(Wii)

Game Review

Pandora's Tower Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

A difficult feast

Wii owners who enjoy Japanese RPGs have been spoiled recently, especially those that live in Europe: Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story provide two very different flavours of Japanese gaming, and the trio of originally Japan-exclusive titles is complete with Pandora’s Tower. If you like challenging concepts, demons and unconventional character relationships, then this should be on your radar.

From the moment Pandora’s Tower loads it begins its mission to confuse and intrigue you in equal measure. A sudden montage of cut-scenes shows a young woman, Elena, ambushed by a mysterious beast while singing to an adoring crowd, with a curse appearing as a tattoo ingrained on her back. Your humble hero, Aeron, and a mysterious old woman called Mavda — who carries a skeleton companion in a basket on her back — are shown walking to an observatory that overlooks a black hole or ‘tear’ in the land, with enormous chains connecting your hub to an island packed with 13 towers. So far, so peculiar.

Unfortunately for Elena, and her budding relationship with your character, her curse is destined to turn her into an appalling monster. Her only hope of beating it rests with your ability to obtain Master Flesh from enormous bosses within the towers, which she consumes raw and reluctantly. It’s a dark and slightly disturbing premise, with the art design suitably styled with a low-key, muted palette. This isn’t a title that presents beautiful landscapes and vistas, but rather an experience in a dangerous, deteriorating world of struggle and suffering.

From the first tower that you stumble through to the initial moment of witnessing Elena eat raw monster flesh, you're drawn into a grim reality. This isn’t a flaw, but a deliberate artistic choice that challenges you to deal with the difficult environment. It’s an appropriate setting for a quest that, at times, feels like a desperate struggle. Unlike so many RPG experiences that allow dithering and side-tracking, this is an action title that constantly reminds you of the urgency of your task: you're reminded of Elena’s current condition at all times, and must ensure she receives beast flesh before she transforms into a monster. Ideally you’ll present her with Master Flesh, but a meal from a servant monster can also be given to put off the effects of the curse.

Every action you take revolves around Elena, narrowing the focus of the adventure in a fairly unconventional way. The storyline may throw in lore about warring races and past generations, but at its heart this is a basic tale of a boy trying to save a girl. Between tackling Masters and navigating the tower labyrinths, you must build an affinity with Elena by talking to her and giving her gifts: not taking too long between courses of curse-reversing beast flesh also helps. Ultimately, the stronger your relationship, the more satisfying of the multiple endings you’ll receive.

Cultivating this relationship, managing your own equipment and items – the usual fare of specialist weapons, valuable commodities and health replenishing goods – and levelling up Aeron represents the RPG element of this title. Mavda cunningly serves as a merchant and equipment upgrader, as well as fulfilling the role of slowly revealing plot secrets, so managing your resources often involves a degree of trading and weapon enhancements. Many of the goods you need to sell come from the towers themselves, yet you’re always in a hurry to return to Elena. That is ultimately the choice you have to make, keeping an eye on the health of your companion while trying to explore and find as many items as possible. It’s a clever mechanic, designed to keep you on edge.

The 13 towers themselves are generally well designed. Each has its own theme, and they feel like small, Zelda-style dungeons, with levers and simplistic puzzles liberally scattered around. Your basic goal is to destroy two enormous chains that lock the Master’s door, after which you confront the boss in order to steal their flesh. The boss encounters are impressive and epic, while the dungeon design is mostly strong, with the architecture often successfully disorientating you, making the time limit of Elena’s health seem even more punishing.

Exploring these towers and defeating the masters fulfils the action part, where all of your considered resource management and planning is put to the sword. Navigating Aeron is simple enough, while his weapons of choice are a sword – or varied blades that you discover – and a lengthy chain. The blades are self-explanatory and wielded with the A button, but the chain is your most valuable resource for battles and puzzle solving. When facing smaller enemies throughout the towers you can use the Wii Remote pointer to aim the chain and bind their limbs, throw them around the room or, with a flick of the Wii Remote, rip the chain painfully off their bodies. It’s possible for a button-only system on the Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro, but the basic motion and pointer controls are particularly instinctive.

It’s a visceral and brutal weapon, with the only downsides being the game engine and some design flaws that undermine the battles. While targeting body areas of monsters works brilliantly there are often drops in frame-rate and, as a result, slightly delayed and slow input reactions. The mechanics are enjoyable and ripe for experimentation, but can become a chore due to the overall game performance; this is sometimes exasperated by recurring enemies that can take an eternity to polish off. These issues aren’t as problematic when using the chain for basic puzzle solving or navigation: there’s plenty of lever-pulling and chain-swinging to add to the diversity of what is, ultimately, a simple weapon.

In terms of concepts, Pandora’s Tower is therefore full of excellent ideas and potential. It’s a pity, then, that it’s so undermined by technical limitations, not all of which can be blamed on the ageing Wii hardware. In addition to frame rate drops on occasions, you’ll have to contend with an often poorly executed fixed camera. You have no camera control, and while large areas are displayed clearly to allow easy navigation, moving between smaller areas is an exercise in frustration. The camera isn’t dynamic enough in following your movements, so it will be common for on-screen clutter to obscure your view, even resulting in you missing your targets with chain attacks. Sharp camera changes between rooms feel like a relic of the late 1990s, and can lead to some brief confusion if a battle spills into a new area. It doesn’t break the game, but it does impact on the experience.

This title also struggles visually, with a seemingly low-budget graphics engine only saved by strong artistic design. The dull colour palette, while a sound choice artistically, does show up the basic graphical performance, while the zoomed-in view courtesy of the chain’s targeting system is horribly pixelated, with lagged movement contributing to the problem. Sound fares better in terms of atmospheric background music, though the voice acting is mediocre.

Conclusion

Pandora’s Tower delivers an involving resource and time-management RPG experience with an imaginative action and combat system. Its overall aesthetic, as well as its focus on a relationship between two characters, are bold design choices that work well as long as you’re willing to invest in the game world. It’s a pity that the experience, most notably the action segments that take up a large part of the 12-15 hour adventure, are partially undermined by technical failings: as a result it’s questionable whether many will engage in multiple playthroughs in pursuit of happier endings. This title has much to recommend it, as long as you’re willing to look beyond some of its faults.

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User Comments (80)

KaiserGX

#1

KaiserGX said:

Zelda. Hmm... Maybe... we'll see when this comes over to NA. Is the frame rate due to the PAL thing or is this the game itself?

ThomasBW84Admin

#4

ThomasBW84 said:

@KaiserGX I doubt the frame-rate is a PAL issue, that was more common on older consoles :)

Just to be clear, 7/10 still means 'good', and it's still a recommendation. There are some mis-steps and issues that have to be accounted for, though.

KaiserGX

#5

KaiserGX said:

Some recent Wii games did have a frame-rate issue with PAL versions though, one that I can think of was Samurai Warriors 3.

Also through the whole game, it's mostly just the 3 characters correct?

FonistofCruxis

#6

FonistofCruxis said:

I was expecting at least an 8 but there have been other reviewers that have given it higher scores and it still looks like a really good game so I'll definitely get it at some point. Also, I know a 7 isn't a bad score, I was just expecting higher but NL aren't the only ones who scored it like that as ONM gave it 70%.

ville10

#7

ville10 said:

The review sounded a bit more negative than the final score, I was half expecting a 6. Seems like a game that I will appreciate, The Last Story have already taught me to look beyond frame-rate issues and dull palettes.

Reala

#9

Reala said:

Hopefully my copy will arrive tomorrow actually sounds better than I first thought really liking the sound of the dark theme to it sounds pretty unique, still need to finish Last Story before I begin Pandora's Tower though.

McHaggis

#10

McHaggis said:

I've been playing for about 5 hours now and I think it's a reasonable effort, though not in the same league as Xenoblade Chronicles. So far, I'm almost in agreement with the 7/10, maybe I would score it a little lower, but perhaps I'll change my mind about that before I finish the game.

I must say, though, 12-15 hours seems really short for an RPG.

Samholy

#11

Samholy said:

i hope the japanese rpgs will start a new character desgin trend. im becoming sicker and sicker of these overly costumed with spikey haircuts characters.
They're too much to look at.
i mean, since when a warrior wear costumes designed by a fashion designer ? Since when are they also are trendy hair stylists?

When I look at them (and not only pandora tower) they remind me David Bowie in his glamour rock era. (labyrinth movie hahaha) I can always rely on bethesda to keep character design more realistic...

BenAV

#12

BenAV said:

Reasonably fair review I'd say.
I've played for about five and a half hours so far and from what I've played I think it's worthy of an eight.
I haven't noticed any problems with performance yet.
And I didn't have any problems in my whole playthrough of The Last Story.
Maybe my Wii is handling the games better for some reason, or maybe I just don't notice things.

Slapshot

#13

Slapshot said:

This sound like it's brewed right into a cup of tea to my personal preferences. I think a trip to Pandora's Tower in will be added into my schedule.

Great review Thomas! :)

OlderGamer

#14

OlderGamer said:

Is it really a RPG or an Action-Adventure game with RPG elements?

I know that line is blurring all the time but I prefer RPGs in the traditional sense...

EvilLink

#15

EvilLink said:

I think I'll pass on this game. It seems far to short for an rpg like McHaggis said. Also the gameplay doesn't look that fun. I'll stick with my Xenoblade Chronicles and Last Story :). The game has an interesting plot though.

ThomasBW84Admin

#16

ThomasBW84 said:

@BenAV In terms of frame-rate, it's something that I pay more attention to nowadays. It's entirely possible to play through a game and feel that it's working fine, but when I reference frame-drops in this review (and The Last Story) it's because I'm on the lookout. Framerate can be an invisible beast unless you're actively monitoring it, but in both cases these games would perform and control better with a higher or more steady framerate. It's not something that everyone will notice or worry about, but its a technical shortcoming that some will pick up on.

OlderGamer - It's a bit blurred, as you said. Let's call it an action-RPG, because if you don't level up and manage items, you'll struggle to beat it.

@KaiserGX - Correct, this one is more focused on a smaller world and the characters mentioned in the review, very different from the extended cast and traveling in the likes of Xenoblade and Last Story.

CorbsAdmin

#17

Corbs said:

Of the "Big 3" this is the game I most wanted, so I'll be picking this one up when it hits here in NA. Great review Tom Cat. :D

Zach

#18

Zach said:

I was very excited, but now I think I'll wait for it to come to Redbox.

SKTTR

#19

SKTTR said:

Got it today and will play this evening.
A 7/10 is incredibly low for such a high profile game, I hope I didn't make a mistake spending 54,99€ for the limited edition.
But The Last Story got a 8/10 here as well and is a 10/10 in my book, so let's see....

Whopper744

#20

Whopper744 said:

I'm happy with Zelda anyway. Don't think this will be one I'll look too much into. Not big on anime, and it's hard to get me into RPG's along with that.

hydeks

#22

hydeks said:

hell to buy anything Nintendo as a Canadian seems at this point, like a very stupid purchase. I figure this is why this game hasn't been announced here...

pikku

#23

pikku said:

I'm not very hungry right now, but I just might be after I digest both Xenoblade and The Last Story :D

Nintenbro

#25

Nintenbro said:

@Alienfish, what type of supportive details do you need to make that justification?

Believe me, Xenoblade Chronicles is a beast of a JRPG my friend. :P

CanisWolfred

#26

CanisWolfred said:

Not surprised to see it has some major issues. I could tell from the trailers that the gameplay was flawed. I might watch a lets play of it someday, but I doubt I'd pick it up if it wound up in the US. I need good combat in my action-RPGs.

OldBoy

#27

OldBoy said:

Poor camera and Time limits.My two pet hates in action games.Think I'll pass on this one.TBH I was on the fence about this one all along.At least it'll save me some money :)

Popyman

#28

Popyman said:

Nice review! That's the first one I read that went into more detail on the story, other reviewers seemed to hate it and ignore it....I really hope we get this here (come on Atlus, it's right up your alley!), it was honestly the only one of the Rainfall games I wanted.

Shotgunryugan

#29

Shotgunryugan said:

If the frame-rate drops too much then i'll pass,i had enough of that with "Naruto Shippuden Dragon Blade Chronicles",which might possibly be the worst anime based game i have ever played.

WaveBoy

#30

WaveBoy said:

What's with people constantly passing on a game because it's not incredibly long in leangth? 12-15 hour(Seems about the leangth of a Metroid game) adventure seems fine in my eyes, then again I'm not into the typical 20 + 1 million hour RPG adventures. :p

CapedGodot

#31

CapedGodot said:

I love how after all the hype these games got before they got localized, they ended up with a 7, an 8, and a 9.

kkslider5552000

#32

kkslider5552000 said:

meh, if I could tolerate Fragile's gameplay, I sure as hell can tolerate this.

This is honestly a really, really good review, and I'm glad to see the most interesting aspect of the game actually focused on in it. Also, I'm certain we're gonna get a lot of the horrible "complain for most of the time, still gets a positive score" reviews for this game from other sites.

motang

#33

motang said:

I wonder if Nintendo will let XSeed bring this one out here (NA) as well.

JaxxRaxor

#34

JaxxRaxor said:

Interesting. There is a definite pattern from the Wii RPGs that make up "Operation Rainfall". Xenoblade Chronicles is the best (and one of the best Western reviewed Japanese RPGs in many years), the Last Story is a step below Xenoblade Chronicles, and now Pandora's Tower is step below Last Story. Xenonblade Chronicles was the most prominent game to be featured in Operation Rainfall, and its gotten around 140k in sales in the USA for the first week (despite having launched on a Friday rather than the usual Tuesday or for Nintendo games, Sunday). I have a feeling that Last Story won't do as well in the USA thanks to weaker reviewers and less prominence, which could make a North American release of Pandora's Tower less than certain.

daznsaz

#35

daznsaz said:

getting it soon juggling skyward sword,last story and xenoblade at the minute though.

Ryno

#36

Ryno said:

Nice review. Despite some of its aforementioned faults, it sounds like a game I would enjoy. A 12-15 hour adventure is plenty enough for me before I am ready for something else. I prefer action/RPG's anyway.

Scissors

#37

Scissors said:

7 Pfft this is one of the best of the OP Rainfall games. Maybe not as impressive as Xenoblade, but better than that trash that is "The Last Story"

just kiddin, fair review, still think this is much better than Last Story though, Should have given that game a 6 honestly.

CanisWolfred

#38

CanisWolfred said:

@CapedGodot What were you expecting, a 10 out of 10 for all of them? People weren't hyped for these games because they were the best games ever, they were hyped because they were good RPGs for the Wii, which didn't have any good RPGs until these came out.

Slapshot

#39

Slapshot said:

@CapedGodot Just to add a small bit to what @Mickeymac already stated, the Wii is really starting to show it's age in both processing power and graphics, and the competition these days is incredibly tough. With that said, the fact that these games have the scores they have on a dated console is quite impressive in my book. ;)

Kyloctopus

#41

Kyloctopus said:

If an RPG only has 10-15 hours of story, it isn't worth a 10. However I'm sure those 10-15 hours of story is worth your time.

RR529

#42

RR529 said:

@Samholy, they'll probably stop looking like anime characters when western fantasy RPGs stop looking like Lord of the Rings, lol.

Seriously though, it's just an art style. One reason I can't stand WRPGs is because they all have that generic fantasy (LotR) look to them. In comparison, the stereotypical anime characters still feel more fresh (IMO). It all comes down to personal preference, and it's something that probably won't change on either side of the cultural spectrum any time soon.

On a more related note, if this game comes to the US (and if I get my Wii fixed), I'll probably get it. Of course I'll have to play Skyward Sword, Xenoblade, Last Story, and maybe even Return to Dreamland first.

FluxOwl

#43

FluxOwl said:

Definitely not for me. I don't really like the art style and overly grim aesthetic, but what's really off-putting is the monster flesh eating mechanic:

I find it a little hard to stomach

arrmixer

#45

arrmixer said:

@RR529
I personally agree. If this game does come to the states, I'm still getting this. Just like I got Xenoblade and as I pre ordered Last story.

Maybe we get a Wii U version??? :)

lonlon-milker

#46

lonlon-milker said:

Hmm looks like one of those games (like force unleashed 2) that you watch all the cutscenes but don't actually play.

ArcanaXVI

#48

ArcanaXVI said:

It's a shame that the game is flawed in places, but this is still a day-one purchase for me. I've been wanting this game more than Xenoblade Chronicles (spectacular as it is) and The Last Story combined, and I refuse to be scared off.

Nintenbro

#49

Nintenbro said:

@Mickeymac, apparently NintendoLife doesn't believe so. Just check out the score they awarded to, "Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love". Maybe the score for Sakura Wars should be revised, because I highly doubt it should be considered as being in the same caliber as Xenoblade Chronicles. :P

Mandoble

#50

Mandoble said:

If this is an RPG then most Castlevanias are (and they are not). And might be this weird categorization will damage its sales, people looking for an RPG will say it falls short, people looking for an action adventure and not RPGs may pass while they should not.

BulbasaurusRex

#51

BulbasaurusRex said:

Sorry, but I hate being overly rushed in my games. It the same reason why I don't like Majora's Mask, Pikmin 1, or real time strategy games; and it's also the reason why I'm so grateful to have full control over the clock with no penalties in Xenoblade Chronicles.

FonistofCruxis

#52

FonistofCruxis said:

@G4L Nintendolife review games out of 10 which isn't as wide as some reviewers that review out of 100 so maybe if NL's scores were changed to scores out of 100, XBC would have a higher 90's score than Sakura wars: So long, my love. When games have the same score on a 1-10 spectrum, it often doesn't mean that they're just as good as each other.
@Mandoble Aeron levels up and has other stats often found in RPGs so that's probably why its being classed as an RPG.

TKOWL

#53

TKOWL said:

Lol, Operation Rainfall was petitioning and complaining heavily for a generic game to be localized.

Bravo, bravo.

chiptoon

#54

chiptoon said:

@Scrafty It may not be as excellent as Xenoblade, but it sounds far from generic. In fact it sounds like a unique mash-up of gameplay elements, with a completely original twist on combat.

Supereor

#55

Supereor said:

Well, it is a JRPG, it does have a real story, instead of being like Skyrim, where they put together a dragon invasion and a war between some hotshot group devoted to the Empire and a few generic rebels who decided to rebel in the first place for no actual/clear reason :/ (Not saying that Skyrim is a bad game, though!)

CanisWolfred

#56

CanisWolfred said:

@G4L An extremely niche SRPG/Dating sim that is also on the PS2 (and is of much greater value on that system) hardly counts.

DarkCoolEdge

#57

DarkCoolEdge said:

I'll buy the Collector's edition next week. If it's half as good as The Last Story, I'll be happy.

Henmii

#58

Henmii said:

Nice review. Not so nice score. But that's how most reviewers seem to feel: It's the weakest of the trio. That won't stop me from getting it though, since I still think it's a load of fun. However, I am wary of the time-limit. It seems you can't linger in the dungeons forever. If you take to long, Elena dies.

FonistofCruxis

#59

FonistofCruxis said:

@Henmii You can take multiple trips to each tower as the flesh of the regular monsters temporarily slows down the transformation and you won't have to redo any of the puzzles when you go back to the towers as they stay completed once you finish them.

Sakura_Moonlight2421

#61

Sakura_Moonlight2421 said:

rolls eyes You guys don't know what frame rate drops means if you haven't played Popolocrois or YS: Ark of Naphtism for the PSP.

mike_fantastic

#65

mike_fantastic said:

7 out of 10? Still buying it when it makes it over here to NA. Too weird a premise for the ol' Wii to pass up.

LinkVsGanon

#66

LinkVsGanon said:

pandora's tower is not so good,i hate the limited time i have,when i'm playing!like pikmin en majora's mask,you have to rush in the levels,xenoblade is much MUCH beter

Henmii

#67

Henmii said:

"and you won't have to redo any of the puzzles when you go back to the towers as they stay completed once you finish them"

ah, that's a bit of relief!

she_gamer

#70

she_gamer said:

As a newbie to the JRPG genre, I have to say that all the things I love about Xenoblade Chronicles seem to be missing from this title, so I may pass (massive landscapes, plenty of side quests, no penalties for taking your time exploring, no heavy punishments for dying... a lot). Still on the fence with Last Story though.

gyyrro

#72

gyyrro said:

I was expecting SOME people to compare this game to Xenoblade, but not most of you.
Honestly, it is ridiculous that you would even compare this gameto Xenoblade.

edhe

#73

edhe said:

I bought this, and after feeling a bit of buyers remorse (due to tales of poor graphics and the simple fact it isn't as good as people were saying it was), I nevertheless popped it in my Wii and gave it a go, and it's quite good. I prefer it to the polished Last Story anyway.

Yeah, the graphics are a bit rough, and the voice acting is awful compared to Last Story, and particularly Xenoblade, but it's a nice game when all is said and done.

TheDreamingHawk

#74

TheDreamingHawk said:

Wow. this game actually seems terrible... I mean, a 12-15 hour RPG is usually what I expect for an NES RPG or a spin off of a series. I think I know why Ganbarion may not want to bring this to the US, even though the Zelda idea is nice.

Warioware

#75

Warioware said:

I am surprised by the negativity around this title. I haven't played very far into the game yet but I have loved what I have played so far and it also feels like a game that could only really work on the Wii because of the chain mechanics. Also, comparing this to Xenoblade and The Last Story is fairly pointless since they are basically completely different genres - this is more like a Devil May Cry / God of War game but with more pronounced RPG features. Definitely recommended in my opinion.

TTGlider

#76

TTGlider said:

Really want this to come to the US. Xenoblade was great but a bit much for me to chew through. Last Story is already pre-ordered, but I see merit here, too, and would like to experience it. 14 hours is FAR preferable to me than 40, 60, or 100.

MeloMan

#77

MeloMan said:

Ah, so it's a rental worthy title then? Good to know. The atmosphere and challenge draw me in, so I still plan to play this.

DarkCoolEdge

#78

DarkCoolEdge said:

I've beaten three towers and so far it is very good. The graphics aren't very good and the gameplay could be a bit more polished but is nevertheless an engaging game. Happy costumer here.

AtelierFan

#79

AtelierFan said:

I'm near the end of the fourth tower, and I have to say Pandora's Tower is pulling me in the more I play. The towers/dungeons are getting more complex, and the chain-platforming-exploring is getting more involved.

Also, I am finding the combat just right - enough technique to use that you can keep combat fresh, but not so much that you get confused.

I think the graphics are fine. Yes, the textures are low res, but what this game lacks in technical grunt it makes up for in art direction.

Finally, I have never had the frame rate problems the editor mentioned. The only time I have seen slow down is when I use the zoom function while exploring. And this has never caused me gameplay issues.

Personally, from the 8-9 hours I've played so far, I'd give this an '8'. Recommended.

readyletsgo

#80

readyletsgo said:

I just got around to starting this last night, first tower done, enjoying it. I was playing with the Pro controller, but I think I will change to the Wiimote and Nunchuck tonight even though I'm really not a fan of motion control but I will give it a go. I like that this is 15 to 20 hours long, thats more than enough for me, thats if I even get to finish it, 11 more towers to go, lol.

Got Xenoblade too so think I will give it a look after PT. But the thought of 70+ hours has put me off for a long time. I dont have time like I used to sadly.

What is the story with 'The Last Story'? Is it a action RPG or straight up JRPG and takes forever to play?

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