A tragic tale of love and devotion becomes the centrepiece for Pandora’s Tower, the latest action role-playing game in Nintendo’s Wii exclusive line-up.
A forward driven narrative grasps the player’s attention right from the start. It is the year 511 of the Unified Era, and we find temple maiden and key protagonist, Elena preparing to perform at the Harvest Festival in the city of Halycon. Trouble awaits, however, as, afflicted by a terrible curse, she transforms into a monstrous beast and unleashes a devastating attack on those in attendance.
Immediately swept under the protective wing of Aeron, her true love, the couple flee, through the aid of mysterious companion Mavda, to a desolate valley known as The Scar, where they take refuge within an Observatory. The Scar, described as being a significant ‘wound’ within the planet’s surface, is held from worsening by huge chains and surrounded by a foreboding series of Thirteen Towers.
The Beast’s Curse, from which Elena suffers, leaves a branded mark on the victim’s skin, and, once it has progressed beyond a certain point, will see them never able to recover to their human form – seeing them turn into a grotesque beast. With Elena traumatised by the predicament she faces, Aeron vows to do whatever is necessary to ensure that she is cured of the affliction.
Fortunately, Mavda knows the cure. Whereas mere Beast Flesh temporarily quells the curse, it is the Master Flesh obtained from the bosses across each of the Thirteen Towers that will rid Elena entirely of the curse. Slightly cruel, however, is the fact that doing so causes her to go entirely against her religious beliefs. The Way of Aios, a creed that embraces the worship of many gods, teaches a respect for all living things and forbids its followers from eating animal flesh. Nevertheless, Elena is forced to break such oath.
What ensures that the game maintains pace is how large a role this plays within the over-arching gameplay. Whilst you’re gallivanting your way through each of the Thirteen Towers, or even standing idle for that matter, a meter keeps track of how much time Elena has until she turns into a beast.
Elena’s plight remains never-ending, the player required to deliver a steady supply of Beast Flesh to her to buy her more time and refill such meter. Utterly heart-wrenching is the fact that however close you leave it to depletion, you return to see Elena at various stages of her transformation – a tear trickling down Aeron’s face as he sees what she is to become.
Your journey through each of the Thirteen Towers, therefore, proves to be where much of your time will be spent. Navigating rooms, defeating enemies, gathering materials and seeking out the chains that must be broken for you to unlock the door that will allow you to face the tower’s boss.
The Oraclos Chain, a gift bestowed to Aeron by Mavda, proves an invaluable, multi-functional tool. Possessing mysterious powers it not only aids your traversal – swinging across rooms, pulling you up scalable walls, and collecting items – but also sees extensive use during combat. The device is aimed using a continual on-screen pointer with a further zoomed perspective that grants commendable precision, can be used, for instance, to chain enemies together to impair their movement, encase their arm to prevent them from attacking or even wrapped around their head to block their sight. Such effects are temporary, of course, but ensure that combat situations prove entirely different from similar games within the genre.
This is further diversified through the inclusion of a weaponry range that vary the experience, early examples being the Athosian Sword, Twinblades and Military Scythe.
Whilst the Thirteen Towers have their unique visual style and setting, it is the boss fights in which Aeron must secure the Master Flesh that prove to be the most distinctive. Not only are the boss creatures magnificently crafted, but the variance in approach poses a significant challenge. The player must first discover how to exploit their weaknesses before the Master Flesh is exposed and the Oraclos Chain is put to use to slowly tug it from their torso. It’s peculiarly gratifying, seemingly matching Aeron’s desperation to save his beloved.
Between your visits to the Thirteen Towers, players are freely able to build their bond with Elena as well as indulging within crafting. Improving such bond, which can be done through providing gifts or chatting about the ongoing situation, is important, with that which you build governing which of the game’s multiple endings you receive.
The mysterious Mavda acts as a travelling saleswoman, the player able to purchase and sell items, as well as upgrading weapons and creating items from gathered materials. This predictably aids your progression, weapons able to deal heightened damage that will enable you to fell increasingly difficult enemies.
Ganbarion should be commended for their efforts with Pandora’s Tower, providing inventive gameplay mechanics alongside a rich narrative experience that many will surely enjoy.