Studio Grezzo proves that they're ready for prime time
After chipping away slowly at this summer’s 3DS desert epic, Ever Oasis, my journey is finally complete. During #JRPGJuly, I wrote fairly complete impressions for the game and most of the points I made there stand true for the experience of the entire game, so in this review, I’ll primarily be sharing my reflections on the later portion of the game.
One of my concerns during the early portions of Ever Oasis was that dungeons and combat felt a little too easy and simplistic. As the game progressed, these concerns were largely alleviated as the later dungeons definitely provide a steady but significant increase in difficulty and complexity. While the dungeons attain the level of design seen in the Zelda series, I found the ones in the back half of the Ever Oasis to be a satisfying level of challenge for a lighter handheld experience. Often times, later dungeons would include segments where specific characters or weapons would be needed to progress and the fact that party and gear can only be changed in town meant that I would have to fast-travel between the dungeon and town several times to complete a story quest. Thankfully, fast-travel can return you to the exact position where you left the dungeon. While I think the game designers set this system up to ensure you’d check the status of your town at regular intervals, it did become mildly irritating toward the end of the game. The ability to make at least some changes to equipment and characters while in the dungeon would have streamlined things considerably.
While the combat scaled up in difficulty, it ultimately remained fairly simple. Aside from a handful of combos Tethu can learn, (s)he doesn’t learn any new moves and enemy strategy never gets especially deep. However, as the game progresses, choosing the right party members and weapons for the situation can make a distinct difference in how smoothly battles go. Coming into the confrontation with a good supply of healing items also helps. Alternately, leveling up your town provides an HP boost and the ability to revive your party in the event of an unexpected wipe.
Much like how the dungeons grow in scale and complexity, so does the task of maintaining the Oasis town. For most of the game, as your town expands, so does your tool set for managing it, thus keeping the process of satisfying your townsfolk's needs efficient. Eventually, however, the introduction of these efficiency tools tapers off as the Oasis continues to expand, eventually becoming a sprawling metropolis filled with businesses that each require regular deliveries of a myriad of crafting supplies. As a player who was primarily focused on being an adventurer rather than a mayor, it became clear that there was no way I could please every citizen in the Oasis while still making progress through the campaign at a reasonable rate. Thankfully, in the course of dungeon crawling and battling, I picked up enough supplies to keep the town's happiness gage (it's an RPG; everything can be quantified) at 75% or more with only minimal upkeep required. This proved more than sufficient to keep my town prospering and get all the necessary perks (HP boosts, crafting recipes, etc) I needed to help me on my quest. For players with a perfectionist streak, however, I could see this never-quite-full meter driving them absolutely crazy and compelling them to waste time tediously micro-managing the Oasis just to max out the happiness gauge with minimal benefit. Ideally, the game would grant Tethu the ability to delegate more of the town management tasks to NPCs so that the town would run like a well-oiled machine, allowing Tethu the ability to concentrate on saving the world.
Quibbles about gameplay mechanics aside, Ever Oasis is a really high-quality package. As I noted in my impressions, the game's character design, music, and script are all very strong and were consistent throughout my entire playthrough. The plot is fairly simple (again, think 90s Zelda) but provides a reason for fun characters to interact and gives purpose to Tethu's quest, so it gets the job done. The game's length will vary depending on how many sidequests the player elects to do, but I found my playthrough to be long enough to feel like a good value without burning me out on the game's systems. With Ever Oasis, Grezzo proves that they're capable of creating quality original games rather than just being Nintendo's remaster factory. For their sophomore effort, however, I hope they can better integrate and streamline the management-sim/RPG hybrid design, and if not, split these two disparate gameplay styles into separate games. I would recommend Ever Oasis to players who like their action RPGs light and their characters adorable.
Completion Time: 32 hours, 15 minutes (Main quest with Oasis level 22/30)