Review: Pandora's Tower is a great closing curtain for the Wii
It's funny to think that just a couple of years ago it seemed as though the Wii was pretty much done as far as worthwhile exclusives were concerned. During that time, the idea of getting solid RPGs the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story was practically a pipe dream. Pandora's Tower seemed like an even more unlikely candidate for localization. Sure enough, all three games became available in the North American market, with Pandora's Tower being the last of this Wii RPG trinity of sorts. After so much clamoring from Wii owners, though, it's great to see that it was indeed localized, because it's a damn fine game, the likes of which we should've seen more of on Nintendo's previous console.
The plot follows a young woman named Elena who's suffering from a curse that's slowly turning her into a monster. As the soldier Aeron, it's up to you to venture through 13 towers to recover the only cure: flesh from the master beasts residing within those towers. When Elena eats this flesh, it not only slows her transformation, but it also gets her closer to being freed from the curse.
The story is well written, and there's a grim, dreary tone to the whole thing that's quite refreshing, especially for a Wii game. The characters themselves are also interesting, developing more over time. One character in particular, the old merchant lady Mavda, is especially intriguing, delivering a great performance thanks in part to her mysterious nature.
Combat is largely based around hack-and-slash mechanics, and enemies aren't all that varied. It's actually a bit of a shame that there isn't much diversity between baddies, and though you do level up as you defeat enemies, the actual act of taking the fight to the towers' beasts is hardly enthralling. As you progress, you obtain new weapons, armor, upgrades, and items. These aid you on your quest and provide you with more of a fighting chance, but they don't do much to differentiate the combat itself, and even brandishing a new type of weapon doesn't change things up significantly.
Despite the lack of wholly original combat, developer Ganbarion was able to add some elements that make Pandora's Tower really cool, even during the not-so-great parts. Aeron possesses a chain that must be utilized throughout the entire adventure. You can grapple enemies and toss them around, tie two beasts together, and pull items or flesh off of them after you've defeated them. This adds a nice little wrinkle to the combat which is otherwise not all that exciting.
What is exciting, however, is navigating the towers. I got a real "Zelda lite" vibe from Pandora's Tower. The locales didn't exactly reach the high difficulty of some of the later dungeons in Nintendo's famed fantasy action-adventure franchise, but they were engaging most of the time. Using Aeron's chain is a must as it sets off levers, raises elevators, and makes climbing a breeze. There are plenty of items scattered throughout, many of which are optional, but seeking them out makes exploring the towers a more enjoyable affair overall. Many times there's a bit of backtracking to be done, but you can usually open up shortcuts to avoid any level fatigue.
Battling regular enemies may not be much fun, but Pandora's Tower features a host of boss fights that are incredibly entertaining. The bosses all have a specific weak point located on their bodies that needs to be attacked. That's where the similarities end, because going to work on those weak spots is different for every boss. Basically, you need to latch Aeron's chain to the weak spot, but exposing and exploiting said weak spot requires a different approach every time. One creature may force you to run behind it to find the specific attack point, while another will constantly attack you as its weak spot travels around its body. This makes for some really fun moments, and figuring out exactly how to defeat these massive enemies is very puzzle-like.
A meter marks how close Elena is to completely transforming into a beast, and this is something you need to monitor as you travel through towers. When the meter is close to empty, it's best to take the flesh of smaller enemies back to Elena to help slow the curse for a while. This is where backtracking really comes into play, and it's also when the aforementioned shortcuts become most necessary. Surprisingly, exiting and reentering towers isn't really annoying, and that's probably due to the tension that comes from making sure Elena is okay.
In between clearing towers, you can spend time at your hideout, which acts as a hub and shop. Here you can interact with Elena and purchase items from the creepy Mavda. You can also take collected items and craft specific upgrades or new items altogether. This aspect of the game isn't deep, though being able to power up your weapons certainly helps in the long run.
The bond between Aeron and Elena is an important part of Pandora's Tower. Taking her gifts, talking to her, and asking her to create items all help strengthen the relationship between the two characters. This in turn has a direct impact on which of the game's multiple endings you get to see. In addition to interacting with Elena, you can also take any unreadable documents you find along the way to have her translate them for you. These texts contain information about the lore of the land, and they're actually pretty interesting to read. Most importantly, however, they reinforce the two characters' connection with each other.
You can use either the Wii Remote and Nunchuk or the Classic Controller to play Pandora's Tower. Both options work well, but the edge goes to the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. This is because aiming your chain is much more responsive and functional using the Wii Remote's pointer. No moment in the game requires a ridiculously precise or steady aim, but being able to point the cursor on the screen using the Wii Remote is more ideal than using the Classic Controller.
Visually, Pandora's Tower isn't pretty to look at. In fact, the low-res textures are really ugly. That said, there's a nice art direction here, and the architecture in particular is designed nicely, Enemies look okay, though they often have a by-the-numbers appearance to them. It's the bosses that are worthy of the most praise, as these demonic creatures are a sight to behold and are quite terrifying and imposing.
The voice acting in Pandora's Tower ranges from grating to decent. Aeron hardly talks, and this greatly affects his appeal as the game struggles to make him so much more than the typical silent protagonist. Elena has a lot to say, and while her voice work could be better, it's still decent. Mavda, on the other hand, sounds great and plays the part of the wise, eerie old lady magnificently. There's not a whole lot to say about the soundtrack, other than some of the themes are pretty great despite being played too often during the entire game.
It should be noted that Pandora's Tower suffers from some frustrating bugs. Oftentimes the game will freeze randomly, usually when entering or exiting an area, or during transitions in cutscenes. One of the more annoying freezes during my playthrough occurred following a boss fight. I was just seconds away from Elena's beast meter emptying out, and I had an enjoyably dramatic battle with a boss. As I exited the area just in time to deliver the beast flesh to Elena, the game froze, forcing me to play through not only that boss battle, but the second half of that tower. This happened twice. There won't be any fixes coming to Pandora's Tower, so be aware of the presence of these sorts of bugs.
Compared to Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, Pandora's Tower is easily the weakest of the bunch. Still, that's not really a bad thing considering the fact that both of those titles are amazing. What you get with Pandora's Tower is a great action-RPG that suffers from a few setbacks but goes back to the basics and delivers a good, entertaining, and captivating adventure. It's a bit disappointing that this game wasn't released much sooner, because it offers something special for Wii owners. As it stands, if you've still got your Wii (or a Wii U) around the house and want to play a great RPG, Pandora's Tower is a good choice.
With that, I think this is as good a time as any to bid farewell to Nintendo's Wii, because Pandora's Tower is not only a solid title, but it's also a great way for the console to go out on a joyously high note.
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