Nintendo and Ganbarion’s Pandora’s Tower might have gone completely unnoticed if it hadn’t been part of the infamous “Rainfall trilogy,” and even then, it’s still often overlooked. Nonetheless, it’s a very interesting and ambitious game in its own right. The combination of traditional dungeon crawling with aspects of dating simulations and incredibly rich and detailed lore make for a very unique gameplay experience.
At its heart is the relationship between the two main characters. You play as Aeron, a soldier of Athos who falls in love with a singer named Elena. Elena becomes cursed after being attacked by a monster at the Harvest Festival, and she slowly begins transforming into a monster, herself. The only way to break the curse is for Elena to eat the flesh of the masters of the Thirteen Towers, and it’s up to Aeron to retrieve it.
Between excursions to the Thirteen Towers, you spend time at the Observatory building up your relationship with Elena. This involves not just feeding her flesh to break the curse (and preferably doing so before the transformation kicks in), but also talking to her and giving her gifts. This was a very effective aspect of the game for me, as the state of your relationship is not only represented as a meter on the side of the screen, but also reflected in Elena’s mood. As your bond grows stronger, she becomes happier and more optimistic.
What makes it work, however, is the empathy the game builds for Elena. I felt bad watching her gag as she forced herself to eat the dripping, slimy meat, or if the transformation went so far that she had to hide herself in the shadows of the basement. Conversely, it was very rewarding to see her laugh and smile when I gave her gifts and made idle conversation with her, or returned from the Towers to find her singing in the garden. And I was always happy to hear, “Good to see you again, Aeron!” when walking into the Observatory. Elena comes across as having real emotions.
Most importantly is that Elena isn’t content to be helpless. She doesn’t merely sit around all day waiting for you to do all the work, and makes it clear that she doesn’t want to be a burden. She spends her time tidying up the Observatory, cooking meals for when you return, and translating old texts you find in the Towers, among other things. Stereotypes aside, it felt like she was trying to pull her own weight in whatever way she could. Indeed, I felt like she was the one with the real burden (the curse), and I was supporting her in helping to overcome it.
There are many themes running through the game, one of the most prominent being chains. Your main tool/weapon is the Oraclos Chain, which you use to fight enemies, navigate the Towers, and rip flesh out of the monsters. The Towers, themselves, contain large chains that must be broken to open the boss rooms. Aeron must even traverse a giant chain simply to get from the Observatory to the Towers and back. Chains represent the strength of links and the connections between them. Symbolically, the link between Aeron and Elena must be strengthened for them to survive.
Pandora’s tower is a good action-adventure game, but it’s also a touching love story, and it’s impressive how it balances those two aspects and ties them together through gameplay. Rather than having violence strictly for the sake of action, adding love as a driving factor gives it more substance and creates an atmosphere of romance.
After all, this is true love. You think this happens every day?