The 3DS has been a home for a high number of excellent RPG and adventure games, with those small screens absorbing our attention and taking us into fantastical worlds. The DS had a similar heritage, as the combination of Nintendo portable hardware and sizeable, intriguing RPGs is enticing. Though the 3DS is heading into its twilight it has more to offer, with this week's arrival of Ever Oasis being another reminder to charge up our portables.
This is an adventure that showed pretty well at E3, as the Treehouse team showcased the impressive depth on offer - you build up your Oasis, attract new residents, support their businesses, develop strategies and also explore the world, fighting dangerous foes with some clever combat mechanics. We were intrigued when we tried it out recently for a preview, and the game has a demo for us all to sample on the eShop.
What's particularly notable about Ever Oasis is the pedigree behind the project. The lead development studio is Grezzo, which has done excellent work with the Legend of Zelda series on 3DS with two 3D remasters (Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask) and also The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, which was impressive on a technical level even if the multiplayer focus didn't always suit it well. In addition the project has been led by studio founder Koichi Ishii, a powerhouse game designer in the world of JRPG games. He created and managed the Mana series for nearly two decades while at Square Enix, starting in 1987, and was also involved in multiple FInal Fantasy and SaGa titles (famously creating the Chocobo and Moogle characters). He then founded Grezzo in 2006, leading the company to multiple successes on 3DS, in particular.
We were very fortunate, then, to talk to Ishii-san at E3 last week, during which we spoke about Ever Oasis and what the ambitious title hopes to achieve on 3DS.
First of all, could you introduce and describe Ever Oasis for our readers, in your own words?
Ever Oasis is an Egyptian fantasy world set in a desert. The player character is a member of a tribe called Seedlings and is the chief of the last oasis; an oasis they created together with the water spirit, Esna.
As the chief, the player has to gather allies to the oasis and increases the number of Bloom Booths, thereby developing the oasis.
Sometimes they will form a party with these allies and explore the desert outside, overcoming various trials in order to protect the oasis. The theme of the game is the question ‘What can I do to protect things that are important to me?’ We’ve done this by having the player not only develop their own character, but also to develop and protect the oasis together with Esna and their allies.
How did your previous work on games like Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, and more recently Ocarina of Time 3D and Majora’s Mask 3D inform the design of Ever Oasis, and were there other influences and sources of inspiration?
I’ve created a number of different fantasy worlds before now, but this time I wanted to try something a bit different to having players travel through lots of different areas in a quest to save the world. Rather than the focus being on developing your characters, it’s about protecting and developing your oasis. I wanted to create a game where you can feel how the situation is changing and that the people are happier and better off as your oasis develops.
The inspiration for the game came while I was on a trip to Egypt 10 years ago.
Some early previews of Ever Oasis, including our own, compare it to Fantasy Life. What do you think of this comparison, and which games would you say have similarities in gameplay and ideas to Ever Oasis?
Comparing it to a game like Fantasy Life might be somewhat true in terms of genre, but in terms of gameplay it’s quite a different title. Having said that though I think it would be interesting for users to play and compare. The focus and theme are different, so after playing you may feel that it’s a completely different game. I will leave it up to the players to judge what games it is similar to.
Ever Oasis has quite a unique art style and setting — how did you arrive at this style, and how does that stylistic choice inform the gameplay?
We started with concept sketches based on it being an Egyptian fantasy and that Seedlings and Desert folk would be living in this world. I made sure that all of the designs matched with my ideas, so those ideas are reflected vividly in the game. I went with this style hoping that players would enjoy a world overflowing with fantasy energy, even if it was a desert.
The music also sounds like a real highlight from what we’ve heard so far. Can you tell us about the choice of music in the game and the effect of having that orchestral sound?
I asked the sound producer not to start making it as game music, but rather to create music that really lets you experience the game world and setting at a deep level. Then I had the sound producer work with the composer, Sebastian Schwartz, to write the music to fit Ever Oasis. The movie-like style should help users immerse themselves into the world.
The combat mechanics of the game have earned a lot of attention; from your perspective what are the most important points to make around combat in Ever Oasis?
It may look like we’ve created a modern version of the ideas I had for Secret of Mana, but you could also say it’s the same idea I’ve had since Final Fantasy XI. I think really though that the choice of battle system was a natural consequence given the games I’ve worked on so far.
It’s hard to have a three-person battle with the camera behind your character; needing to see what your allies are doing doesn’t work well with a view where you can’t see behind you. So we had to try lots of different ideas until we could get these working together. If you can feel as though all the party characters are thinking and doing their best to fight, then I would say the battle system has been a success.
Like Tri Force Heroes, Ever Oasis features parties of three; how did you arrive at that number? How does having three heroes play into the game’s combat and puzzle solving?
In an RPG, at the very least your party is composed of a fighter, a mage, and a cleric. I was very aware of this when making Secret of Mana. Although back then three characters was already really pushing at the limits of what the hardware could handle…
Also, for the system of switching between characters, there is a big difference between having three characters e.g. (C) →A←→B←→C←(A), and having four e.g. (D)→A←→B←→C←→D←(A) in terms of how much confusion it causes and how long it takes. I wanted players to be able to change characters intuitively and without any stress, so I decided this triangle system would be best.
Just from looking at the game we fell in love with all the different styles of fashion, costumes, and weapons — are there any elements of character customisation in the game that will let players experiment with these options?
Weapons and accessories have parameters so you’ll want to have the strongest ones equipped, but turbans and robes don’t have such parameters so you can have your character wear what you like. When I play, I’m always changing the look of my character when I go out on an adventure. It helps me imagine the feelings and excitement of this main character.
It looks like growing your Oasis will be a very appealing part of the game; can you tell us about what inspired the town-building portion of the gameplay, and how that will unfold as players progress?
My starting point was thinking about what kind of a game I could make that had a central base where you’d build up the number of your allies. In combining this idea with an Egyptian-fantasy theme, the base became an oasis, and the Seedlings were created as people who could live there. In order to separate the game from other city builders, I combined the idea with a system that capitalised on my previous experience and envisioned this gameplay cycle of the two systems. By linking these different kinds of gameplay, I could make the oasis and the world beyond it all feel like a single world. I hope you will enjoy this feeling of unity between these systems.
What feeling do you hope players are left with as they play Ever Oasis? Are there any last thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
As you play you’ll see how the people living at the oasis want to look after it — even if they don’t explain it with words — and meet different characters who will fight to protect it. This should help the player realise what the right thing to do is. I hope that through the oasis, players can grow and think about what they can do for the people (and things) important to them, and not just care about their own feelings.
We'd like to thank Mr. Ishii for his time. Ever Oasis is out on Nintendo 3DS on 23rd June in Europe and North America.