Rain­bows in the desert

The bright, rain­bow-filled Ever Oa­sis is a de­light­ful and friendly town­build­ing/ad­ven­ture game for ca­sual play­ers.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Technology - By SHAUN A. NOORDIN bytz@thes­tar.com.my

EVER Oa­sis is a bright, colour­ful game that’s all about growth: you’re grow­ing a vi­brant oa­sis town in the mid­dle of an un­for­giv­ing desert; you’re grow­ing friend­ships with the var­i­ous towns­folk and ad­ven­tur­ers who’ll aid you on your town-build­ing jour­ney; and you’re grow­ing your char­ac­ter into a hero who’ll be able to stop the threat of mon­sters en­croach­ing on the land.

The best thing I can say about this ac­tion-JRPG (Ja­panese role-play­ing game) ti­tle is that it’s a very wel­com­ing game – if you’re a ca­sual gamer who’d like to try her/his hand on a mix of an ad­ven­tur­ing game and a town-build­ing sim, then Ever Oa­sis is a de­light­fully sim­ple game to get started with.

How­ever, if you’re a more ex­pe­ri­enced ad­ven­ture gamer, I have a lot of other things to say, so let’s put on our sun-proof ad­ven­tur­ing hats and jour­ney on into this re­view.

Par­adise for new­bies

In Ever Oa­sis, you play as a young seedling (a cute lit­tle sprite/fairy) who es­capes into the desert when the forces of Chaos in­vade your home. Out in the wilds, you meet the wa­ter spirit Esna, and to­gether you fight back against the dark­ness by grow­ing an oa­sis – a mag­i­cal place of shel­ter in the harsh desert. In time, you’ll turn your lit­tle oa­sis into a thriv­ing town, at­tract res­i­dents from the var­i­ous fan­tas­ti­cal tribes of the land, and even­tu­ally un­cover the mys­ter­ies of the desert so you can pro­tect ev­ery­one from the loom­ing threat of Chaos.

The fan­tas­tic, un­apolo­get­i­cally mag­i­cal world of Ever Oa­sis is one of the game’s great­est charms. The game’s aes­thet­ics are a cu­ri­ous mix of fairy tales and Egyp­tian de­signs, and de­spite be­ing set in a harsh desert land­scape, the game is full of colour and won­der. It’s easy to be en­thralled by the sight of a gar­gan­tuan mag­i­cal urn pour­ing sand into the desert, a mys­te­ri­ous Aladdin-like lamp sunk off the coast, or your sparse oa­sis grad­u­ally turn­ing into a lush par­adise as it lev­els up.

The game­play con­sists of two parts: first, there’s a fairly stan­dard ac­tion­ad­ven­ture game that sees you run­ning into the desert, at­tack­ing mon­sters in real time com­bat, col­lect­ing re­sources for your oa­sis, and travers­ing a few dun­geons with some fairly sim­ple puz­zles.

Sec­ond, there’s a very sim­ple town­build­ing sim where – as you at­tract more peo­ple to be­come res­i­dents of your oa­sis – you can set up Bloom Booths (shops/ houses) through­out your oa­sis, which gen­er­ate de­wadems (money).

If you’re in­ter­ested in Ever Oa­sis’ mag­i­cal set­ting, but are fairly new to games that fea­ture ac­tion­based com­bat and ex­plo­ration, then here’s some good news: Ever

Oa­sis is very gen­tle to play­ers, and it holds your hands as you play, guid­ing you across the most ba­sic of in­ter­ac­tions and even spell­ing out so­lu­tions to some puz­zles.

Hon­estly, there’s so much hand-hold­ing that it can ac­tu­ally be ir­ri­tat­ing to ex­pe­ri­enced gamers – for ex­am­ple, when I tried to at­tack a mon­ster for the first time, the game halted as Esna warned me: “Be care­ful! That’s a dan­ger­ous mon­ster! Press A to at­tack it!” Yes, I know, that’s ex­actly why I ap­proached this wild an­i­mal with my sword drawn out. Did you think I would ac­ci­den­tally in­vite it to a tea party?

Lit­tle too easy

Un­for­tu­nately, as you can guess, my en­joy­ment of Ever Oa­sis was greatly damp­ened by the ex­pec­ta­tions I brought from other sim­i­lar ac­tion games and town-build­ing sims.

My main frus­tra­tion with Ever Oa­sis is that – for a good chunk of the early story – the game­play doesn’t ask me to make many in­ter­est­ing choices, and this is a prob­lem for a game that bills it­self as a ti­tle about ex­plo­ration and town man­age­ment. My daily sched­ule should be in­un­dated with im­por­tant de­ci­sions, from choos­ing what equip­ment I should craft next to plan­ning the lay­out of my lil’ town. For ex­am­ple, the ac­tion/com­bat por­tion of the game sees you run­ning around the desert in a team of three, two of whom are con­trolled by the game’s AI. Usu­ally, the choice is a tough one – do you take a healer for safety? Or do you take a war­rior and a mage for an all-out blast-ev­ery­thing ap­proach? How­ever, in Ever Oa­sis, this is of­ten a no-brainer – some of the puz­zle-laden dun­geons need ex­actly two abil­i­ties to pro­ceed (whether a ham­mer to smash rocks, or the abil­ity to roll into a ball to go through holes, or etc) and there are ex­actly two peo­ple in your town who fit the bill.

The town-build­ing por­tions also suf­fer from this “no-brainer” ap­proach. While find­ing ways to at­tract seedlings to join your oa­sis is quite en­joy­able – they each have their own per­sonal story and side quests to com­plete in or­der to be­come a res­i­dent – once they’ve set up shop, there’s rarely any in­cen­tive to plan your town any fur­ther. Do you place the bal­loon shop or the toy shop first? Should you place the fruit shop next to the juice bar? Do you close down one seedling’s shop, so she can be as­signed to work at the gar­den in­stead? Trick ques­tions, be­cause it mostly doesn’t mat­ter! The game is, un­for­tu­nately, a lit­tle too easy.

If there’s one ma­jor sav­ing grace to this, it’s that the game gets much more in­ter­est­ing the fur­ther you get. A lot of fea­tures – such as the abil­ity to grow re­sources in a gar­den, send out ex­pe­di­tion par­ties and start fes­ti­vals – are only un­locked af­ter sev­eral hours of play­ing. When I said this is a game that’s all about growth, I wasn’t kid­ding – even the game­play grows along with your oa­sis. Th­ese later changes in­tro­duce a lot of the chal­lenge and con­tent that are miss­ing from the early por­tions of the game, and while I’m en­joy­ing the game more now than I did at the start, I have to ad­mit it was quite a grind to get here.

Ca­sual, happy oa­sis

At a per­sonal level, I’m rather dis­ap­pointed with Ever Oa­sis be­cause I was ex­pect­ing a game with much more chal­lenge – a game I could get ab­sorbed into as I jug­gled the dan­gers of ad­ven­tur­ing life with the sur­vival of my oa­sis and the needs of the res­i­dents un­der my pro­tec­tion.

In­stead, I found a game that’s both wel­com­ing and forgiving, one that’s de­signed for newer or more ca­sual gamers. It’s a game where – in­stead of giv­ing you chal­lenges to over­come through in­ge­nu­ity and skills – you’re sim­ply asked to take your time to en­joy this mag­i­cal world that’s been lov­ingly crafted for you.

Ob­vi­ously, my per­sonal feel­ings don’t mean Ever Oa­sis isn’t a good game – in fact, I ac­tu­ally rec­om­mend it to any­one who wants to try their first ac­tion­ad­ven­ture game, or their first JRPG. I may not find Ever Oa­sis ex­cit­ing, but I can say it’s ab­so­lutely de­light­ful – the game is a small oa­sis of joy and magic that in­vites gamers to set­tle down and re­lax with it.

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