Like a therapeutic hot tub, Tower of Time requires an adjustment period in order to settle into but once that has passed what is left is a comfortable and soothing experience. By deciding to forego some contemporary conventions of the genre, there will be those that overlook the title as it won’t fall into what has become expectation of the modern gaming landscape, but fans of the old school mentality of RPGs should not pass it by.
The game is set in a time where the world is dying, people are struggling to fight the elements and crops are drying up cutting off access to healthy food supplies. The central character feels unexplained forces pulling him back to a town from his youth that resides on the edge of the known human world. It is in this place some 25 years prior he fell into a ruin only to be met by mysterious forces that caused those memories to lay dormant until a time that they would be needed.
Now a decorated war leader he returns with a few of his most loyal soldiers, who will form the basis of the games starting party, only to discover that this ruin is in fact the base level of a tower that was seemingly flipped upside down and stabbed into the ground. Whatever magic power is maintaining this tower has also created an atmosphere within conducive to life. In those dire times, unraveling the secrets to this unearthed structure might be the only beacon for human survival and serves as the driving plot devise for the game.
While the story is not the most original, there a ton of it. It is almost impossible to take more than a few steps without stumbling across something that can be interacted with in order to find a new lore item or journal entry. While there is some voice acting in the cut scenes, which are beautifully animated in a moving painting style, the majority of this game is text and while much of it can be ignored, that would be a disservice.
Exploration takes place on the various floors of the tower. One minute you might be solving a puzzle that involves turning a series of statues in order to access a chest and the next coming across a well that will begin a dialogue between your party members discussing if throwing a stone in it and disrupting it solemn peace is a risk worthy of a possible reward.
Nothing in the games environment is just arbitrarily placed there nor is it always of benefit. For example, there are a series of fountains in the game that when interacted with will grant a selected party member a permanent stat change. Pay attention however to the circumstances surrounding an individual fountain because there is a chance that a subtle warning could be missed and rather than a benefit will see the character take a small hit to a stat for the rest of the game.
Luckily with all of these potential interactions, the game does a great job of making it very easy to not get lost. The map system will mark any area you find with one of these activities so that if you have to move forward to discover an item or ability needed to solve them, you will always have a point of reference on where to return. Since every floor of the tower also has a number of teleports which unlock upon your first visit to them, you do not become bogged down with a feeling of constant backtracking.
All of your traversal will stir up the locals and you will be thrown into combat with many foes of the fantasy persuasion. Everything from skeletons to ogres will try to hamper your delve further into this unknown structure. Battles begin by walking into an enemy avatar in the environment or being ambushed and loading into a separate screen. Here you will begin combat in the middle of the field as enemies spawn in waves from a series of pre-determined entry points. Every enemy defeated will increase a bar on the top of the screen giving you information on how far away from victory you are, unless it’s a boss fight then the bar is replaced with the enemies health and it ticks down as he takes damage instead.
Victory or defeat will ultimately come from how you approach combat and which strategies you employ. Do you summon a familiar to defend a point that is bottlenecking enemies to you while raining fire and arrows on them or do you imbue your fighters with elemental damaging and life stealing properties in order to throw them right into the middle of the fray? There is no right answer but fortunately there is a combat pause feature that will allow you to command individual units before putting your plan into motion. This way, you can think on the fly or you can take as much time as you need to assess the entire battlefield and determine what is best to bring your party out alive.
There is only one town that you can return to no matter how far you descend into the tower and it is the location that houses my biggest complaint with the game. First off the ‘town’ really is just an animated menu. It’s not a problem that if you want to use the barracks or blacksmith that you just click on them rather than moving an avatar into them. My issue is specifically in the blacksmith shop and how crafting results in items with a random generation of stats.
As you play through the game you will find caches of gold on the ground or as rewards for combat. However, you don’t take this money to the shop to buy new weapons and armour, you actually can’t buy items at all. The gear you obtain at the shop is by crafting it using gems accumulated through similar sources as the gold as well as by dismantling old items.
The colour of the gem is directly related to the quality of the item. So if you have a couple green items that you no longer need you can break them down and use the resulting green gems to craft a new piece of green gear. That makes sense to me. However, while you can choose for that item to be a one handed crossbow for your archer, you can’t select the stats. So if you were hoping for that item with mana regen but get a plus to base speed you are just out of luck. There is no shortage of loot in the game but never will a random generation system be viewed as desirable.
You might be asking what the previously mentioned gold does then. Well it is used to level your characters, or rather pay for their ‘training.’ Amongst all the lore books and scrolls for unlocking enchantments in the game there are also often blueprints that can be collected. These will allow you to upgrade the structures in town and increase the associated characters max level ceiling, provided you also have the gold to then train those levels. This will then provide you a number of stat and ability points to customize that party member with.
I can’t begin to tell you how much customization is in this game. From selecting party members to the level up stat distribution, gear load outs, enchantment selections, moral choices in dialogue and the decisions on which environmental interactions to risk taking this is some of the most freedom I have ever seen in a game that is not of the contemporary open world design.
In the very best sense of the statement, Tower of Time is a game that requires a commitment to really dive into and explore all that it has to offer. It is a bit of a slower game but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad pacing, just that it wants you to become absorbed in it. It isn’t for everyone but those people who enjoy a rich, lengthly RPG that requires as much put into it as is gotten out of it, Tower of Time is a must play.