Ever Oa­sis

3DS

EDGE - - GAMES -

Here’s the thing: ‘ther­a­peu­tic’ doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean ‘good’. And, as its ti­tle might sug­gest, Ever

Oa­sis is end­lessly ther­a­peu­tic. It’s a pleas­ant blend of ac­tion-RPG and town sim with mod­est aims: earnest sto­ry­telling, sim­ple com­bat and a gen­tly repet­i­tive core pro­gres­sion sys­tem. Ever Oa­sis never re­ally leaves its com­fort zone. But then, we get the dis­tinct im­pres­sion it isn’t try­ing to.

It’s a far cry from Se­cret Of Mana, the sem­i­nal SNES RPG that re­mains Ever Oa­sis di­rec­tor Koichi Ishii’s great­est legacy. It struck out into in­no­va­tive ter­ri­tory: a re­al­time com­bat sys­tem with an ‘ac­tion gauge’ to mas­ter, a lev­el­ling sys­tem that re­warded con­sid­ered play, and a for­ward-think­ing item sys­tem. By con­trast, Oa­sis re­treats into an­ti­quated habits at ev­ery turn.

And it’s cosy enough at first. Af­ter a dark force called Chaos rav­ages their home, pro­tag­o­nist Tethu must team up with kindly wa­ter spirit Esna to build a new oa­sis. And bar­ring a blip with an ar­chaic, and poorly ex­plained, man­ual save sys­tem that sets us back half an hour – a cruel mis­tress, nos­tal­gia – it’s easy to sink into the rou­tine. You pot­ter about the hub, har­vest­ing fruit, chat­ting to the chibi pop­u­lace and prod­ding the puff­ball, pen­guin-like Noots into de­lighted, de­light­ful lit­tle squeaks. De­spite the par­al­lels with An­i­mal Cross­ing and Har­vest Moon, how­ever, daily con­ver­sa­tions don’t ever stray into the aim­less or at­mo­spheric. You, chief, are here to do a job.

The job, it turns out, is ‘fetch’. You head out to the desert, where re­sources and en­e­mies lie, in search of new res­i­dents to grow your com­mu­nity. While many will of­fer to plant Bloom Booths – squat shops that reg­u­larly pro­duce the De­wa­dem cur­rency if you keep them stocked – back home, the most valu­able have skills that aid you in dun­geon ex­plo­ration. There’s an en­dear­ingly ana­logue method to dis­cov­er­ing a new one; they’re not marked on the map, clues in­volv­ing horned grot­tos or pot­tery caves en­cour­ag­ing you to scan the sky­line for vi­able land­marks in­stead.

Once in­side, the ad­ven­turer’s spirit is damp­ened some­what. Puz­zles and so­lu­tions are ob­vi­ously sign­posted by the same com­bi­na­tions of copy-pasted el­e­ments – an up­turned piece of de­bris, per­haps, or a type of bloom called a Paraflower – that float self­con­sciously in oth­er­wise bar­ren en­vi­ron­ments. It’s here that res­i­dents’ unique skills come into play – though ‘unique’ is re­ally a eu­phemism for ‘down­right bizarre’. Your Seedling is one of a party of up to three he­roes. Some carry spears that can pull switches and lever ob­sta­cles, or cross­bows that’ll help you hit out-of-reach switches; others can use Paraflow­ers to fly across gaps, or trans­form into pel­lets and whizz through holes.

Whimsy abounds, then – but the nov­elty soon wears thin, thanks to a poorly im­ple­mented party sys­tem. Your way is blocked by a gi­ant boul­der, but you didn’t bring your pal with the gi­ant ham­mer? Too bad: you’ll need to warp back to your oa­sis hub via an Aqua Gate to switch out char­ac­ters, then re­turn to con­tinue with the right tools. With plenty of dun­geons re­quir­ing more than three kinds of spe­cial­ist res­i­dent to fully com­plete, it’s a com­mon and frus­trat­ing oc­cur­rence that in­creas­ingly robs dun­geon-crawl­ing of any sat­is­fy­ing flow as the game pro­gresses. There’s plenty of ill-ad­vised back­track­ing, too: as your char­ac­ter’s Gale abil­ity pow­ers up, new ar­eas of pre­vi­ous, long-stale dun­geons must be re­vis­ited.

Re­al­time 3D com­bat, while ul­ti­mately rather shal­low, man­ages to re­cap­ture a lit­tle of the lost mo­men­tum. Again, suc­cess is de­pen­dent on who and what you bring into bat­tle, al­though nowhere near as defini­tively: cer­tain enemy types are weak to swords or boomerangs, for in­stance, which can give you an edge. Even a sim­ple two-hit combo takes a good few hours to un­lock, but with a lock-on abil­ity and a neat lit­tle dodge-roll in your arse­nal, the waltz of death en­ter­tains. Un­for­tu­nately the cam­era strug­gles to keep up, switch­ing be­tween party mem­bers mid-fight is a fum­ble and enemy at­tacks are sign­posted miles in ad­vance.

Man­age to fall foul of a blow, how­ever, and you’ll be sorely pun­ished for it: even low-level en­e­mies are ca­pa­ble of nasty hits. For­tu­nately, if your home oa­sis is thriv­ing, you’ll gain an over­shield of sorts, a sig­nif­i­cant amount of HP tacked onto your mea­gre health bar. And you will have to thrive to sur­vive. This is the cru­cial link be­tween RPG and town sim, as the ex­tra HP you can re­ceive is pro­por­tional to the over­all hap­pi­ness of your hub. Keep run­ning back to re­stock those Bloom Booths and fetch res­i­dents their lost prop­erty, and life out in the wild will be eas­ier in re­turn.

It that all sounds seam­less, it’s be­cause it is, and the quickly es­tab­lished loop is part of the prob­lem. While com­pul­sive, it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily come off as mean­ing­ful. Ever Oa­sis means well, even if it doesn’t mean much. Light cus­tomi­sa­tion is avail­able for your bustling oa­sis; you can pur­chase a mu­sic-mak­ing Melody Wheel, for in­stance, to run on be­tween chores. We’re pleas­antly sur­prised when we earn an in-game achieve­ment for wav­ing point­less hel­los to the adorable Noots. Even the story has real heart; we find our­selves at­tached to par­tic­u­lar res­i­dents’ char­ac­ter arcs, and even more so to eter­nally op­ti­mistic wa­ter spirit Esna.

There’s a real earnest­ness to Ever Oa­sis’ tale, as Ishii and team med­i­tate on our re­la­tion­ship with na­ture and the value of com­ing to­gether to build a bet­ter, more hope­ful world. It’s un­for­tu­nate that the ac­tual sub­stance of the game doesn’t trou­ble it­self to em­body that reach­ing am­bi­tion, con­tent to stay rest­ing com­fort­ably at the well­spring of other, bet­ter games’ ideas. But then, we re­mem­ber this is the fi­nal respite for a con­sole com­ing to the end of a long jour­ney. In that re­spect, per­haps Ever Oa­sis is a fit­ting last gasp.

Puz­zles and so­lu­tions are ob­vi­ously sign­posted by the same com­bi­na­tions of copy-pasted el­e­ments

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