'll also unlock new items in the shop to purchase, including keys to unlock the doors you couldn't go through the first time. Difficulty doesn't get harder after finishing the game so fighting will be a lot easier second time around. Also a warning to everyone, if you go for the best ending first you will need to start a new file just to get the other endings and nothing will carry over to it.

Now on to the big question... is it good? YES it is! The combat works well and the platforming and puzzles are satisfying. Boss fights are challenging and the multiple endings invite multiple playthroughs. The game looks beautiful and sounds great too, even though there isn't much diversity to the music. The story is also deep and emotional and you really feel for Elena during the game. As I was playing I couldn't help but feel for her when I spent too much time in a tower and she started turning into a monster and feeling embarrassed about how she looked and how much clumsier she became. It made me so determined to keep her from ever transforming and to fight those bosses A.S.A.P. Watching the relationship build between Aeron and Elena you really know they are a couple in love and the more you increase their bond, the more you see it. Where was I? Oh yeah the review... ahem. The game is great and I highly recommend it. If you haven't played your Wii in a while and want a good Castlevania/Zelda like game this will satisfy you very much. Don't let this game pass you and no, it's not a JRPG like we keep getting told. It's an action/adventure game.

Score 5/5

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