European box art
Pandora's Tower, known in Japan as Tower of Pandora: Until I Return to Your Side (Japanese: パンドラの塔 君のもとへ帰るまで Hepburn: Pandora no Tō: Kimi no Moto e Kaeru Made?), is an action role-playing video game developed by Ganbarion for the Wii home console. It was published by Nintendo in Japan, Europe, and Australia, and by Xseed Games in North America. It was released in Japan on May 26, 2011, in Australia on April 12, 2012, in Europe on April 13, 2012, and in North America on April 16, 2013, after Operation Rainfall.
In the January 2015 Nintendo Direct, it was announced that Pandora's Tower and other Wii games will be released for download through the Wii U's Nintendo eShop. It was released in Japan on March 4, 2015, Europe on April 16, 2015, Australia and New Zealand on April 17, 2015, and North America on August 13, 2015. Although Xseed Games originally published the Wii disc, the North American digital re-release was handled by Nintendo.
Pandora's Tower focuses on Aeron's travels into thirteen towers to break a curse on Elena that is transforming her into a beast, using his magical sword and chain. A certain set of these monsters are referred to as beasts, as their flesh can be used to temporarily reverse the effects of the curse. The primary objective of the game is to acquire the "Master Flesh" from each tower's "master beast", as this is the only way to break the curse. Players only have a certain amount of time in the towers before Elena's curse worsens (displayed as a meter on the player's screen), this will force the player to exit the current tower in order to give Elena flesh; thus it is important for the player to take shortcuts in order to progress through each tower.
When the player is not exploring the towers, they may choose to increase Aeron's relationship with Elena, which is pivotal to the game's multiple endings - the stronger the bond, the better the ending will be. The player may talk to her and give her gifts, as well as ask her to translate texts found in the towers. While looking for flesh, the player should take notice of the curse condition, which worsens each second spent in the towers and will start to lower the affinity of the couple after a certain period of time.
Pandora's Tower is set on the Imperia, the former home of ten kingdoms until the king of Elyria stripped the Vestra people of their lands, turning them into a nomadic people. The land, once unified after the War of Unification, is torn apart by a new conflict between Elyria and three other kingdoms who seek independence from its rule. During Elyria's Harvest Festival, a woman named Elena is chosen to sing: she is suddenly struck by a curse that forces her to flee the Elyrian army with her lover Aeron, a former soldier from an enemy kingdom. Under the guidance of an old Vestra tribeswoman called Mavda, they head for the Thirteen Towers, a desolate fortress located above a great chasm known as the Scar. Mavda reveals that the only way to lift the curse from Elena and prevent her transformation into a monster is to feed her the flesh of "Masters", powerful beings living inside the Towers. Given a weapon called the Oraclos Chain, Aeron explores the Towers and gradually kills each of its Masters, returning to give their flesh to Elena. Each time she eats it, she receives visions detailing the events behind the Towers' creations.
Five hundred years before, a religious war raged between the kingdom of Elyria and neighboring kingdoms and peoples, including the Vestra. In order to bring an end to the conflict, the Elyrians and Vestra decided to unite the essences of the Laws, the twelve elemental deities of the world, into living beings, the Masters of the Thirteen Towers. To provide balance, a thirteenth vessel was to be created, holding the essences of all the deities. To this end, a husband and wife who lost their son as a result of the war offered themselves as the raw material of the final Master: this endeavor was called Experiment Zero. But the wife was pregnant, causing an imbalance that corrupted the Masters, turning them into monsters. The husband and baby were rescued using the Oraclos Chain, but the wife became Zeron, a dark monster consumed with a want to reunite with her descendant and bring 'peace' to the land. The Vestra sealed the Masters in the Towers and guarded them, while the wife's child eventually became Aeron's ancestor. The wife's jealous want of her descendants caused her to curse people who grew close to them, with Elena being the latest victim of the curse. The Vestra brought each afflicted person to the Towers in the hopes that the Masters would be destroyed and Experiment Zero ended: Mavda was the latest guardian of the Towers. Four hundred and fifty years later, the Elyrian Army tried to use the Masters as living weapons: without the knowledge and help of the Vestra, the Elyrians instigated a drastic geological upheaval that created the Scar, which acted as a portal to the spiritual world.
Depending on the strength of Aeron's relationship with Elena, the game has six possible endings. In the worst-case scenario, Elena completes her transformation and becomes Zeron's vessel, and when Aeron returns to her, he is forcibly merged with her: the recreated Zeron then sets out to bring all the kingdoms under its dark dominion. In the best ending, after Elena is taken and possessed by Zeron, Aeron and Mavda arrive. Aeron eventually kills Zeron, freeing Elena from its grasp. Now freed from the curse, Elena departs with Aeron, while Mavda stays and sacrifices herself by using the Oraclos Chain to seal the Scar and destroy the Towers, ending all the evils spawned by their existence. In the game's epilogue, it is revealed that the kingdoms manage to end the War of Independence after the closing of the Scar, the Vestra are granted new lands to settle on by Elyria after Elyria's king receives a letter from Mavda detailing events at the Towers, and Aeron and Elena lived happily together.
The first stages of development began in late 2006, after the completion of Jump Ultimate Stars. At the time, developer Ganbarion had only ever worked on licensed titles, and the team wanted to do something original. When Nintendo asked whether they wished to work on an original IP due to being impressed by their work, Ganbarion accepted and pitched them the idea. The initial concept was how something pure had been corrupted and needed to be purified once again, with the main theme being love. The concept of the heroine needing to eat meat did not come until much later, when producer Chikako Yamakura was talking with another staff member about the then-prevalent fashion for ekiben, boxed lunches served on trains., and the idea came to her out of the blue. Only the basic elements of the story had been decided by then, and despite reservations by then-Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, the project was greenlit as Iwata felt that they deserved the chance to work on a fresh project. The long development cycle was the result of continuous problems faced by the team which ran from the use of the Wii remote to mixed responses from testers on the mechanics surrounding Elena which necessitated some aspects surrounding the character to be scrapped and redone from scratch. This latter measure needed to be undertaken just a year before the game's release. Despite this, the final game came out relatively close to their initial vision.
The game's title went through multiple revisions during development, with Nintendo producer Hitoshi Yamagami saying that he went through discussions with Yamakura about ten times and Yamakura stated that about five thousand titles had been suggested. The Japanese subtitle, "Until I Return To Your Side", was proposed and approved at a fairly early stage. The final title was only decided two months before the mastering process began. The Oraclos Chain was present in early concepts as a means of contrasting with Elena's feminine image, and was born as a gameplay device from discussions on how to best create an action-based experience with limited controls. Alongside this, the team wanted to make the game suitable for gamers not comfortable with action games, so upgrades and equipment repair were added. The boss battles were designed to make players pull on all their available resources, creating puzzles that would leave players satisfied upon completion. No original music was created for the game, with it instead using samples from western classical music that fitted the concept. While original music was considered, it was dropped as staff felt it would be "too powerful" for an overseas audience.
According to director Toru Haga, creating an original world and scenario after their time working on licensed properties was challenging. The concept of the Laws was based on the Eastern philosophical concept of "yin yang wu xing": each "Law" was an aspect or element of the world, which balanced against each other and each had two opposing counterparts representing each element. If one part vanished, the balance would be disrupted and the natural would be adversely effected. These concepts influenced the design of the Towers: the first three were designed around wood, earth and water, then later towers representing metal and fire. Each tower was divided into "male" (yang) and "female" (yin) halves. This concept was applied so as to keep the Towers from being repetitive for players, using different shades and designs while retaining their shared symbolic color. The law against eating meat present in the world was inspired by a social phenomenon noted by Yamakura where men and women approached each other counter to popular views on gender relationships, translated as "carnivorous boys and herbivorous boys": this concept gave birth to the scenes of Elena having trouble eating the flesh offerings.
According to Haga, the main theme was saving Elena from the curse and then returning to a normal life. The world design, narrative complexity and number of characters was kept to a minimum so players would have their attention directed upon the main characters' plight. When developing the characters, Haga wanted players to relate easily to Aeron, and he was developed to become not too outspoken or assertive. The character Elena was present from the beginning of development, but due to the negative feedback of testers, Elena needed to undergo a major overhaul, including redesigning her monster transformation so that players would sympathize better with her condition, and all the dialogue and cutscenes involving her being redone from scratch. As a result of these developments, the character was portrayed as a strong-willed woman who did not want to be a burden on Aeron despite her condition, in addition to helping him rather than just letting him handle the entire quest. Mavda and her husband were designed to contrast with the relationship between Aeron and Elena: while they looked odd, they were in fact a devoted couple similar to the main protagonists. Her design originated from the initial ideas for the game's merchant, who would have a large pack on their back. She was compared by Haga to cynical witches found in traditional European fairy tales.
Pandora's Tower was first revealed to be in development by Satoru Iwata at Nintendo's third quarter financial meeting in January 2011. Nintendo later set up an official teaser site with a spring 2011 release date for Japan. The site featured a female voice that said, "Dying with beauty, or living with ugliness. Which would you be happier with?" On April 5, 2011, the first trailer was released online. Details on the story and characters were published in the April 6, 2011 issue of Famitsu magazine along with the confirmation of Ganbarion as the developer and a Japanese release date of May 26, 2011. The official website was updated to include the new trailer and confirmed release.
In July 2011, Pandora's Tower was playable at Japan Expo 2011 in Paris, where LiveGen confirmed the European release of the game scheduled for 2012. Nintendo of Europe officially confirmed the release in their region the following month. In November 2011, Nintendo of Europe asked players to vote for their favorite artwork to be included as a reversible cover of Pandora's Tower and The Last Story. The voting was closed on November 15, 2011, with a winning reversible cover of the game selected by Nintendo of Europe.
A fan campaign dubbed Operation Rainfall began on June 24, 2011 to persuade Nintendo of America to localize the game along with Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story. Nintendo of America originally stated on Facebook that "there are no plans to bring these three games [including Pandora's Tower] to [North America] at this time." Operation Rainfall then tried to pitch Pandora's Tower to publishers themselves, asking for and receiving donations from fans in order to make it happen. The Last Story and Pandora's Tower were published by Xseed Games, with Pandora's Tower released in North America on April 16, 2013.
Japanese magazine Famitsu rated the game 31 out of 40, with scores of 7, 7, 9 and 8 out of 10. Pandora's Tower sold 21,445 units during its release week in Japan, and was the third best-selling game in that week. The Guardian wrote that "with visuals that push Nintendo's hardware to its limits and multiple endings to discover, Pandora's Tower is the finest game of its kind this side of Zelda." Eurogamer gave the game an 8/10; while on IGN it scored a 7, saying that "Ganbarion’s game may be no classic[;] but like [the video game] Nier, this is rich enough in ideas and narrative force to potentially become something of a cult favourite in years to come." Nintendo Life gave the game also a 7/10, praising the character relationships but criticizing the technical faults. Game Informer's Kimberly Wallace gave the game a 6/10, writing that "Pandora's Tower has plenty of interesting concepts, but it feels more like a rough cut than a polished game."
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