Yes, you ARE reading the headline correctly. It’s 2013 and we’re still getting releases on the Nintendo Wii, and a niche JRPG at that.
I will be the first to admit that I did not expect Pandora’s Tower to make it to North America. At least with games like Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, there were big names behind those titles to drive interest. Monolith Soft was infamous for their work on Xenogears and the Xenosaga franchise, and Mistwalker is headed up by Hironobu Sakaguchi, a man who built his career on the back of Final Fantasy. Pandora’s Tower, on the other hand, comes from developer Ganbarion, whose prior work consists entirely of anime licensed games. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find that the game is actually pretty fun.
Pandora’s Tower casts you into the role of Aeron, a former soldier of the kingdom of Athos, as he embarks on a quest to remove a curse afflicting his friend/lover, Elena. The curse leaves a brand on her back, and slowly transforms her into a hideous beast, which will result in her demise if left unchecked. The only way to undo the curse is to visit the thirteen towers that lie chained to the center of a gaping chasm known as the Scar, and have her eat the flesh of the twelve “Masters” that reside there. They are assisted in part by an old Vestra woman named Mavda, who grants Aeron the Oraclos Chain, a magical chain that can be used to rip the flesh away from the Masters.
For as little as the game gives you to go on at the beginning, Pandora’s Tower does a good job of feeding you just enough information between towers to stay invested in the couple’s plight and see the journey through to the end. This is especially impressive, given that the story only has three protagonists to work with (four if you count the thing on Mavda’s back). Each time you bring back a Master’s flesh, Elena will experience a dream that reveals a little bit about the origins of the Masters, as well as the catastrophe that created the Scar. There are also texts scattered about that can be read that will help fill in the blanks further. You get as much effort out of the story as you’re willing to put into learning about it, and to that end it’s quite successful.
The other facet to the game’s plot is the relationship that builds between Aeron and Elena. Talking with Elena, answering questions, and giving her gifts will all build your bond with her, and the higher your bond, the more items you’ll receive in return, as well as the greater likelihood that you’ll earn a better ending. Despite not knowing too much about her, it doesn’t take long to start caring about her eventual fate. Her vibrant personality eventually grows on you and you start to feel responsible whenever your long endeavors in the tower cause her transformation to worsen. To listen to her apologize for making a mess on the floor on account of all the goop being secreted from her arms and legs is just heartbreaking. Random cutscenes, both good and bad, will randomly occur as you pass through the observatory as well.
Despite the limited power of the now incredibly dated Wii capabilities, Pandora’s Tower still looks pretty sharp (though the upscaling power of the Wii U I played it on may have helped this some). The environments are generally pretty striking, especially when outside of the towers; viewing them chained up in the background is breathtaking. Aiming the chain and viewing things up close makes everything look quite a bit less impressive though, as the entire viewing area becomes incredibly pixelated. I also found that the character models do a nice job of portraying some of the more emotional scenes, especially the ones that focus on Elena’s hesitance and utter disgust at consuming the flesh of beasts. The sound effects enhance these moments, as Elena’s chewing and swallowing are quite audible, and you feel just as grossed out as she does (I mean, c’mon, that meat is PURPLE).
The voice cast is quite good, consisting of talent of the same caliber as Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, so expect some heavy European accents, particularly from Elena. The main character, Aeron, doesn’t really say much, save for moments where a reply is required on his part, though strangely, there are times when he does speak that aren’t voiced. The creepy voice of the old woman, Mavda, is especially entertaining, and she sounds like a cackling witch. Also deserving of praise is the game’s soundtrack, that, while soothing during the time spent in the observatory, becomes spectacularly epic when it comes time to battle one of the Masters.
While Pandora’s Tower can be played with both a Wii/nunchuk combination and the Classic Controller Pro, I found the former to be the most comfortable. The game is an action RPG, and while I originally didn’t find the base combat to be all that satisfying, the utility of the Oraclos Chain more than makes up for it. The A button will swing Aeron’s sword, and multiple swings will result in a combo of sorts. It doesn’t feel as satisfying to hack away at enemies as, say, a Zelda title. I’m not sure if this is because of a lack of lock-on, or because it doesn’t feel like your attacks are very powerful, even when your weapons are upgraded. Despite that, aiming the Wii remote at the enemy and pressing B will launch a chain at whatever body part you had targeted. While the enemy is ensnared, you can take swings at them, sometimes unabated if you have a body part wrapped up that keeps them incapacitated. Moving in the opposite direction while an enemy is chained will build up a chain meter at the bottom of the screen, and pulling back on the Wii remote will pull the chain out, causing damage (this is coincidentally the only way to damage Masters, by pulling out Master Flesh using this method).
That’s not all. Once wrapped up in the chain, you can pick enemies up and swing them around, fling them against a wall or into chasms, or chain them to other enemies so that they all receive damage when you inflict punishment upon them. This is just on regular foes too; boss battles with the Masters, you’ll consistently find new uses for the chain that you have to discover as you fight. Honestly, the whole thing gives off a Shadow of the Colossus type vibe, even if it’s not quite to that level of design.
Aside from being a weapon, the chain is also utilized in pulling objects or swinging over wide chasms. Using the zoom function, some of the smaller enemies can be dispatched by flicking the pointy end of the chain at them almost like a retractable bullet. While Aeron can block or dodge any attacks sent his way, the biggest obstacle to his survival is undoubtedly the camera. It’s always fixated in a view that the game wants you to have, much like Devil May Cry or the God of War games, but it doesn’t always provide the best view for the action. Especially when you’re in mid jump and the camera changes to a new view without warning. The enemies you face also love to come charging from the darkest corners of the dungeon too, though fortunately, boss battles don’t seem to have this issue.
Like other RPG’s of this nature, you will gain levels as you defeat enemies that both increase Aeron’s strength and his capacity for equipping items. Each item he has equipped takes up so many slots in his inventory, including his sword (though other weapons can be found), and can be anything from body armor to gems that enhance strength and defense. Equipped items can be broken during battle and, in turn, have to be repaired by Mavda in the Observatory. There are also consumables that can be used with the directional pad to heal Aeron or teleport him out of the towers that is limited by how much inventory space he has. Giving certain materials to Elena will allow her to craft items that can increase this capacity, but expect to make many trips back to the Observatory at the beginning to unload all of the crap you find on your journey.
Speaking of making a lot of trips back, another meter that you have to pay attention to illustrates how close Elena is to transforming. If you let it run too low, she will begin sprouting tentacles out of her arm, though letting it run empty is a game over. This feature alone may be a deal breaker for many people. On the one hand, it definitely adds to the challenge of the game, as in titles like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask that came before it, you really have to be good at time management when you’re in a dungeon. On the other hand, it’s also incredibly disruptive to have to drop what you’re doing and run back in order to feed Elena some of the flesh you picked up during your trip. Fortunately, you unlock shortcuts in each tower that make resuming your progress much less of a hassle than it seems, though some of the later towers are so confusing that you may not remember where you were or what, exactly, you were doing.
There’s also a meter illustrating the bond between Aeron and Elena. This gauge will directly effect the ending of the game, and allowing Elena to get close to transforming or giving her terrible gifts will lower it. The only way to raise it is by talking with her and giving her nice things, such as new dresses or jewelry. She does wear the things you give her, so you at least know these items aren’t going to waste.
Materials found in towers can be brought to Mavda and crafted into new items, such as restorative potions or new things to equip. Weapons can also be upgraded here, and there are a few things that can be both bought and sold. Additional flesh that you find will eventually spoil, and Mavda will offer to buy this and any translated texts that you run across. Most anything you need can be found without ever having to spend a dime, though if you’re finding it challenging to obtain enough of a particular item, Mavda usually has it for sale.
The core story can be run through between fifteen to twenty hours, though there are multiple endings to discover and a New Game+ mode unlocks new rooms and items that weren’t available the first time around. There’s also a whole slew of texts that can be found that reveal more about the world that the game takes place in, which is a nice bonus. Pandora’s Tower launched at a low forty dollar price point too, so while it doesn’t come with all of the neat collectibles that you might expect from a niche JRPG, it’s also reasonably priced for the content. It does have a reversible cover though, which is neat.
I didn’t think Pandora’s Tower was going to make it to North America at all, but I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad XSEED decided to bring it over. As much as I enjoyed the game, it’s not going to be for everyone. The base combat isn’t the most exciting, and the time restriction is going seal the deal for a lot of people. Look past that though, and you get an incredibly nuanced storyline that I think is better than the one featured in The Last Story, and the Oraclos chain is one of the most fun and versatile weapons I’ve had the opportunity to mess around with in a video game. This will be my last Wii game, and it has proven itself more than worthy of being the perfect send off.
Short Attention Span Summary
Regardless of what I have to say about it, Pandora’s Tower will have earned itself the distinction of being one of the last RPG’s, as well as one of the last titles in general, to be released on the Wii console (in North America, anyway). That being said, I went into it expecting to be let down by a “me too” RPG developed by a company with no prior experience in the genre in an attempt to cash in on the hype surrounding the titles made by Monolith Soft and Mistwalker. Instead, what I got was a very enjoyable experience that successfully blended aspects of both Shadow of the Colossus and Majora’s Mask. The game is well presented, the narrative is solid, and I had a blast finding new things to do with the Oraclos chain weapon. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to the Wii console.