Pandora’s Tower, the last of Nintendo’s three “Operation Rainfall” games will be released in Europe next week. In comparison to Xenoblade and The Last Story, this one hasn’t received nearly as much attention from the media, but in a sense, it’s the most interesting of the trio in that it’s among the most “un-Nintendo-like” game we’ve had in years.
An “Iwata Asks” interview with Nintendo’s president reveals that development of Pandora’s Tower originally began in late 2006, and that the game took four whole years to develop. We’ll get to that part in a second, but first, let’s talk about Pandora’s Tower was originally conceived.
In 2006, Ganbarion, a company that has developed several One Piece games for Namco Bandai, had just wrapped up work on Jump Ultimate Stars for Nintendo. Jump Ultimate Stars was a follow-up to Jump Super Stars, which was a fighting game that brought together manga characters from Japan’s Weekly Shounen Jump magazine. Pleased with Ganbarion’s work on both titles, Nintendo asked the company if they would like to work on an original I.P. Excited by the prospect of giving shape to a vision of their own, Ganbarion accepted, and pitched an idea to Nintendo.
“I’d always wanted to make a game that would appeal to boys, from students starting secondary school to around twenty years old,” recalls Ganbarion’s representative director, Chikako Yamakura (right). “So that’s why I chose to put a woman at the centre of this game. I wanted to explore something that changed, something that underwent a transformation, and I decided that it could be this woman who undergoes that transformation.”
Yamakura is referring to Elena, the heroine of Pandora’s Tower, who is afflicted by a curse that is slowly mutating her into a horrific monster. The only way to slow down or prevent this change is for Aeron, the protagonist, to bring her the raw meat of monsters to chow down on. You can also give Elena gifts that will affect her mood. The player can choose how often he wants to return to her, and Elena’s appearance will reflect their choices. “I settled on the idea of a woman who was pure being somehow spoiled or corrupted and then becoming pure once more,” Yamakura elaborates. This was an early concept image for her idea:
Notice the chains in both images? That’s the primary weapon Aeron uses in the game—the Oraclos chain, which can be used to attack monsters, grab onto levers and so on. Why a chain? Yamakura explains: “We adopted actions using a chain because I was rather confident that a girl’s skin and a chain will make a beautiful contrast in the players’ eyes.”
While the concept of a girl being corrupted had been decided upon, the monster meat idea didn’t develop until later. This idea came about when Yamakura and another Ganbarion employee had a conversation about lunchboxes served at train stations. In order to create an impression, a law in the game’s world forbids the eating of meat, which Yamakura reveals was inspired by the terms “carnivorous girls” and “herbivorous boys,” a societal phenomenon in parts of Japan.
Nintendo president, Iwata, while skeptical of this alien approach where an entire worldview had been vaguely decided upon but the idea for how the game itself would play hadn’t, decided to greenlight the project anyway. Iwata recalls wanting to give Ganbarion the chance to work on a fresh project, feeling that they were deserving of this courtesy in light of their hard work on the two Jump titles.
Development began, and continued for three years as the game encountered a multitude of problems, ranging from how to use the Wii Remote to making the player care about Elena. That second problem persisted throughout development. Everyone that tried the game out felt that going back to feed Elena her periodical doses of meat was more of a chore. Other players actually liked watching her transform into a monster, feeling it looked cool.
Ultimately, most of the game’s cutscenes and voicework involving Elena had to be completely scrapped and redone from scratch, in order to make the concept work. Elena’s character itself had to be given an overhaul in order to make the player sympathize with her better. Yamakura, who wrote the concept and design documents for the game, says she would lock herself in her office and continually hammer away at this task, losing about 10 kilos in the process. This desperate measure was taken about one year before the game’s final release date, which had already been pushed back due to prior issues.
Eventually, Pandora’s Tower took shape as something along the lines of the product Ganbarion had originally envisioned, and was released in 2011 in Japan. What was the original concept? Nintendo producer, Hitoshi Yamagami recalls the day Yamakura pitched the game to them: “She got a whiteboard out and told us that the theme was going to be true love.”
Food for thought:
Over 500 ideas were pitched for the title of Pandora’s Tower. Eventually, just two months before the game went gold, Nintendo settled upon Pandora’s Tower: Until I Return to Your Side as the game’s Japanese title.
Images and art courtesy Nintendo.