When all is turned to darkness, one mighty seed takes root in Ever Oasis. The new adventure RPG brings heart and valour to the forefront in both its storyline and action, but in the background is a game that suffers from pointless monotony with its style over substance formula.
From the creator of the RPG classic Secret of Mana, Koichi Ishii, and developed by Grezzo, the team behind The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D and Ocarina of Time 3D, comes a charming chibi RPG adventure for the Nintendo 3DS. Heavily inspired by the Animal Crossing, Mystery Dungeon and Fantasy Life series of games, Ever Oasis is certainly one of the prettiest titles to grace the handheld system and builds a world full of life, colour and beauty quite literally before your eyes. But while the concept is brilliant, the execution dims over time.
In a world where Chaos – an evil foreboding darkness – surrounds the inhabitants of the desert, a young seedling and their older brother, who happens to be the Oasis Chief, work together to keep the last known Oasis safe to all residents. But when the secure haven of the Oasis is overrun by Chaos, the Chief steps in to save his sibling, magically spiriting them away and far from trouble. By chance, the seedling avatar meets Esna, a Water Spirit, who has always wanted to create her own Oasis. Teaming up, Esna and the avatar create the Oasis from scratch, letting it take root and grow over time, gradually inviting other desert dwellers – including seedlings, Drauk, Lagora and Serkah – to live, work and enjoy life without worry. But Esna knows the Chaos will only get stronger. Worried for their brother, the Seedling Chief sets out upon an adventure to rid the evil from the desert once and for all.
Over the course of the main 25+ hour storyline, players will get to grips with building an oasis and adventuring in the desert’s four main dungeons. After a short tutorial explaining the basics and minimal customisation of your character, your first traveller will arrive at the newly built Oasis. Each traveller will appear with either one or several quests that you must fulfil before they can become a resident, with each quest falling under item gathering or a mini adventure to locate another character. Once fulfilled, the desert dweller will become a resident of the Oasis and add a variety of perks to your adventure, including special abilities that can be used in dungeons to solve puzzles or the addition of new Bloom Booths.
Bloom Booths in Ever Oasis act as market stalls that help your town to flourish, enticing chibi penguin characters named Noots and more desert dwellers to visit. While you can’t interact with the former, fellow Seedlings can build one of three types of Bloom Booth; gourmet, fashion and novelty. All Bloom Booths rely heavily on materials that can be found within the desert, so players must venture out into the wild to pick up items that can be used to create soups, scarves, pinwheels and blankets to name just a few. You’ll also be able to grow fruit and various seeds in your Oasis Garden, with many seeds available to purchase from travelling merchants who visit your Oasis. Of course, once Bloom Booths start making a tidy profit, sales will be converted into Dewadems. This in-game currency is essential to building new Bloom Booths and the purchasing of seeds, weapons and materials. It’s in abundant supply though, meaning there’s no need to bang on rocks with a shovel, shake trees and sell bugs to pay off a mortgage you didn’t ask for. Seriously Mr. Nook, I’m never getting those 300 hours back.
When your Oasis adds two new residents, it will level up and eventually allow players to place more Bloom Booths, add new plant features to boost Booth sales, and craft better weapons and healing tonics. Customisation, though, is in limited supply. You can only actively place Bloom Booths and plant features on the main and back roads, with customisation restricted to colour changes only. Players won’t be able to change the look and feel of their Oasis to make it their own, meaning the game’s main feature lacks real depth. What starts out as a promising new RPG, ultimately boils down into a pitiful fetch quest system to keep your residents happy, with a joy metre that consistently drops should you run out of materials to restock their Booth. With very little to interact with and customise, it’s a real disappointment when compared to the game’s solid dungeon adventure.
There are, however, ways to aid players with item gathering. Once you’ve clocked 10-15 hours of play time, you’ll be able to assign seedlings to tend to your garden and send out Drauk, Serkah and Lagora residents on exploration quests to hunt for monster and material spoils. And while it’s a great way to appease the pressure of restocking items, exploration teams can take up to three in-game days to come back with the goods. Reassigning exploration teams can also add to the monotony, but adding a sure-fire way to automate the process and combat the monotony would only strengthen the game.
Building and restocking aside, Ever Oasis is at its strongest when in full action adventure mode. Equipping your character with crafted swords, bows and bolas and stepping out into the desert with two other Oasis residents makes for an enjoyable RPG. Between gigantic beetles, flying squirrel owls and the razor-sharp teeth of gators, there’s enough monster variation to keep you occupied. Although the main storyline focuses on four dungeons, there are many hidden caveats throughout the desert and its settlements, which are full of chests and rare items to uncover. Each area also has its own warp portal, making for easy fast travel for storyline and special resident quests.
In a similar fashion to the Zelda titles, each dungeon features switches to press, keys to locate and puzzles to solve, alongside mid-boss and boss fights. Taking anywhere from one to three hours to complete a main dungeon, you’ll have to utilise your residents abilities to unlock hidden areas. While Drauk, Serkah and Lagora only have one main ability, Seedlings have many. Between pellet, paraflower, illumination and leafwall, each ability may be needed to gain a boss key or that elusive rare chest at the top of the dungeon cavern, so there’s a lot of backtracking involved for completionists. Most enemy fights in the earlier stages are pushovers, but fortunately the boss fights put up a bigger challenge, meaning you’ll need to tap into your healing tonics from time to time.
As the Oasis Chief, players will also be able to use a special ability named Green Gale. Powering up your wind ability gives you access to places that were inaccessible before, as well as clear out the Chaos in your Oasis and the surrounding areas of the desert. Attacking enemies with your special ability or the weapon equipped is a straightforward touch of the A or Y button, while dodging enemy moves with the B button is also paramount. It’s a simple mechanic that works well in Ever Oasis.
With a heart-warming storyline that exudes charm and love, Ever Oasis is a stunning title in stereoscopic 3D. What it lacks in customisation and build, it makes up for in dungeon exploration. It just needs more substance to create the RPG simulation package that Animal Crossing and Mystery Dungeon fans crave. It’s like Pusheen; a bit lazy but really damn cute.