The Wii is a console on its last legs. It’s served its time, performed magnificently well in some respects, and sits ready and waiting to be replaced by the upcoming Wii U. But, rather than stumbling towards an ungainly and embarrassing retirement, it’s saved some of its best titles for last. More confident developers have finally been able to unlock the potential of Nintendo’s arm-wiggling world conqueror, creating experiences that show how the console has finally matured into more than just a gimmick. At the forefront of this final onslaught stand three JRPGs, a triumvirate of games that aren’t afraid to play around with the bedrock of the genre. We’ve already been treated to Xenoblade Chronicles from Monolith Soft and The Last Story from Mistwalker Studios, but in a way the most revolutionary of the trio has been saved until last.
Pandora’s Tower, from Ganbarion, is a game that takes the basic template of the JRPG, then shakes it until it doesn’t know the difference between up and down. Familiar and new in equal measures, it’s not just an interesting coda to the lifespan of Nintendo’s console, it’s an intriguing step in a new direction for a style of game that was in danger of becoming stale. Sure, it has giant swords and unfathomably spiky hair, and a handful of other tropes that make it instantly recognisable as a Japanese role-player, but it’s the changes and new ideas Ganbarion have implemented that make the game such a mouth-watering prospect.
RPGs in general are usually quite laid back about how long you take saving the world. If you’d rather spend all of your time gambling, fetching hides for withered crones or petting kittens, then whatever large impending doom you’re trying to prevent will just have to wait. Not so in Pandora’s Tower, where your mission is of such urgency it’s tracked by a ticking on-screen clock. The importance of haste is emphasised by buzzing Wii-motes and a simple enough equation, if you don’t finish what you’re doing in time, then it’s game over. In and of itself, that’s enough to make you hurry things up a little, but Pandora’s Tower has much more up its sleeve than that.
A Love Story
You’re not trying to save the world, you’re just trying to save the girl. More accurately, you’re trying to save the girl from turning into a slobbering slug beast. The titular tower is the realm of an assortment of giant bosses, and it just so happens that their flesh is the only thing that can stop the curse that’s spreading over the body of Elena, our love interest. So off you set to slay them, cut them into manageable lumps, and bring them back to feed to the quite rightly disgusted young woman. Now the clock has a face, and if you’re too long on your expeditions, Elena will complete her cursed transformation and become a monster herself.
Not a love story
But wait, there’s more. If you’re lightning quick in your exploration and slaying, then Elena will be pleased with you, or as pleased as someone who’s choking down a pulsating lump of beast flesh can be. Cut it close and she’ll get grumpy, and a little scaly. Your actions have consequences, and as you play through the game you’ll start to build a relationship with Elena, who’s a complete stranger to you when things begin. Racing through the dungeons becomes more urgent, because you might get back to find she’s in a right mood with you, or worse, wants to eat your face off your skull.
Sort of a love story, then
As you’d expect from a JRPG, all of your actions play a part in a much bigger tale, one with cosmic ramifications and more than a handful of twists and turns. It’s all to do with destiny and fate and weird monsters and a scar in the fabric of reality. But the focus given to the action by the burgeoning romance between the two leads gives a different perspective on the end of the world, asking interesting questions about the way we interact with each other, and the way we deal with stressful situations.
Don’t worry, though, because you’ll be well equipped as you trawl through the different parts of the tower, hacking things into bite-sized lumps. The main weapon in your arsenal is a spiked chain that you can use to grapple, lash and eviscerate enemies with a flick of your Wiimote. You also get to carry around a huge sword, as you’d imagine, but it’s the chain that makes the game stand out, allowing you to experiment and discover in ways that JRPGs usually punish you for. It’s your all-in-one tool for problem solving and violence.
Up in the guts
Thankfully, Ganbarion have built a combat system that makes the best use of your flailing chain whips. Turn based battling is firmly out, replaced with bouts of thrashing brutality that wouldn’t look out of place in a God of War game. You’ll be lashing beasts together, trapping them on scenery, and generally making a nuisance of yourself. The action more than matches up to the adventure, and there’s a solid honesty to the fights that will keep you interested long into the night. A mix of vile creatures stand in your path, but a mix of hacking, slashing, and chaining, means you’ll be outnumbered, but never out-sharp-edged.
This is just a taste of some of the exciting features Pandora’s Tower has to offer. It’s an innovative addition to a genre that a lot of people have been willing to write off, an Eastern game that wears its Western influences proud for all to see, and a mighty fine final instalment in an entirely non-connected trio of JRPGs that are making the last days of the Wii so exciting. Best to hold back on packing the Wii away to make room for the Wii U just yet. There’s life in the old girl still.
Pandora’s Tower is out on Friday, April 13 for the Nintendo Wii.