Operation Rainfall is officially over. With the release of "Pandora's Tower," the grassroots groundswell that took place on countless fronts, from social media to an old school letter writing campaign, has come to a successful conclusion, as the final release that was petitioned for arrives in the United States. After the effective outpouring of community interest, the fans behind Operation Rainfall were able to influence the releases of "The Last Story," "Xenoblade Chronicles," and now "Pandora's Tower," as the final three JRPGs for the Wii. But, was all that effort worth it? "The Last Story" and "Xenoblade Chronicles" seemed to live up to the hype, but can "Pandora's Tower" complete the cycle?
While in the same vein as its Operation Rainfall brethren, "Pandora's Tower" tells a darker, more mature story. You play as Aeron, a warrior who must make his way through thirteen different towers to break the curse imparted his travel companion, Elena. In order for Aeron to break the spell, he must defeat the masters of each tower, and bring their beast flesh back to the safe house for Elena to consume. If she does not eat the beast flesh quickly enough, she will turn into a monster herself.
"Pandora's Tower" is an action RPG at its core, but it implements some very interesting mechanics that help to set it apart as its own unique experience. As Aeron sets out with his sword in one hand, he is also equipped with a chain that serves as a weapon, a grappling hook, and a field dressing tool. While the sword is pretty standard for the genre, the chain opens up some interesting gameplay opportunities, while offering some variety to each of the battles. Many of the enemies, including the masters, can not be defeated with your sword alone, and you must figure out how to use the chain effectively for each new combatant.
One of the particularly enjoyable things about "Pandora's Tower" is how the story is so interwoven into the game itself. In order to save Elena, you need to keep feeding her, and the game makes sure you're aware of that at all times. A small gauge in the corner of the HUD keeps the player informed of how much time Elena has left until she fully transforms into a monster. This keeps the player focused on their goal constantly, and keeps them vigilant when killing enemies to see if they can strip even a small piece of their flesh to help prolong the time before Elena's transformation.
Clearly Elena plays a huge role in "Pandora's Tower," as she is the driving force between everything you do in the game, but just how big a role you want her to be in Aeron's life is truly up to the player. In the interludes between venturing from tower to tower, Aeron can try and gain favor with Elena by talking to her, giving her gifts, or basically flirting with her. If Elena is enchanted by Aeron's actions they will grow closer, but if he makes the wrong moves, their relationship will be negatively affected. How well Aeron and Elena get along throughout the game is extremely important and will influence the ending of the game.
Outside of the gameplay, "Pandora's Tower" shows a bit of its age in the graphics department. Originally released in Japan two years ago, the game pushed the Wii to its limits, but even since then, games have progressed so much. Cut scenes aside, if you're the type of player that can't enjoy a game if everything on the screen isn't shiny, you're going to have some issues with "Pandora's Tower." However, if you can get past the murkiness of the towers, and focus solely on the gameplay, there's some enjoyment to be had here.
The developer of "Pandora's Tower," Ganbarion, may have a lot of experience with One Piece games, and even released the amazing "Jump Super Stars" and "Jump Ultimate Stars" DS games, but they seem to also have a knack for making interesting role playing games. As long as you can endure the downtime between towers, the gameplay is solid enough to keep you wanting to explore more and more. Comparisons have been made to everything from "The Legend of Zelda" to "Shadow of the Colossus," and while those aren't too far off base, "Pandora's Tower" finds its own unique niche that JRPG fans, that are still firing up their Wiis, will truly appreciate.