By Ishaan . April 16, 2013 . 6:00pm
Today, Xseed released Pandora’s Tower in North America, completing the trio of “Operation Rainfall” games for the Wii. While Pandora’s Tower doesn’t come from the same prestigious background as Xenoblade and The Last Story—both of which were created by extremely well-known developers—it’s always been regarded as the most quirky and mysterious of the three games.
Here’s the premise: Aeron and Elena are in love. One day, Elena is subjected to a curse that begins to turn her into a grotesque monster. In order to reverse the curse, Aeron has to travel to thirteen towers, defeat a “Master” monster at the end of each one, and bring its meat back for Elena to eat. Bringing the meat of a single monster back only slows the curse down, though—the meat of all thirteen Masters is required to reverse it completely. In between your trips to these towers, you can spend time with Elena, talk to her, eat together and give her gifts. Pandora’s Tower is halfway between an action game and a dating-sim.
Siliconera got in touch with Pandora’s Tower director Toru Haga at Ganbarion, who developed the game in collaboration with Nintendo, to ask him a few questions about the game. You can read our interview below.
Pandora’s Tower explores the idea of a spouse staying at home while a partner goes out to work. Why did you pick this concept to centre the scenario on? Is it because game developers work such long hours in Japan and were you exploring any other themes for the heart of the story?
Toru Haga, Director: In Pandora’s Tower, the theme revolving around Aeron and Elena was to go on an “adventure to save your love, then return to your normal daily life,” and it was kept as the primary concept throughout the game and story. We felt it was very understandable as a motive and was a relatable topic. We didn’t really mean to represent a game developer’s workday but all of us in the office fought bravely each day and were able to reach the best endings for this project.
Early on, the game used the concept of eating meat to transform Elena and a time limit. Pandora’s Tower then evolved into an action game. What other genres and styles of game play were you considering?
We had already decided that we wanted to move forward as an action game early on, but besides that we didn’t really have any other ideas besides being an action game. In the past, our company has been known to make action games, and we felt we did our best within that genre. But at the same time we didn’t want to discourage players that aren’t particularly comfortable with action games, so we implemented features such as upgradable equipment and item creation and repair to add diversity and multiple options to completing the game by taking different approaches.
Initially, the motivating force for the player to return to Elena was “love” for her character, which you later changed to “sympathy”. How did Elena’s personality change as a result from the start of the project towards the end?
Elena’s human form and personality hasn’t changed much from the original design concept, but during development we made one big change regarding Elena’s beast form. Before, Elena’s beast form was much more slender, and the reactions from players when seeing her in that form were much weaker. We wanted to evoke more of a tragic emotion from them and fuel the player’s desire to save her.
To do that we changed the beast form to a much more grotesque look. The voice recordings were also changed to match the design change and the end result was a voice that was suffering much more in comparison.
Mavda, the merchant that helps you out is kind of mean and creepy. She also carries a giant skeleton on her back. How did you come up with her character, and why make her as creepy as she is?
When we started to form the necessary details for a merchant, we went behind the idea of an elderly merchant carrying around a huge pot with items inside. Aeron and Elena share a sweet relationship, so we thought to introduce an odder couple in contrast would make it interesting.
We ended up with a strange old woman carrying a huge pot and a creepy husband that’s being carried by his wife. Even though they’re odd and creepy at first glance, they share a caring, happy relationship; we felt the gap between the two made for odd but interesting characters.
What are the “Natural Laws of Aios” that Mavda mentions in the game?
I think you’re talking about the twelve laws of Aios.
The Natural Law is referring to how the teachings of Aios interpret the ways of the world. It’s heavily influenced by a belief and philosophy in some Eastern regions called Yin Yang Wu Xing. This idea relates the world through the five elements: Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal; and to each there is a Yin and a Yang. The balance of the five elements and the two sides, the Yin and the Yang, are said to be of the utmost importance. If one of the twelve components would go missing, the balance is broken and it would affect various aspects of life.
Pandora’s Tower is a very character-driven game, and the majority of the story revolves around three characters—Aeron, Elena and Mavda—as opposed to a whole world. How much of the world did you flesh out that didn’t end up making it into the final game, and could you give us an example of this?
Actually, there are no additions or cuts regarding characters. From the beginning, we were set on making these three (four?) characters and focusing on them primarily throughout the story. We wanted the players to have Elena in mind constantly by focusing on Aeron and Elena’s relationship.
I don’t recall many concepts being cut, although we did decide to keep the information regarding the world to a minimum. We wanted the players to have the freedom to imagine the world on their own from the limited information that’s shared.
Aside from the Oraclos Chain, which is always equipped, you can use one of four other weapons at any given time—the Athosian Sword, the Twinblades, the Military Scythe and the Explosive Stake. Could you tell us a bit more about each of these and how they differ from one another?
The Athosian Sword, which is provided in the beginning, is very versatile and simple to use. The Twinblades are speedy but the reach is shorter and the damage dealt is much smaller in comparison. The Military Scythe has superior range, which is great when you’re surrounded, but it’s harder to wield and you’re vulnerable between attacks. There is no requirement to use a specific weapon, so feel free to experiment and use any weapon that fits your play style.
There are thirteen towers in the game, and they’re based on elements like fire, metal, wood, rock and so on. Some towers are based on the same element. How did you differentiate these from one another, to prevent them from feeling too similar?
It was difficult to differentiate while keeping a sense of unity among the towers. In the world of Pandora’s Tower, every element possesses a light and dark side, which we utilize to separate the towers from each other. For example, there are two wood element towers; we primarily used green to unify the element, but we used brighter colors to signify the “light” element and darker colors for the “dark” element. We applied this technique within the towers as well. We envisioned towers that are overgrown with vegetation, but we designed one tower with more grassy nature and the other tower with moss and fungus.
We also took care in the level designs as well. The towers with the same element share similar room arrangements, which should be apparent to the players. But the route to reach the boss, or the traps and puzzles that the player must solve, are different from each other, and the player is faced with different obstacles in both towers even though they share similarities.
I like how each boss fight was kind of like a puzzle. Can you tell us about the process of how you created battles in Pandora’s Tower? Which one is your favourite and which was the hardest to create?
Thank you, we designed the boss fights mainly to challenge the players to pull from all their resources. At first glance there may be a boss that a player may not know how to defeat, but with a little experimentation and strategy it could be eventually be figured out, which we hoped would give players a real sense of accomplishment when defeating them.
Also, to give players a bit of help on defeating the bosses, we hid documents within the towers that gave a clue regarding how to defeat each boss. If someone feels they’re having a difficult time, perhaps they can look for these and try again.
I personally like the Ironclad Turret’s boss the best. He’s very aggressive, and I really enjoy the fast-paced fight. We had some difficulty with the Rockshard Tower’s boss since a lot of moving around was required, which made adjusting and fine-tuning Aeron’s chain and the boss’ movements challenging, but we hope all our effort was worth it in that unique fight.
The game has multiple endings. What tips do you have for players, depending on whether they want to see the good or bad ones?
The key to all the endings is how much time you spend with Elena. By talking to her often and giving her gifts, your relationship with her grows. This will determine what sort of ending you’ll get. And after you beat the game, you can retry from various chapters, so I suggest you play however you feel like for your first playthrough.