Name: Pandora's Tower
Release Date: 13 April 2012
Platform: Nintendo Wii
What it's about:
Pandora's Tower is about a young girl named Elena who is suffering from a curse that slowly turns her into a monster. Aeron, a very close friend of hers, is trying everything to free her from the curse. They meet a witch named Mavda from an old clan called the Vestra. She leads them to the 13 towers and gives Aeron the Oraclos Chain. With this chain, Aeron has to explore these towers and collect flesh from the various beasts for Elena to eat. Ordinary flesh will only slow down the progression of the curse though, buying Aeron more time for his real task. In order to free her from the curse, he has to defeat the master of each tower and reap their flesh, called 'master flesh'.
The game only has three real characters in it but this fact greatly helps in conveying the overall atmosphere of the game. Elena and Mavda have interesting personalities, but sadly Aeron is rather bland and barely has any dialogue. The story will still draw you in though, as you'll start caring about the fate of Elena and Aeron and wanting to find out the conclusion of this tragic tale the further you get into the game.
The gameplay could best be described as a mix of Castlevania and Zelda, although it draws from various other series as well. Aeron is equipped with the Oraclos chain, which is used for just about everything in the game. Attacking and ripping flesh off enemies, opening doors, operating switches, shooting it at distant objects and pulling yourself to them and much more. It's controlled with either the IR pointer for the Wiimote+Nunchuck control scheme or the second analogue stick when using the classic controller. I highly recommend using the Wiimote+Nunchuck setup, as the extra speed and precision gained by using the IR pointer is extremely helpful. There is no manual camera control either, so that's all the second analogue stick is used for.
In each tower, you'll have to make your way through several floors filled with monsters and puzzles. While you can also use the chain to attack enemies, it is supposed to be used in conjunction with a few other weapons, such as a sword or even a badass scythe. For example, you could constrain or trip a beast with the chain, rush in to attack and kill it with your melee weapon of choice and finally rip its flesh off with a flick of the Wiimote. Normal encounters do get repetitive after a while but thankfully normal attacks are performed with the A button, leaving the motion control to ripping flesh off enemies with the chain. Even then, you can avoid most enemies once you have some flesh for Elena to eat.
While climbing the various towers of the game, you are under a time limit which represents the progression of Elena's curse. If you take too long, she will start turning into a beast and if you let the time run out completely, Elena turns into a beast and it's Game Over. This time limit means that you have to go back once or twice per tower before you reach the master, giving Elena some beast flesh to curb the curse and buy you more time. Thankfully, there are a lot of shortcuts to create in each tower, so you aren't punished with having to go through each and every room again. Once you reach the top of a tower, you have to fight its respective master. These fights are a lot of fun and appropriately epic and range from rather easy to challenging. Each of them has a weak spot on its body in form of their master flesh, which you ultimately have to rip out to defeat them. While the first two or three bosses don't require any particular tactic to defeat, the later masters won't be easily defeated without a clever strategy.
The hub of the game is an observatory near the towers, where Elena and Mavda reside. You regularly have to return to this place to feed Elena some flesh but it also has some other functions. Mavda acts as a merchant, buying spare flesh and other items you've found inside the towers from you. You can also upgrade your melee weapons and craft equipment or materials with her help. Upgraded weapons not only get stronger, but also give you longer and more powerful combos to perform. Aside from consumables and materials, Mavda also sells various gifts, which you can give to Elena to boost the affinity between her and Aeron. The game has multiple endings based on how high the affinity is, so you'd do well to chat with her and make her happy with various gifts from time to time. The interaction with Elena is a nice distraction from the action-based gameplay and adds some dating-sim elements to the otherwise action-focused gameplay.
The graphics of Pandora's Tower sadly don't quite do its beautiful art direction justice. Character models are very well done but the environment has some very blurry textures, especially when zoomed in. It does have some very pretty FMVs though, which make you wish that the rest of the game would look as amazing as they do.
The soundtrack fits the atmosphere of the game perfectly and even has some epic variations on classic music from Verdi and Tchaikovsky. The track that plays during the fights against the masters is particularly impressive, perfectly capturing the feel of fighting an ancient evil being with its epic chorus. The English voice acting is also very well done.
Beating the story can take you anywhere from 15-25 hours, depending on your playstyle. Then, there is also some bonus content after you beat the game as well as multiple endings to extend the playtime.
Final Score: 9/10
Pandora's Tower is very different from the other two 'Operation Rainfall' titles with its overall concept, combat and various puzzles. It does have its shortcomings but it's still well worthy of your attention. The tragic, mature love story will draw you in and won't let go until you finish the game. It's a very enjoyable and unique game that I can definitely see becoming a cult classic in years to come.