After around 25 hours, I’ve finally finished Pandora’s Tower, the second game down in my attempt to see off my Wii U backlog. And what a weird and wonderful game it is.
The plot sees a wispy anime girl called Elena struck down with a curse that’s causing her to turn into a monster. A mysterious old crone called Mavda tells her that the only way to cure the curse is to eat ‘Master Flesh’ from 12 Masters (i.e. bosses) that live at the top of 12 accursed towers, which hang by chains above a chasm called The Scar. It’s the job of Aeron, Elena’s beau, to hunt down the Masters, with the help of the mystical Oraclos Chain given to him by Mavda.
And the chain is really what the gameplay is built around. You can aim it anywhere on the screen by pointing with the Wii Remote, and it’s essential for latching onto ledges, swinging from hooks and pulling distant levers. It’s also pretty handy in combat: you can grab a monster with it and waggle the remote to rip the chain away again, causing damage. Or you can tie one monster to another, so that any damage you do to one is also transmitted to the other. You can even hurl smaller monsters across the room, or twirl them round and round to collide with other baddies. It’s pretty fun, if a little difficult to get to grips with at first – it took me a while to master the chain’s full move set.
There are also the regular weapons: a sword, twinblades and a scythe, which you can level up by hunting for rare items. But to be honest I stuck with the sword for the whole game, as it was too much hassle to try to level up all three – and the sword was by far the most useful weapon.
The towers are basically giant puzzles. The door to the Master is blocked by two or three chains – or four on the last levels – and the aim is to find your way to the root of the chains and destroy them to open the door to the boss. This generally involves pulling switches to activate lifts and so on, and even start up a ruddy great water wheel on one level, and I enjoyed puzzling my way through each edifice. The last couple of levels were undoubtedly the highlight, a fiendishly complicated dungeon split between two towers that involved warping back and forth. That said, it was disappointing to see a few ideas recycled in later towers, like the water wheel I mentioned earlier.
Apart from the versatile Oraclos Chain, the thing that really makes Pandora’s Tower stand out is the ever-present time limit. A circle in the bottom left of the screen represents Elena’s gradual transformation into a monster, and you have to keep bringing beast flesh back to her to reset the timer. If you leave it too long, the transformation begins, and your affinity with Elena deteriorates – but you can increase the affinity by chatting with her and bringing her gifts. And you’ll need the affinity meter to be right near the top if you want to get the best of the five possible endings. I did just that, but I watched the other endings on YouTube, and my god they’re bleak. This can be a dark game at times. (You can watch all the endings here if you don’t mind spoilers.)
The effect of all this affinity building and the transformation timer is that I ended up really caring about Elena, and hurrying back before she started to transform. It adds a nice bit of tension to the game, as you try to plan out your exploration against the clock. And I really liked the breezy conversations with Elena, even if they’re a bit schmaltzy. I also liked the way they chose a voice actor from northern England, where I live. I never got tired of hearing Elena say “mass-ter” in her broad accent.
One other thing I liked about Pandora’s Tower is that it’s unashamedly weird. I mean, just look at Mavda, a tiny woman who carries around her deformed husband in a pot on her back. Apparently he was mutated in some sort of alchemy accident – although the game barely remarks on this odd couple.
And then there’s the sight of Elena chowing down on beast flesh, which is frankly a little disturbing. She chews in horror at first, knowing this disgusting rite is the only way to cure the curse, but as the game goes on, she develops a strange addiction to this strange meat. It’s quite creepy.
Then again, Pandora’s Tower does nothing but reinforce gender stereotypes. I was a bit disappointed that Elena spends the game cleaning, washing and cooking dinner while Aeron does all the adventuring. She is the archetypal anime waifu. By the end I was almost willing her to pick up a sword and save her own ass rather than relying on Aeron, or even just get a bit pissed off at the situation rather than bearing it with stoic politeness. But there you go.
All in all though, Pandora’s Tower is a fun, weird and unique RPG from the Wii’s dying days, and highly recommended if you’re a JRPG fan. And I’m glad to have finally finished all of the Operation Rainfall games, all three of which are fantastic.
That leaves my list looking like this:
Wii U games:
- Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
eShop and Virtual Console games:
- Soul Axiom
- Earthbound Beginnings
- The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
- The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
- Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
- Metroid: Other M
- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
So still a long way to go to see off my Wii U backlog, but some definite progress. However, I’ll have to hold off on it for the time being to make a dent in my review backlog. I’ve currently got review code for Sunless Seas: Zubmariner Edition, Lamplight City, Hollow Knight, Valkyria Chronicles 4 and Vampyr all waiting for some attention, so that probably takes care of the next month at least! But as soon as I’m caught up, I’ll be diving back into my noble Wii U quest…
Check out the rest of the series:
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