Pandoraâ€™s Tower is a new Wii RPG from Japanese developer Ganbarion that puts a new twist on the well-trod â€˜save the princessâ€™ path. Instead of battling through various dangers in order to save a lovely girl from a hideous beast, you, as the brave (but bland) soldier Aeron, are instead trying to save the girl from...herself.
Elena, Aeronâ€™s love, has been cursed to become a writhing, putrid creature that wouldnâ€™t be out of place in a Lovecraft story. The only way Aeron can keep this horrific transformation from happening is to keep feeding Elena the flesh of beasts who live in the Thirteen Towers nearby.
Thereâ€™s a twist to the twist, however: most of the flesh that Aeron brings back for Elena (of varying â€˜qualityâ€™, from â€˜pulsatingâ€™ to â€˜dried-outâ€™ flesh) will only help to fend off her transformation for a little while. What Elena really needs to get rid of the curse completely is to consume the flesh of all twelve Master beasts who guard the tops of each tower. And itâ€™s up to Aeron to travel to each of the towers in turn, fight his way to the Master beast at the top, and bring their dripping flesh back to his lady love.
The catch to this is that once Aeron enters one of the towers, Elenaâ€™s transformation starts again. As a result, getting to the tops of the towers is a tense experience, as Aeron races against Elenaâ€™s metamorphosis timer, fighting beasts and solving environmental puzzles along the way. (And once the timer reaches the end, it is Game Over, for Elena as well as the player.) For tougher towers this means you will find yourself having to make a few trips back to Elena before you are able to make it all the way to the top.
Elena is hiding out in an old observatory, with a very strange old woman named Mavda, who carries around the animated skeleton of an old man in a massive cauldron on her back. When Aeron is back at the Observatory, Elenaâ€™s monstrous timer stops counting down and Aeron can take some time to talk to her, to offer her presents that he has found during his adventuring, and build up a good rapport. The degree to which this rapport is developed does impact the different game endings (there are six), so itâ€™s worth forking out to buy those flower seeds when what youâ€™d really like to spend your money on is medicine.
Mavdaâ€™s also a useful person to know, as she offers merchant services, as well as crafting, repair, and a lot of advice. Mavda is also the one who gives Aeron the Oraclos chain, a magical item that links him to Elena (and allows him to know how far along the transformation timer she is) but also provides a lot of different ways to interact with some of the puzzles and enemies Aeron will encounter in the towers.
Aeron can use the Oraclos chain as a whip, to grab treasure thatâ€™s out of reach, or trigger remote switches. It can also be used to help wrangle tough enemies by hog-tying them around the ankles, or lifting them up and throwing them through the air. Itâ€™s also what Aeron uses to extract the beast flesh from dead beasts. Itâ€™s like a medieval multi-tool! The Oraclos chain develops and â€˜maturesâ€™ as Aeron conquers the Master beasts, giving him a greater repertoire of tricks.
The control of the Oraclos chain is seamlessly integrated with the Wii remote, and though itâ€™s worth noting that Pandoraâ€™s Tower also supports use of the classic controller, the game really does come into its own when used with the standard controller, which you can use to throw the chain, and then pull back to increase the tension, and build up to stronger attacks.
The battle sequences are live-action (as opposed to turn-based) and can be rather tough when Aeron is mobbed by large groups of critters. Whatâ€™s more, explored areas do respawn with new monsters (often tougher than the originals!), though often Aeron is able to run through these if he doesnâ€™t dally too long. But his attacks with the standard sword and shield, while rudimentary (press one button to attack, and another to block), still do the trick when coupled with the versatility of the chain.
For all of its innovation in story and Wii-specific mechanics, Pandoraâ€™s Tower is not a perfect game. The look of the game feels dated, especially in the tower-exploration scenes, and the fixed camera brings the usual complaints. Furthermore, longer play sessions can begin to feel grindy, what with the many required trips back and forth between the towers and the Observatory. (Itâ€™s worth noting that most of the time the only place you are able to save the game is back at the Observatory, at Aeronâ€™s writing desk.) And despite the many different ways Aeron can make use of the chain, the fighting in the towers (even the Master battles) can eventually feel quite same-y.
That said, the developing relationship between Aeron and Elena is a truly enjoyable one, and it is interesting to watch how the flashbacks Elena gets after eating the Master flesh start to shed light on the mystery of why she was cursed in the first place. It is this developing relationship, answers to the mystery of Elenaâ€™s curse, and the playerâ€™s interest in both, that ultimately redeems this title from something other than a standard dungeon crawler.