By Video_Game_King 18 Comments
There's a good chance that this is going to be the last game I beat for the Wii. What else is even left? Dokapon Kingdom? Gri-wait, I still have Grill-Off. OK, let's pretend that game doesn't exist so that Pandora's Tower is the last Wii game I beat. Man, what a fitting send-off. If the Wii is this generation's Sega Saturn (and with all the Wii U/Dreamcast comparisons, it might as well be), Pandora's Tower is the Panzer Dragoon Saga it deserves. Which I guess makes Grill-Off the Magic Knight Rayearth, and anything af...
ANYWHO, the story. There's this white haired girl named Elena who's slowly transforming into a monster, and Aeron, her blonde-haired love interest, is determined to save her from this wretched curse. According to Mavda, a character whose hair color confounds me, the only way of accomplishing this is by eating bloody flesh ripped straight from living beings. And....that's really all there is to the story, but you know what? It doesn't need anything other than that. Yea, the plot's direction is a tad obvious, but it certainly has good reason for going such an obvious route. The game's about Elena, and damn it, they're going to let you know it. You're going to see every last detail of her life and every little quirk to her upbeat personality until you begin to recognize her as an actual person rather than a collection of polygons and pathos. Given these circumstances, it's understandable to feel bad about her slowly turning into something inhuman, especially given how inhuman it ends up looking. "Where's Aeron in all this", you ask? Shit. Hadn't considered that. Well, he doesn't get a lot of characterization, but again, we only get what's necessary. He's got a deep relationship going on with her, and there are ample amounts of backstory and now-story to support that claim. In the end, though, it's all about her.
But what I really like about this relationship is how well it's integrated into the gameplay. No matter where you are, everything you're doing is going to be for her sake alone. I'm lazy, so I'll start with the times that you're actually with Elena. This is when you're going to be chatting her up and giving her gifts and stuff that you just so happened to buy. And these are some expensive-ass gifts (or at least the ones that actually matter are; you don't want to be the buttwipe who gives her a bottle of monster pus, do you?). If you buy her that dress she flings off whenever she starts transforming, you're not gonna have enough money to upgrade that fancy weapon you've been swinging about. I'd say hooray for selflessness, but what affect does this have on your actual gameplay? Well....jack shit, honestly, unless you want to count alternate endings, all of which are incredibly sad.
But speaking of alternatives, what's the alternative approach to this situation? You don't spend time with her and acknowledge her existence? You asshole. All the poor girl has to while the days away is a tiny house in the middle of buttfuck nowhere (the worst part of nowhere) that slowly turns into an oppressive cage when you remember that whole "transforming into a monster" thing she has to deal with. The least you could do is give her some berries you found growing in the middle of a long-abandoned tower. Say, what's going on when you're in that tower, anyway? Well, aside from the occasional cutscene showing you what Elena's doing back at base, there's a clock ticking down, showing you just how long you have until she transforms. YOU CANNOT ESCAPE HER.....WHATEVER EMOTION WOULD BE APPROPRIATE TO THIS SITUATION.
Oh, and remember that meat thing I mentioned a while back? Turns out it's part of a very strong and thorough anti-violence polemic Pandora's Tower works up throughout its story. There's a good reason why all those endings are so sad: you have to do some awful things to save Elena, and believe me, the game's not giving you any choice in the moral status of your actions. Why do you think that the game even uses motion controls in the first place? There's no escaping your fate; in order to save Elena, you're gonna have to rip out a beast's heart in the most gruesome manner possible.
You don't even have the benefit of a defensive argument, at least in most of the weakly explained boss battles. These guys won't attack until you stab them in the eye with your chain, so you're always the asshole who wants them dead for their precious meat. The only exceptions tend to be the mechanically designed bosses, who will have no qualms giving you impromptu gender reconstruction surgery. And when you actually give her the meat she needs to be cured of her curse? Imagine this in motion. It's grotesque, and I love that the game thought it out. But that's not all there is to this story. There are also some political aspects there to round out the world, but that's all they do: round out the world. And turn the people of the land into cowardous assholes, but really, it's only there as window dressing to the main story of young girls and untold violence.
Huh? What's that? You want to talk gameplay? Well, it is a game, I suppose. Sure, why the fuck not? Since I've been talking about chains and using said chains to rip things up, I might as well start with the combat. An odd choice, given how much of it isn't dedicated to the chain. Sure, you use it to get meat and other goodies off the baddies, but a lot of the combat is just whacking dudes with your weapon of choice. There's not a lot to say outside this other than that it's mechanically solid. Pressing the "slice this fool up" button will indeed slice up whichever fool most deserves slicing up, and you're provided enough moves with which to perform this task, so there's not a lot to complain about. Granted, the combat's sticky, firmly locking you in one place after just about anything happens, but that's just part of the charm. It's not hidden from you in any way, so it becomes easy to account for and a legitimate part of the challenge. The only real flaw comes in the form of the motion controls. I realize I praised it earlier, but think about it: this is a 20 hour game built around flicking your wrist. I swear, Pandora's Tower has done worse things to my wrist than masturbation could ever hope to accomplish. It's also made me sweatier, but that's a discussion for another day.
The real charm, though, is in the game's
story levels. To a point. Do you recall how I said that the chain isn't the sole focus of the combat? That's because it makes up for it in the exploration. It's put to some pretty cool use as you solve basic environmental puzzles or just swing about the towers like you're in a platformer. Does it make a lot of sense? Not particularly, but that's hardly a concern when you're exploring levels as good as these. Grass tower! Fire tower! Mechanical tower! Fire tower! Mechanical t-I think you can see why I said "to a point". Quality was considered, but variety sure as hell wasn't. After a while, the game just runs out of ideas for tower themes and simply repeats earlier ones. They didn't even get an ice one in! The last two decades would be sorely disappointed in you, Pandora's Tower. Well, whatever. You can always shut them up with your huge environments. OK, not so much in terms of exploration, but in terms of scale, simply dwarfing puny little Aeron. Not only is this generally all kinds of cool, but it lends a lot of weight to your actions that wouldn't be there otherwise, like a David vs. Goliath thing if David proceeded to rip out Goliath's stomach.
I'd continue with some discussion of the game's graphics (they're good), but I think you can understand my message by now (the game's really fucking good). What needs elucidation is context; with all the Operation Rainfall games under my belt, how exactly would I rank them? Well, that's actually a very difficult question to answer, since the two best games in the "franchise" are going for completely different things. Xenoblade's trying on this world-hopping epic adventure with enough gameplay mechanics to fill its utterly vast universe. Pandora's Tower, on the other hand, scales the focus down considerably, working to death on a few story concepts and just as many gameplay mechanics. Both clearly know what the hell they're doing, but for me, the more personal focus of Pandora's Tower means it comes out on top. So in the end, Pandora's Tower barely edges out Xenoblade Chronicles for the first place spot while Xenoblade claps slowly, acknowledging the victory of a worthy opponent. Meanwhile, The Last Story is drinking by a sewer drain while screaming "THIS SADDENS ME" betwixt swigs, not really understanding how this type of thing is supposed to work.
- Wow, this game really knows how to craft a relationship. This is a dating sim, right?
- A dating sim that would have all kinds of gratuitous violence. It's not unheard of.
- And level design ripped straight from 2003.
For those too lazy to play through this awesome game for yourself, here's the ending to Pandora's Tower:
This was supposed to be Clock Tower 2, but how can you resist a title like Dynamite Dux? It's like somebody distilled the purest essence of Canada and the 1980s into whatever the hell this is. And then I saw the title screen and realized that I had no choice. And then I started playing the game and found out that no, I honestly can't stop making horrible decisions.
Perhaps it's best to start with a simple description of the premise. We begin with a couple in a field of flowers, when suddenly, the main character's girlfriend is captured by a bubble. I know what you're thinking, but save all questions for the end, because said main character also becomes a cartoon duck. He's then transported across the land to brutally murder whatever fever induced nightmares he happens upon. Somehow, this fixes all the problems I described earlier. Do you see the problem? Nothing makes any damn sense. Sometimes, this results in some fun madness, but for the most part, it's just really, really confusing. Why did putting out this fire summon a magical door? Where did King Penguin come from? Why is Colonel Sanders? I think they were trying to go for an old rubber-hose cartoon atmosphere, but without even remotely establishing any kind of logic, Sega missed the target by a nautical mile.
The strangest part of it all, though? That's the best thing this game has going for it. What else is there? The actual game? Well, there isn't really a lot to describe there. Gameplay consists of steering a cartoon duck through crowds of somethings and killing every last one of them. Or just jumping over them. You don't really stand to gain anything from killing these guys, and there usually aren't enough of them to constitute an engaging challenge, so what's the point of doing them harm? Fun? Ignoring how psychopathic that is, what fun is there to be had in murder? Yes, there are multiple weapons to fuck about with, but I can't imagine that amounting to much, given how similar they all feel. Speaking of similar, all the levels tend to be straight lines, severely crippling any longevity Dynamite Dux is aiming for. Reskinned bosses don't alleviate this situation. Wow, this part of the blog has been negative. Maybe I should list off some things that the game has going for it. Well, it looks good, for one, and....no, that's it, really. I think the verdict on Dynamite Dux just makes itself.
- I can't tell if this game takes inspiration from Max Fleischer or mescaline.
- Maybe that's all used to mask the gameplay that's lacking in gameplay.
- Looks good, though.