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Feature: The Odd One Out in Operation Rainfall

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Time to open Pandora’s Limited Edition box?

Friday 13th April saw the final part of the Operation Rainfall JRPG trilogy hit European shelves, with Pandora’s Tower following in the footsteps of Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story. Pandora’s Tower does feel like a rather odd member of what has become, in the eyes of most, a linked trio of releases. It has been consistently regarded alongside the other titles and bundled with them both directly and indirectly. Having played and reviewed all three games, we feel that this has led to a misunderstanding about what kind of title Pandora’s Tower is and has, potentially, elevated expectations to unreasonable levels.

Operation Rainfall and the desperation for new Wii games

Operation Rainfall, at its peak in the summer of 2011, represented different things depending on your point of view: our feature at the time, The Growing Storm of Operation Rainfall, outlined much of what made the campaign what it was and attempted to explain why it had come to pass. When Nintendo of America stated that it had no plans to bring three specific titles to its territory, gamers in North America in particular rebelled against a decision that seemed, on the surface, to be a rejection of a group of experienced or ‘hardcore’ Nintendo gamers. Japanese RPGs are, after all, traditionally regarded as some of the lengthiest, most complex and time-consuming experiences in the industry.

On the other hand, however, frustration at withheld localisation of these titles was arguably a reflection of desperation for major releases on the Wii. Outwith The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, there was very little on the release schedule to capture the imagination of experienced gamers. With the console showing so little on the horizon, why wouldn’t Nintendo bring these titles to a worldwide audience?

When these three titles were bundled together as part of the Operation Rainfall movement, it seems that assumptions were made that they were all large-scale projects with a high degree of polish and an epic scale: an idea progressively given steam by the fact that, in Europe at least, all three releases have been published by Nintendo. Having now experienced Pandora’s Tower, it’s striking that it feels like it's on an altogether different level from its contemporaries: smaller in scale and with a technical performance suggestive of a less experienced team with a lower budget. It’s a good title, which is why we awarded a seven out of ten in our review, but it doesn’t successfully match the other JRPGs that gamers fought for last year.

The role of Nintendo and the marketing machine

It’s interesting to read the recent interpretation of an Iwata Asks for Pandora’s Tower, originally published back in May 2011 in Japan. The interview demonstrates that Ganbarion is a team of dedicated, hard-working professionals, notably embarking on its first original IP. Best known for its manga based releases, including eight One Piece titles either exclusively released in Japan, or little known outside of its homeland even when given broader distribution. Chikako Yamakura, a Director in the company and Producer for Pandora’s Tower, explained how it was a new experience for the company, as well as providing an insight into the core concept and target audience.

Our company had made games based on existing franchises, so I wanted to take up that gauntlet of producing something original. I’d always wanted to make a game that would appeal to boys, from students starting secondary school to around twenty years old. So that’s why I chose to put a woman at the centre of this game. I wanted to explore something that changed, something that underwent a transformation, and I decided that it could be this woman who undergoes that transformation.

The same interview included two figures who represented Nintendo on the project, and the process outlined seems to be one of oversight and guidance. This was a title that represented a first step for Ganbarion, with its history of licensed titles, meaning that it was undergoing a challenging new venture. The final result is a mixture of a creative and enthralling action-RPG, combined with graphics and technical implementation that are limited and, in some respects, flawed. Standing on its own two feet, it’s a title with enough positives to earn a recommendation, with a niche appeal that would typically make it an experience suited to gamers with an attraction to the concept and, more generally, imported games.

Yet, this isn’t a limited-run localisation by an import specialist such as Atlus or Rising Star Games, but a title from Nintendo, with heavy online marketing and its own limited edition bundle. On the one hand this is pleasing to see, a title created with a great deal of effort and commitment being introduced to a wider audience. Another perspective is that it’s been swept into an unfamiliar position because of Operation Rainfall, a limited Wii release schedule and the emergence of a rare marketing opportunity to show gamers with a Wii that there is much to still enjoy on the console. The UK trailer, below, demonstrates this.

Does this categorisation of Pandora’s Tower, accompanied by the gorgeous limited edition set, mean that it’s ultimately burdened with unfair expectations? It’s possible that this is the case, because it’s not only very different stylistically from the other titles in that trailer, but also in terms of its experience. Critical reception does suggest that this title, though regarded well, doesn’t reach the standards of its contemporaries. Taken in the order from the advert, we’ve awarded The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword our top mark, Xenoblade Chronicles nine out of ten and The Last Story eight out of ten: Pandora’s Tower received seven. This trend isn’t restricted to this website, with this gradual slide being reflected on the imperfect, but nevertheless useful, Metacritic. We’d never suggest that review scores hold all of the answers, far from it, but it’s an interesting trend nevertheless. If you take it a step further, it was perhaps deliberate of Nintendo to localise these titles in a specific order, starting strongly and gradually working towards the less polished and refined releases.

Standing on its own two feet

The intention of this feature is to point out that, on occasions, marketing and gamer perceptions don’t match well with the final product. It’s a hazard in any entertainment industry, though in the case of Pandora’s Tower Nintendo Europe appears to have been deliberate in its grouping of the Operation Rainfall trilogy: if you don’t believe us, check out the set of three commemorative coins. This title, if released on a limited print-run as a surprise import from Japan, would possibly be regarded as an intriguing purchase for those who enjoy games from the Land of the Rising Sun. Due to its release history and association with Operation Rainfall, however, it has an entirely different image and set of expectations.

When judging this title, it’s important to judge it on its own merits. It’s worth a purchase for fans of the action-RPG genre, and it explores ideas and implements game design principles that are clever and thought-provoking. It also lacks the grandiose scale of Xenoblade Chronicles, or the graphical prowess and attention to detail of The Last Story: these are unfair comparisons, however, arguably cultivated by fans and Nintendo itself. On a more positive note, it’s a title that perhaps deserves to ride on the ‘Operation Rainfall Trilogy’ band-wagon, a lower-budget experimental game that gets the opportunity to sample the big time. We’re pleased to see that it’s getting plenty of attention and media exposure, even if it’s ultimately the odd one out.

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User Comments (29)

FonistofCruxis

#2

FonistofCruxis said:

A very good article and I had been following this title since its Japanese announcement so I knew it wouldn't be up to the standards of the other two but I was expecting at least a bit of a better reception than it received but it still looks like a really good game and I'll definitely get it at some point. It always did seem like the odd one out though as the other two were from big companies with a lot of experience in the genre whereas this was not only the first RPG that its company had made but their first original IP. Even if operation rainfall didn't happen and NoA announced this for their region at the same as NoE time this still probably would've been grouped with the other two as they're all Wii JRPGs being published by Nintendo and being released near the end of the Wii's life.

DashDG

#3

DashDG said:

Just to name a few of all those missing games this generation for Wii... =(
428: Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de
Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen
Captain Rainbow
Dragon Quest Collection
Earth Seeker
Harukanaru Jikuu no Kade 4
Ikenie no Yoru
Imabikisou: Kaimei Hen
Ougon no Kizuna
Takt of Magic

Torchwood

#4

Torchwood said:

I don't care about the expectations, I MUST HAVE THIS GAME! I hope Reggie's body is ready to have some sense knocked into it...

FonistofCruxis

#5

FonistofCruxis said:

@DashDG You're missing Zangeki no reginleiv! That game looks awesome! Also, I think you should remove Ougon no Kizuna, almost all the reviews and impressions I've seen of it, both from critics and gamers have been very negative.

DashDG

#6

DashDG said:

@FonistofCruxis Ur right! Zangeki is a really good game I've already finished it, and its worth an 7 (Same as Pandoras).Ougon its not that bad for a 2009 game, but of course is not a great game. I have 25 Original Japan Imports just for Wii, and even when my Japanese is very good, I prefer to play my games in English... But its been the same since the dawn of Japanese Game History.

ville10

#7

ville10 said:

I find it a bit odd that you paint out Pandora's Tower as the only faulty game of the three. While I enjoyed The Last Story, it too suffers from performance issues. Praising The Last Story's graphics are also a bit silly, other than the main characters it really doesn't look very good at all.

I have yet to play Pandora's Tower, but I knew from the start what to expect from it. Truth to be told, I don't think anyone has claimed it to be anything more than it is. It was included in Operation Rainfall because it too was a recently released "core" game for Wii, which Nintendo seemed to ignore despite their promises about the next generation. A seven is anything but a bad score though, so I find this article to be a bit negative, perhaps giving some the impression it isn't worthy of a purchase.

Stuffgamer1

#8

Stuffgamer1 said:

While it would still certainly be nice for this game to make its way to America, I'm starting to care a lot less about whether or not it actually does. Which is probably just as well, since it doesn't seem very likely at this rate.

Popyman

#9

Popyman said:

Great article! Nice of you to try and set things straight, Pandora's Tower is very niche and should be looked at as such.

I want those coins so badly, that's not fair!! D:

ChosenOne25

#10

ChosenOne25 said:

I have to say that Pandora's Tower doesn't level with Xenoblade and The Last Story in terms of gameplay and value, but it does have the prettiest artwork, especially the cover and the DVD casing (which is Black instead of white) and offers totally different gameplay from Xeno and TLS.

Alucard

#11

Alucard said:

What I find interesting about this whole scenario is how many people’s expectations are dashed as soon as the press reception is shown to have mixed-yet-mostly-positive impressions about the game.

Some reviewers are finding it good but flawed, while a few are finding it very solid with no major negatives (see Eurogamer’s review). This was reflected in Famitsu even before talk of localization began, where it received two 7’s, an 8, and a 9 out of 10.

However, the way that many gamers have responded to this reception is strange.

Some people are trashing it outright, and saying that 15-20hrs of action is not enough, and that it looks and plays like a PS2 game (what does that mean?). Others become uninterested or cancel orders because it’s getting 7’s or even 8’s(!).

It’s a shame, since unrealistic ideas about what a game delivers can get in the way of enjoyment. It also shows that this is an issue within the gaming community to a large degree.

The title is clearly not for everyone, but shouldn’t it be commended for trying to experiment and innovate in some respects? I welcome games like this, even as a starting point for building new experiences in the future and for catering to different tastes.

P.S. Barely anyone has mentioned how gorgeous the music is, too. :)

CaPPa

#14

CaPPa said:

I found it baffling that Nintendo didn't bring a bunch of the unreleased games over last year, as they could have seriously boosted the release schedule and given the Wii a strong 2011. Some would have taken a bit more effort, such as Fatal Frame 4 (I would kill for that game to be released here), but others like Disaster Day Of Crisis wouldn't have taken much effort at all. Even if they didn't sell in big numbers they'd have given the Wii more of a presence.

Pandora's Tower always looked a weaker game than Xenoblade or The Last Story, but I do find the concept intriguing so if it does get a North American release then I'd certainly consider picking it up.

TheMrFarquad

#15

TheMrFarquad said:

I must say 7/10 is still a good score for a game and of the 3 this was my most looked forward to. I tried Xenoblade (borrowed it from a friend a couple of months back) and just couldn't get into it. I'm looking forward to playing The Last Story when I can afford it but I'll definitely be getting Pandora's Tower first.

sinalefa

#16

sinalefa said:

I wouldn't mind a release of PT in the US, as the game sounds very interesting. I am getting the other two Rainfall games anyway. I do agree that it is nice to support an experimental new IP from an up and coming studio.

Also interesting to point out that Disaster Day of Crisis got average reviews in Europe, and yet a lot of US fans still want that game so bad. Pandora's Tower looks like a similar case, although its reviews show it as a stronger, more intriguing game.

motang

#17

motang said:

To be honest, I would like for this game to come out here in the US, but I know it is a very slim chance so I am not going to hold my breath.

Scissors

#18

Scissors said:

I do agree with judging games by their merits, but I feel that Last Story needs to be taken down a notch. That game doesn't deserve to be compared to Xenoblade. Not a terrible RPG, but very standard, and nothing special. Out of the 3 games Pandora's Tower is the one I like the most, it may not be the best of the 3, but I feel it to be the most unique.

rjejr

#19

rjejr said:

I've said this before but I've always seen Last Tower as a Vagrant Story game - which was overwhelmingly greeted positively but after release and more people played it that positive perception went down. I was one of those people who was really looking forward to it but found it lacking. It wasn't a Square JRPG, it was a dungeon crawling grind. In retrospect it holds up really well for a PS game, much better looking than most.
Of the 4 games in the video I still think LoZ:SS is the odd man out. It may be the best of the 4 - it's the only 1 I've played - but I wouldn't be surprised if I played the other 3 I would like Zelda the least. In that regard, Pandora's Tower belongs w/ the other 2 "OR" games in the confines of that 4 games video.

warioswoods

#20

warioswoods said:

Xenoblade is so incredibly good (and enormous) that I may not go for either of the remaining Rainfall games; just not enough time, and my expectations are now too high for any subsequent games to meet. Well... maybe The Last Story, but certainly not this one.

ArcanaXVI

#21

ArcanaXVI said:

Odd one out or not, I'm still dying to have this game in my collection. The fact that The Last Story was picked up by Xseed, however, worries me, since that may well mean that another company will have to pick up Pandora's Tower as well...

Rerun

#22

Rerun said:

I just hope this comes to NA. Of the three titles, this was the one I was most curious about. I preordered both Xenoblade and The Last Story and did my part for Project Rainfall.

Kage_88

#23

Kage_88 said:

My special edition is in the mail :)

There's no unrealistic expectations on my part...I'm just expecting a solid game (and considering I've enjoyed 'poor' Wii games such as Conduit 2, Cursed Mountain and Disaster: Day of Crisis, I think I'll be okay).

Also, I'm glad that I'm supporting a new IP for Ganbarion and Nintendo, just like I did for Xenoblade and Last Story!

TimboBaggins

#24

TimboBaggins said:

Compared to the heap tons of graphics on the wii, this game looks gorgeous. Of course it can't be compared to the three best looking games on the system, but this is still at the top of the heap compared to copious amounts of shovelware

LeasTwanteD

#25

LeasTwanteD said:

If it doesn't meet sales expectations the only excuse they'll need is its scary release date. :o

darkgamer001

#26

darkgamer001 said:

I'm prepared to give this title a chance. I'm sure that it's not going to come close to Xenoblade Chronicles, but it seems like a good game in its own right. And those Club Nintendo coins will make an awesome addition to my collection ;)

bauckster

#27

bauckster said:

A very interesting read - you guys did a great job on this feature! That said, it takes me a while to get through games. I'm still playing Skward Sword, believe it or not, and I think my other priority will likely be XC (though it's almost intimidating, it seems so big!). Out of curiousity, anyone know the general length of Pandora's Tower?

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