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Miden Tower Is a Strange JRPG Driven by Passive Skills

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    Kemco will always have a special place in my heart as developer of one of the strangest Batman games ever made, Batman: Dark Tomorrow. But recently, that little corner of my precious blood-pumper has been expanded. It’s like a full closet now! That’s because Kemco has been pumping out these fun, little JRPGs that are all over the place, but consistently fascinating. The latest of those is Miden Tower, a game that starts with a grim tone and quickly gets weird, to say the least. But while it’s gimmicky, quirky charm does a lot, what’s really neat about Miden Tower is its passives-driven combat system.

    Kemco’s JRPG line is obviously low-budget, but what these games all lack in polish and pretense, they more than make up for in strangeness and systemic curiosity. Each game seems to take familiar concepts such as monster collecting or job systems, then ask questions about those frameworks. That’s exactly the case here with Exe-Create’s Miden Tower, a relatively straightforward JRPG experience. While you as a player don’t have a remarkable influence in moment-to-moment combat, you do get to build a library of passive skills that ricochet off each other in a way that’s weirdly satisfying.

    Also yes, there’s a wall lady. We covered this when Miden Tower was announced, but the most surface level weirdness is its character who is literally a section of castle wall with stubby limbs and cute anime girl eyes. I ended up a bit disappointed there, because what could have been a really great bit ended up taking a backseat to almost everything else, and the wall lady immediately transformed into a more proper waifu-maiden type. There are a few good ongoing gags (she forgets to transform into waifu mode and falls over a lot), but the wall stuff really only comes into meaningful play in combat. And that’s part of what makes the passive systems work so well.

    The passive skills you use in Miden Tower are almost SaGa-like in some ways, namely that a lot of them trigger seemingly at random (although most have specific unlock conditions), and after that they grow stronger with use. While many of them are just things like “more fire damage,” several of them end up being synergistic follow-up attacks that can start really chaining together once you get enough for them to ping-pong off each other. What’s especially helpful is Leila’s power set, which sees her summon little mini wall golems to help the party.

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    Since everyone in your group stands on a 3×3 grid, you can choose how to place everyone and make use of things like AoE buffs to turn your standard motley JRPG crew into a small army of anime weirdos and sentient brick people. Once all the passives start popping off, even simple attack commands can turn into big chain combos with all kinds of numbers and characters flying around the screen. You don’t have a ton of direct control over this stuff either, so you never quite have a full grasp of how much activity will follow each choice you make. It’s super novel!

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    Even when Kemco and its stable of renegade JRPG developers get weird, it doesn’t end up being that weird. Miden Tower is presented as a game with a literal wall for a supporting heroine, but it’s taken more at face value than you might expect in the actual story. But while you can’t shake off the generic-feeling JRPG tone vibe, these games never fail to have some intriguing, novel mechanical quirks. Miden Tower is pretty straightforward, but it has a peculiar interest in synergy through passive skills that make each combat encounter feel exciting. While the menus and information tied to this stuff can be fumbly and awkward, seeing things bounce around and connect together after you make your standard turn-based tactical choices is a lot of fun. Miden Tower isn’t as visually impressive as the previous Kemco romp, but it still manages to make its mark among its many siblings.

    Miden Tower is currently available on the Xbox One and the PC.

    Lucas White
    Lucas writes about video games a lot. Sometimes he plays them. Every now and then he enjoys one. To get on his good side, say nice things about Dragon Quest and Musou. Never mention the Devil May Cry reboot in his presence. Backed Bloodstained on Kickstarter but all his opinions on it are correct regardless.