Pandora’s Tower: a title that says all and nothing at the same time. A game who lived under the shadow of Xenoblade Chronicles, being part of the “Operation rainfall” trilogy alongside The Last Story. Of these three games, rarely anyone talks about Pandora’s Tower.
However, this game can stand up on its own and the more I see people play it, the more I see people like it. I could go on and on about differences and similarities between this game and the other two of Operation rainfall, but that’s a story for another day.
Instead I’ll do a thing I do many times when starting to speak about a game: comparing it to a mix of other games: Pandora’s tower is a fusion of Shadow of the Colossus and The Legend Of Zelda, with splashes of Pikmin and a dating simulator thrown in. We’ll discuss all of these things later on.
The plot is quite simple: a girl named Elena is hit by a curse which threatens to transform her into a horrible beast. You, as her lover Aeron, must find a way to stop it, and the only way to stop the curse is to feed Elena with twelve pieces of flesh taken from twelve “masters” found in a place at the edge of the world called “The thirteen towers”. Feel the Shadow of the Colossus vibe yet?
Pretty much, that’s all there is to the plot. Honestly, this is not a game where the plot is really all that important. You don’t need to know it in order to progress. The plot is just there to give the setting of the adventure but that’s it. Of course if you want to follow it, you can do it and it can get really complex and interesting.
And here we start with the gameplay. The game follows a pretty repetitive scheme:
1) Enter a tower
2) Find a way to unlock the master’s room at the top
3) Fight the master of the tower to obtain one of the twelve pieces of flesh
4) Feed Elena and and unlock a new tower
5) Repeat above points.
Of course exploring the towers won’t be all nice and good. Apart from the various little monsters roaming about and trying to kill you, your real enemy in the towers is time. You see, Elena’s curse progresses as you explore the towers and a meter in the bottom-left of the screen tells you how much time you have left before she transforms into a beast forever.
I compared this a lot to Pikmin. That game is all about multitasking and time management. In Pandora’s Tower there is no multitasking, but time management is a serious issue. Deciding if a monster is worth fighting or not, deciding which path to take while going up the tower and while backtracking are both a big deal.
And while in Pikmin you’ve got 13 minutes per day, here the timer lasts for 35 minutes although using more than 20 minutes isn’t good as Elena will partially transform and she won’t be happy about it. The game has multiple endings and which one you get depends of the level of affinity between Aeron and Elena, which will lower if she partially transforms.
This is where the dating simulator part comes in. Elena waits Aeron to return from the towers in the Observatory. When you come back to her, you can talk with her about various topics, give her gifts and a few other things depending also on the time of day when you speak to her. Chatting and gifting increase affinity, which in the long term, determines whether you’ll get the good ending or one of the many bad endings.
Thankfully, you don’t need to finish a tower every time you enter it. You can make some progress, to the boss room and go back to Elena with the flesh retrieved from monsters which, while they won’t always recharge the timer to full, it’s better than nothing. All the progress made is saved, and on your next go, you can pick up form where you left. Much like in Pikmin, where when you don’t get a ship piece back to base, the next day it will be where you left it. The idea is the same.
There’s another character who lives in the Observatory with Elena and Aeron. That’s a old merchant woman named Mavda. She acts as the shop where you can buy stuff, create items with materials you’ve bought or found in the towers and upgrade your weapons. Also she seems to know many things about the curse and she also provides Aeron with the almighty tool needed to rip the flesh out of monsters: the Oraclos Chain.
This game is an action RPG. Aeron will be hacking and slashing his way through the monsters with his weapon (which can be changed between a sword, a couple of blades and scythe, all with different attributes) but Aeron’s main weapon is the Oraclos Chain. Chain that isn’t just needed to pull out the flesh from the monsters by pulling the wii remote after you’ve bound their corpses, but also acts as a whip, as Zelda-like hookshot, as a way to solve puzzles, as way to pull things, as a way stop enemies binding them together so they share the damage they take, and so on.
The chain allows a pretty deep level of interaction with the enemies. Binding different part of the monsters results in different effects. For example, take an enemy who can shoot projectiles from his mouth: bind the mouth and no more projectiles, but he can still slash with its claws. Bind the body and no claw attacks, but the projectiles are still a threat, and I could go on and on with these examples.
Also, the game uses the wii motion controls to use the chain: point the wii remote at the screen to aim, yank the remote to yank the chain and swing the nunchuck to make a spin attack. All pretty basic motion commands, which in the Wii U digital version were remapped to the right control stick and button presses.
Actually, you can remove these motion controls in the Wii version as well by connecting a pro controller, but I personally wouldn’t suggest it. I think it removes a lot of the game feel. But you know, the possibility is there and I don’t mind that there is. More control schemes equals to more accessibility which is always nice to have.
The boss fights in Pandora’s Tower are the moments where the game’s combat shines the most though. They (obviously) participate in that Shadow of the Colossus vibe I was mentioning, due to the bosses being those very big menacing foes (not as big as Shadow of the Colossus but can how you honestly top that?).
All boss fights feel like some kind of puzzle in a way. Each boss has a weak spot that Aeron needs to pull with the chain to extract the master flash. The masters will hide this weak spot in various ways, and finding a way to expose it, it’s part of the fun.
The bosses feel also very different from all other little monsters you fight on the way to them: the basic little monsters are very aggressive toward the player, while most masters won’t attack Aeron unless he provokes them in the first place. Also, when you pull the weak point with your chain, the master’s health bar appears, which other monsters never display.
All right, so that’s all I got to say on Pandora’s Tower. I mean, technically, there could be a lot more. I could talk about all the symbolism spread throughout the game, how it fits well in the theme of duality that is present, but I feel like this would become way too specific. All in all, it’s a short game. It takes around 20 hours for a first playthrough and much less on subsequent ones. Actually I might be bold and say that the real Pandora’s Tower starts on your second playthrough, when you can optimize your time a lot better due to your past knowledge, and towers that took 4 or more sessions now require just 1 or 2 because of your advanced knowledge and better time management.
So yeah, that’s Pandora’s Tower. Finding the Wii physical version might be quite hard but if you happen to own a Wii U there’s the HD digital release. Or you can watch my Let’s Play. This was one of the most serious projects I’ve done, with some heavy video editing (for my standards, at least) and custom video thumbnails which I hardly had done to this point, and I wanted to make a stable from here onward.
Let’s Play’s stats:
-First episode aired on: Mar 9, 2019
-Last episode aired on: Giu 3, 2019
-Number of episodes: 26
-Total time of Let’s Play: 14 hours