I participated in Nintendo World Report's Radio Free Nintendo's 28th RetroActive. The game featured was Pandora's Tower for the Nintendo Wii. This is a collection of my writings for the event.
Ah, my first RetroActive that I am participating in!
I'm about 15 hours and 8 towers in Pandora's Tower. Currently, I am enjoying the game.
Graphically, the game tries very hard to have a detailed world on a grand scale. This flies in the face of the Wii's technical capabilities and often times the Wii wins in that confrontation. The small details of the towers and the characters are muddied by the textures. However, the low-res don't bother me much. While the game has a realistic tilt to its look and the towers employ their themes strongly (i.e. forest tower, rock tower, water tower, fire tower), I find that all the towers I've ascended make good use of color and structural variety. One of the rock towers, for example, opens up from the dreary bottom floors to a grand hall of colorful crystals. The automated camera is scripted well to show the player eye-catching angles. Sadly, the camera commits the common third-person action game fault of showing angles that encumber the playing experience.
The game is a bit light on music. Most of my time in the towers is accompanied by the grunts of Aeron and the ambient noise. This is punctuated by momentary swells upon opening a door and entering an important area, the one theme of enemy encounters, or the one boss theme. The place where the music is strongest is at the Observatory where Elena and Mavda reside. Many variations of the game's main theme is played in the Observatory, so it's a good thing that the main theme is nice to listen to. The Observatory music gives a strong sense of homely love and warmth (or struggle and tragedy) which is what it should be.
As for the sounds of the game, Ganbarion did really well in making the act of eating raw beast flesh sound disgusting. The sounds of Aeron running around the towers and slashing with his weapons sound as they should. The ambiance of the towers is realized by the sounds of wind drafts and falling debris. Ripping an embedded, fully-charged Oraclos chain off a tower's master has the right violent and sadistic sound to it. Sadly, some of the levels or mixing of the English voice acting can be off. I've noticed Elena (who certainly has most of the lines of the game, though Mavda is quite a talker) has some lines sounding crisp while others being oddly muffled.
I'll be sure to share more thoughts as I near the end of the game. For now, a few things that might make your tower climbing easier:
* The Oraclos chain is not only your all-purpose tool but also your most powerful offensive tool. There is no good reason not to use constantly in enemy encounters. A quick double tap on a larger foe can leave it immobile long enough to charge a powerful weapon strike combination. The multiple weapon strikes will usually be enough to floor the enemy which gives you ample opportunity to chain the enemy again. Against multiple enemies, the chain can throw enemies far away, allowing Aeron to divide and conquer. Heavy use of the Oraclos chain will make most, if not all, enemy encounters trivial affairs. In this game, the chain is mightier than the sword!
* Adding to the above, all of the boss fights I've played so far (the first 8) revolve around the Oraclos chain being the only way to deal damage. Any use of bladed weapons are to stun the boss or create an opening for the Oraclos chain. Some bosses have you not using your sword at all!
* There are boxes in the boss room that contain a piece of unreadable text. Be sure to get them as they flesh out the game's lore and can be sold to Mavda for a good amount of Leots. Speak to Elena to translate the texts. Also, do visit the cellar of the Observatory after defeating each tower's master as texts and books do make their way there.
* Crafting gives you cool stuff in this game. The most valuable crafting material is mercury. Mercury is used many times to upgrade your weapons as well as in crafting useful armor and accessories. If you find a reliable spot to farm mercury, make sure to make note of it.
* The 5,000 Leot Tactical Manual is just a dump of EXP that can be used during a tower (oddly, you can't use it in the observatory). Unless you really need to level up, those Leots are better used for crafting materials or giving Elena a new dress.
! - About Elena's gift dresses, they have a 1,250 Leot repair bill if they are broken by the curses's transformation. If you don't want to bear that cost, either don't give her new clothes or make sure to feed her beast flesh before the timer passes the 2/3rds mark.
* Every morning, the birds at the fountain will drop a Dryad berry if you shoo them away. The dryad berry can be gifted to Elena to make the Homemade Cake healing item. At night, there is a bird's nest at the top of the Observatory that you can disturb for an item.
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And right after I wrote that using the chain will make enemy encounters trivial, I enter a room with a difficult mix of servant beasts. Thankfully, enemies are easily avoided if you already have high-quality beast flesh or are not in a kill room.
The story has taken a predictable twist and turn as I near the end of the game. At this point, I think it was a mistake to have Aeron be a nearly-silent character. The story is Elena's and Aeron's with the player as the guide. It doesn't make sense to me to have Aeron be a player cipher. Then again, having more spoken lines from Aeron would slow the game's conversations.
I looked in the Wii activity log as I played through the latter towers. I was surprised to see that conquering a tower can take a little more than two hours. I had it in my mind that conquering a tower would take an hour tops. That may have been true for the earlier towers, but not in the latter ones where the count of the chains of Aios increase.
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The loading glitch of the final two towers didn't stop me from reaching Ending A of Pandora's Tower in 23 hours and 59 minutes. I don't intend to stop there as there is still a lore percentage to fill and weapons to upgrade. Also, different endings.
It is such a shame that the glitch affects the North American release of the game. The final two towers have the trickiest navigation puzzles of the game, but I had to cycle the power of my Wii at least half a dozen times to see them through. What seemed to alleviate the problem was resting on the bed in the Observatory for an hour before trying to load on of the final two towers.
The final stretch of the story left me a bit disappointed. Perhaps I will think of it better once I find more pieces of the back story, but I feel unfulfilled for now. The last half hour had a predictable twist, a hasty exposition dump, and a rush to the melodramatic conclusion. While I'm familiar with how a lot of Japanese stories tilt towards the ambiguous or opaque, my ending to Pandora's Tower felt under-explained and unearned. I didn't want the game to teach me Curse Dynamics 101, but it could have built towards its conclusion better.
As for the game systems and mechanics, my biggest complaint on the combat is that the chain is overused. For all the great bosses of the game, the chain feels as if it is the only weapon in the game. To be fair, the chain has a ranged attack and a pick-up-&-throw attack in inclusion to grappling and tearing. Also, the bladed weapons do come in to play to expose vulnerabilities or destroy obstacles. Still, the game is in love with grappling and tearing and the appeal wears out in the end. Hmm, maybe I'm just sad that the second to last boss was a more clever fight than the last boss. Disappointingly, the last boss is an exercise in attack pattern recognition and correctly choosing the moments to chain and tear (which is the only way to do damage, to my knowledge).
I'll be sure to write more as I wrap up the game. Also, I'll make sure they are more positive.
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I went back in the towers for six more hours (for a total of 30 hours) to unlock red doors, give Elena more gifts, and raise the bond to it's maximum level. The extra time led to Ending S which addressed a lot of my gripes with Ending A and was a better ending for me.
Whichever ending you end up getting, I recommend spending the extra time to get Ending S. The generous New Game + options make it easy to raise the bond to its maximum. A large amount of documents are available in the Observatory and the cellar which can be sold. The funds from all those documents will buy many gifts for Elena. Also, a few of the crimson doors in the towers hide some nice gifts. While it's not a gift, I recommend unlocking the red doors in Sheerdrop Tower first to get something special to start off New Game +.
As if the game knew my frustrations with Ending A, Ending S explains much of game's story. Actually, it might be explaining too much. There is a ridiculous, literally-last-minute plot twist/reveal that explains a major foundation of Pandora's Tower's story; it was bewildering and kind of sweet (as far as melodrama goes).
One bad thing that bears mentioning: The sound mastering for the English voice overs is poor for some characters as I was playing through Ending S.
A nice touch that Pandora's Tower shares with The Last Story is a changing title screen. After finishing Ending S, the slightly changed title screen provided a pleasant coda.
There are still three endings I haven't unlocked that I'm not sure I want to put the effort for. Also, I know I have untouched crimson doors in the glitched towers. And Elena hasn't translated all the texts I brought to her. There is still a bit more for me to play.
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Quote from: Gwellin on August 29, 2013, 06:08:11 PM
Quote from: Enner on August 28, 2013, 12:49:39 AM
I went back in the towers for six more hours (for a total of 30 hours) to unlock red doors…
I didn't actually go back for the New Game +, but I did get the S ending anyway. Is there much point to going back for a quick replay?
Also, how are the red doors handed? What do you have to do to open them?
If you already got Ending S, I don't think there's much point in going back unless you want to acquire and read all the back story material.
The red doors are unlocked with the Crimson Key you can buy from Mavda in New Game +.
As for the repeated tower motifs in the second half of the game. It is hard to not see the reuse and repurposing of the environment assets as lazy. The "dark side" towers are good remixes and rearrangements of the "light side" towers and have some visual differences, but it's hard to shake the feeling that you playing the game over again.
I found the dark side towers different and unique enough to not be bothered by any thoughts of crying, "recycled content." But I can see some players becoming tired and bored. At that point in the game, nearly all the mechanics have been shown to the player so the dark side towers comes off as a review or test. I enjoyed them the same; I can see others crying foul.
Reading about watching the other endings on Youtube makes me sad (though I have done the same and can understand and appreciate it). I guess I'm old fashioned and have way to much time on my hands.
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I didn't plan to spend six and half more hours in the game to unlock the final red doors and all the endings. It just sort of happened.
On the red doors in the Dawn Tower and Dusk Tower: only materials there. Wasn't worth the trouble of suffering through the lock-up glitch for the better part of an hour.
On unlocking the endings: The endings are based on the affinity meter and there's a great guide on GameFAQs that describes the thresholds ( [size=78%]
Basically, you can gift item such as beast fangs or strange grains repeatedly to tank the affinity between Aeron and Elena.
Dropping affinity is extremely quick while raising affinity is extremely slow
. So if you want to experience the five different endings yourself, it is easier to go high before you go low.
As for the endings themselves...
Ending B is similar to Ending A but has completely different dialogue in the cut scenes of the end game. Zeron introduces herself and overpowers Elena in to silence before the final fight. While Ending A has Aeron and Elena sacrificing themselves to stop Zeron, bury the towers, and heal the Scar, Ending B has Elena sacrificing herself alone while Mavda uses the Oraclos chain to bury Zeron and heal the Scar while leaving the towers intact.
Ending D is attained by having the affinity meter at or near its lowest level. At that point, the ending is triggered upon giving Elena the ninth master flesh. The curse goes berserk and transforms Elena even though she just recently ate the master flesh. Unable to bear it anymore, Elena asks Aeron to kill her. The player has to pull the B trigger. There is no credits scroll and there is a short epilogue saying the curse has become rampant across the land and how Mavda continues to lead cursed people to the towers. Nothing really special here, though the B trigger sequence milks the moment with appropriate music.
Ending C is perhaps the most interesting ending of the game. A silent, weaker Zeron surfaces in the Observatory's fountain area and Aeron must stop her. Upon defeating this Zeron, the Elyrian army bursts through the door and seize Aeron and Elena. The soldiers were accompanied by Mavda and it seems Elena was in the know. The Elyrian army, under advisement from Mavda, allows Elena to attain the Zeron form and recruits/conscripts Aeron who is the only one who can handle Elena. A sad and defeated Aeron commands an army of Elena and the servant beasts of the thirteen towers to conquer Athos (Aeron's mother country) and other lands for the glory of the Elyria. There is no credits roll for Ending C, but there is an awesome image of Aeron's and Elena's beast army that I can't help but think is bad ass. Of course, I feel sad for Aeron who can't even look at Elena in her cursed form.
I've played a lot of this game and even have 100% of the lore. However, the completion rating on the save file only reads 89%. I'm guessing the weapon upgrade levels or the Observatory decorations fill in those last percentages. I won't be going after those as grinding the necessary materials and currency is just too much.
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On the final two endings:
Ending A is the bittersweet end where Elena and Aeron plunge in to the scar to heal it with the Oraclos chain. Mavda lives on to tell the tale as the continent continues to be engulfed in war. Noticeably different in this ending from Ending B is Zeron's strong attraction towards Aeron and Elena trying to resist Zeron's control. This was the first ending I got; between Zeron's actions and the exposition dumps, I was confused and underwhelmed with what was happening to the story's climax. I imagine I would have felt the same with any of the endings other than Ending S. Speaking of which....
Ending S is quite the doozy. Everything is explained! Aeron is a descendant of Zeron. Zeron grief for Rueban is why Elena was cursed. Zeron was pregnant during the Vestra's Experiment Zero ritual a half a millennium ago. The burial of the Thirteen Towers and the healing of the Scar leads to peace. So much crazy stuff happening even as the credits are rolling. In contrast to Ending C's villainous turn, Mavda in Ending S is Aeron's ally as she atones for the mistakes of her people, the Vestra. It's interesting how the story manages to be able to portray Mavda as both foe and friend.
The lengths the story goes in explaining itself in Ending S is what I desired after seeing Ending A. While I enjoyed seeing Ending S, I can't help but see the delivery of the literally last-minute revelations as being silly.
I enjoyed my journey through Pandora's Tower. Reflecting on my experience and the 6.5 - 8.0 reviews I've read, I find myself in agreement with the reviews. The combat is a simple affair with no crazy combo strings to consider. The chain adds some no-brainer combat options such as binds and throwing. The environment and navigation puzzles are good and make good use of the chain. Each of the six pairs of towers has you doing something different with the chain to solve a puzzle and they strike a nice balance between being clever and accessible. The boss fights are wonderful encounters that do right by the combat puzzles of Zelda games. The time limit isn't obtrusive and adds the right amount of urgency to the player's action. Inane as it can be, I really got a kick out of the relationship and affinity systems.
The game would have benefited from some more development time or polish. I feel that the game lacks that extra something that makes for a tighter, more cohesive experience (to be fair, most games don't have that extra something). Maybe the combat could have had more depth? Maybe the story's pacing could have been better? Maybe the five dark side towers were a bit too much? Maybe there could have been more to the relationship and affinity systems?
Having read the Iwata Asks on the game, I recall that Ganbarion has some struggles with making the game. Ganbarion has mostly worked on licensed fighting games in the past so Pandora's Tower is one of their few (if not their first) original titles. While some Ganbarion's One Piece games were action-adventure games, the genre is still somewhat new for the developer. Under's Nintendo's guidance, Ganbarion has made a great effort and a good game in Pandora's Tower. Hopefully, the two will collaborate in the future.
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The Iwata Asks interview in English for those curious.