The time has finally come: the last Operation Rainfall Wii game has hit stateside. After so much fanfare for the two major RPGs in the group, Xenoblade and The Last Story, the action-centric Pandora’s Tower arrives with little to no fanfare, compliments of publisher XSEED Games.
But it’s a shame that it hasn’t gotten more publicity, as it’s completely worthy of “classic” Wii game status –in fact, I’d say it’s my favorite of the Rainfall Three. Provided that you’re willing to deal with a few outdated technical aspects, you’ll find one of the best raw action games in recent memory in Pandora’s Tower.
Pandora’s Tower is the tale of the former solider Aeron and his companion Elena — two close friends who are forced to deal with a terrible curse alongside of the mysterious witch Mavda, who serves as a shop of sorts, as well as a general helper figure and narrative mover. Without spoiling the setup, Elena has been afflicted with a dark spell that will turn her into a grotesque demon — unless she eats the organs of other monsters.
It’s a suitably grotesque theme that at times, is almost unbearable to watch, as Elena (against her religion nonetheless) slowly gulps down pieces of monster flesh, nearly throwing it up in the process. Of course, eating said flesh will only curb the transformation — to really eliminate the curse, Elena will have to eat the organs of the Masters, boss characters who are literally found at the top of a collection of towers. Aeron will trek into each tower, occasionally returning to the Sanctuary to buy, sell, and trade items, as well as converse with Mavda and Elena.
It sounds like a lame game extending mechanic, but it plays out quite well, as the game gives you ample time to explore dungeons and locate shortcuts that make getting to and fro much easier. In practice, it’s actually quite a cool conundrum, tasking you with deciding whether or not to keep pressing on or return to safety, just like a classic dungeon crawler of old. The idea of bringing back intermittent meat to Elena had the opportunity to get extremely old, but considering the “spoil” mechanic rarely ever actually ruins your meat, you should hardly ever feel frustrated to go back and visit her.
Aeron isn’t really the most outspoken character ever, but I liked him. His low-key approach and prowess in battle served as a great juxtaposition next to Elena’s inner-strength, as Aeron’s lack of speech often times evoked strong feelings of helplessness, like the curse would in fact spread and everything was hopeless. In those moments, Elena’s faith would shine, and every character’s motivations would come full circle. Talking to Elena specifically will open up new dialog options, as well as the ability to increase your affinity rating with her, which leads to new endings.
It’s a neat, tight-knit narrative that I can get behind for sure. The vast majority of the game’s towers looks and feel unique, from the entryway all the way to the boss encounter. It’s easy to get sucked into the level based approach, which keeps things fairly broken up to avoid repetition, while remaining in awe of the solid character designs and beautiful locales.
The compelling world isn’t the sole reason why I came to enjoy Pandora’s Tower quite quickly — it’s the solid combat foundations the game provides that really made it easy to dig in. Combat is simple to learn, yet provides a deep set of rules that will excite even the hardiest of action veterans. Almost everything stems from the magical Oraclos Chain Aeron carries with him, but the complexity of said chain is where the game shines. You can climb up areas, swing to and fro, use it to tie enemies together, rip the flesh from their bodies to feed to Elena, and a whole lot more. A dodge mechanic is as simple as pushing a button, even if you’re already attached to an enemy, making for some pretty intense fights — the boss fights in particular are always a highlight.
I didn’t think I would enjoy controlling the action with ancillary IR Wiimote support, but I did. While 90% of the action is controlled through a Wiimote and Nunchuk setup, Aeron’s chain can be utilized by pointing at the screen, and launching it at enemies or obstacles with ease. For everyone else who outright hates IR controls, you’re free to use the Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro, which is always appreciated.
But the raw beauty of Pandora’s Tower is just that — raw. To say the game looks outdated would be understating things, as it clearly feels like a high budget PS2 game rather than something of the current era. While many of you out there may be willing to condemn it for that, I didn’t once feel like the non-HD nature of the game took away from anything from an actual gameplay standpoint, as everything ran fairly smoothly and without any major hiccups. Although I long for a true HD look at Imperia in all its glory, the tower and enemy designs from a base level are gorgeous enough to keep you interested.
By the time you hit the last few towers, the similarity of the puzzles within may start to grate on you a little. While the game lends itself very well to playing it in short spurts, completing a tower at a time, it’s a shame the last few stages couldn’t have been a bit more imaginative — instead, relying on the lore aspect of “twin” towers to justify the similar setups.
Despite that final feeling of déjà vu, I was left wanting to explore the world even more than Pandora’s Tower would let me — perhaps with a newer set of towers in an HD setting. In fact, I sincerely hope that developer Ganbarion has the energy for a full Wii U sequel, as the universe is ripe for exploration given how strong the lore is. After all is said and done, there are new areas you can explore in addition to the 15-20 hour storyline and multiple endings to uncover, which is quite a bang for your buck at the launch budget price of $40.
Pandora’s Tower may not be remembered as fondly as other games in the Wii’s lineup, and it feels a bit dated right out of the gate, but I couldn’t think of a better third party sendoff for the Wii. Utilizing motion mechanics in a non-intrusive way, while providing an option for a Classic Controller on top of creating a compelling world is a mighty feat. If you can pick up a PS2-era action game today without missing a beat, Pandora’s Tower is one of the biggest must play games on the Wii — period.
This review is based off a physical copy of Pandora’s Tower for the Wii.