Everdark Tower (Switch) review
"Not the brightest"
Everdark Tower aims to enchant you, and why not? One of fantasy's many functions involves distracting its partakers from the hustle, bustle, banality and horror of everyday life, providing a much-needed break so you can emotionally convalesce. This RPG accomplishes that feat within the first few minutes, especially if you love old school roleplaying games or you appreciate pixel art. The game whisks you away to another world composed simple sprites and MIDI-quality music that looks and sound like and old school console title.
It even opens up the way any retro roleplayer ought to: with a fantastical land in peril and someone begging a hero to rise to the occasion. We get a terrific view of the titular tower while a mysterious girl peers out from a balcony. She calls to the protagonist, Albus, instructing him to "make stopped time move again." Albus awakens aboard a ship, and we discover at this point that his world remains shrouded in everlasting night. The lack of sunlight presents a huge problem alone, but the land has an even worse threat to deal with: nocturnal monsters. Without the sun to ward them off, they are free to roam about indefinitely, attack towns, slaughter the vulnerable and exhaust defenses. Settlements can hole up for a short while, but the things that go bump in the night will eventually overwhelm guards and break down barricades. Needless to say, Albus literally and figuratively doesn't have all the time in the world to finish this quest.
The game banks more on lore than on character development. Albus remains a static protagonist without much personality, aside from the standard bravery see in almost every video game hero. Hell, even his allies, Sarah and Collins, prove to be nothing more than your average, duty-bound good guys. Rather than fleshing out these folks, the game focuses more on world-building info and past events while maintaining a fairly short campaign. For instance, you learn a little about the lighthouse in the first town, which not only guides ships to harbor, but also protects the citizens thanks to its sacred flame. Sarah herself is the stoker of that fire, though she's been finding it difficult to maintain it since her father disappeared.
Through the story, you also discover the function of the Everdark Tower and the identity of the girl beckoning Albus, as well as a few surprisingly creative revelations. Things seem like they're going to really pick up here, but then you enter the final dungeon, battle the main antagonist and end the affair in short order. And as the credits roll, maybe two or three hours after you selected "new game," you can't help but feel underwhelmed. Your knee-jerk reaction might be to blame the game's brevity, because its short playtime didn't allow for much depth or development. However, Everdark's true cracks run much deeper than length issues...
For one thing, its combat system only holds up for about the last half of the proceedings. Much like the older RPGs it mimics, this title utilizes a straightforward turn-based scheme with only basic commands: attack, defend, flee, item and skill (e.g. special sword attacks, spells, buffs, de-buffs, etc.). However, the game alters party structure in a rather unique way, where all of your warriors' stats pool together--hit points included--and they act as a unified team rather than individuals. The same goes for the opposition, which means every fight functions like a one-on-one bout, a la original Dragon Quest. Rather than slaying each monsters singularly, you only need to deplete their collective HP to drop the whole lot of them.
While these features lead to quicker encounters and simple, intuitive mechanics, the first few chapters offer only the most basic brawls. In the early outs, you don't have many skills to use or factors to consider, so your strategies consist of little more than push and shove. For the most part, you select "fight" a lot, maybe use a skill now and then, and heal often. Wash, rinse, repeat, try not to doze off. Even boss encounters fall into this slump, as they tend to play out like longer versions of the standard conflicts leading up to them.
Thankfully, as you advance, your characters learn a variety of new techniques. Collins especially comes handy, as his first two skills basically replace your standard attack option, and remain available indefinitely. On top of that, your foes take your newly discovered powers into account, and push back even harder than before. Suddenly those buffs, debuffs and status-inflicting strikes don't seem so useless, do they? Especially not when Collins' paralysis and Albus' freeze strike stop opponents in their tracks for a round or two, mitigating damage, relieving the strain on your resources and allowing exhausted healing spells to cool down.
Yet, even the final challenging waves of fights aren't enough to distract you from some of the game's blandness, especially in regards to dungeon designs. I'll give Everdark credit for including some small logic puzzles, but stage layouts are so linear and plain that they're forgettable. One level focuses on throwing levers to clear paths, which is exactly as tedious as it sounds. The final shebang throws a decent helping of teleporters at you, and yet it's still a rather vanilla segment that barely branches.
More than anything, the game seems to go through the motion where dungeons are concerned. These could have been the moments where this Kemco-published product could have stood out, even while abiding the publisher's standard to keep things simple. Adding a few short, extra pathways could have allowed space for tiny side quests, which in turn could've utilized townsfolk as more than just flavor text dispensers. Even if we're talking run of the mill fetch quests, additional objectives could have added some substance to the adventure without transforming it into a needlessly bulky monster.
I've noticed some discourse of late regarding play time in roleplaying games. Personally, I don't think length is really an issue. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, for instance, is a pretty brief RPG, and yet it's terrific. This genre finds it strength in its ability to captivate and provide a break from reality. This is true regardless of whether a title is long or short, difficult or easy, if it tackles serious social issues or goes balls-out goofy. Everdark Tower succeeds in some respects, providing a light charm that lasts until its conclusion. However, the game could have been more thoroughly mesmerizing if it sported some added personality and substance.
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (April 26, 2020)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
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