I have to admit that I tend to choose which game to play next based on one critical factor: does it have audio worth listening to, or can I turn it off and sing along to my own CD collection instead? Sometimes the decision is easy; the likes of Unreal Tournament and Deus Ex have spectacular soundtracks and sound design in general. Sometimes my hand is forced, by a game like Command & Conquer just not having subtitles. Finally, though, you have your Skyrims, your massive overwrought RPGs that never have enough music to cover the thousand hours you’re about to put into them (and the music’s probably forgettable orchestral munge anyway).
After a period of enjoying deserving games with their proper audio, my vocal cords start to get nervy. I like to sing. But I also want to play video games. So I need to find a game that can allow me to satisfy both needs at once.
Thus we end up at today’s candidate: Tower of Time. This may be slightly uncharitable of me, but after playing for a quick burst, I was assured that, yes, this is one I can sing along to.
Tower of Time
So! Big party-driven RPG. There’s a weird tower and the player character is summoned to delve into its depths by a mysterious force… At which point they sit in a throne at the entrance and send a party of heroes to do the actual dirty work.
Thus begins your slow descent to retrieve whatever the Mysterious Force wants you to find at the bottom. You must lead your heroes to carefully explore each level of the tower to progress against its dangers and — of course — expunge it of the numerous monsterous that have taken up residence since the Apocalypse that… turned it upside down and rammed it into the ground?!
Exploration and combat are completely distinct parts of the game. Both are real-time, but the exploratory parts are free to be structured for exploration without also needing to be interesting combat spaces — clambering around wrecked corridors to look for notes and levers and quest items is broadly pretty safe, and your inter-character party banter will never be interrupted by an errant group of monsters.
Most battles are pre-placed and clearly signalled (give or take a few invisible ambushes), so you can approach or withdraw as is your whim. Take your time, it’s an RPG.
Entering combat takes you, Final Fantasy style, into a separate arena that’s roughly thematically linked to the area in which you found your enemies. These spaces are designed completely as combat arenas, replete with chokepoints and walls that block line-of-sight and can be used tactically (or not) as befits your skill as a player. Enemies will enter the arena in waves from various doorways around each arena, meaning that you can’t ever back yourself into a safe corner and sit tight. Enemies telegraph their biggest spells with targeting circles and channelled spells can be interrupted by moving behind walls too.
While your party eventually expands to seven trailing behind you during the exploration sections, you can only take four of your Champions into battle. Each comes with their own unique set of skills, each is dressed individually, yadda yadda, you know the score.
The skills follow all the usual lines of buffs, summons, damage and whatnot. The one fun addition is that, along with the usual cones and circles, some abilities follow a hand-drawn line. Kane, for example is able to summon a stone wall along a freehand path, which can be used to break line-of-sight of ranged enemies or block off routes so they get funnelled into those Bear Traps you had Maeve place.
Each hero only gets four skills to cast in battle but, as usual, more appear as they level up (through “training” on the home city screen) and you can swap them out while exploring. Levelling up costs money and is capped until you can track down the relevant upgrades, so being thorough is necessary to keep your favourite four Champions in good condition.
Equipment is where things get painful. For all that Tower of Time is a fairly heavy story-driven party-based RPG in the classic Infinity Engine mould, but with modern twists, unfortunately it’s taken equipment right out of the average action-RPG lootgrinder.
That’s not to say that each combat encounter rewards you with a deluge of pieces, more that each piece is the most draining morass of minor increments. Is +3% Fire Resistance better than +0.4 Movement Speed? What about +1 to Mastery or a 10% Chance to Stun? Is any combination of four to six of those factors better than any other?! Needless to say, there’s no rhyme or reason as to which pieces of equipment have which bonuses; it’s all a huge and mind-numbing jumble.
As if dealing with that in the loot you find isn’t enough, you can craft items too. Then you can upgrade them and enchant them. You can’t sell them, though… instead you can dismantle them into crafting components (three tiers of crystal). How do you make anything in a game feel special or exciting? Not this way.
Unfortunately the game’s build quality is maybe a bit too wobbly to sustain these rougher mechanical edges.
Every character and inventory screen has a different interaction paradigm — items can be Forged with new upgrades by dragging an item into a box and making selections, but to Enchant one you have to be wearing it and select the matching category. The skill upgrade and selection menu is horribly ambiguous about whether you’ve actually bought an upgrade or just selected it (let alone clicked it again to refund it). The minimalist combat UI means you’re as likely to click the ground behind the skill hotbar as to select the skill to cast (or the next hero). There are frequent spelling and grammar errors. Speaking of audio, many visually pyrotechnic spells cast simply don’t seem to have sounds associated with them at all.
The framerate is also all over the place. Admittedly my PC is now 7-9 years old, but even so I am apparently well into the Recommended specifications — though changing the graphics quality had little impact and stutters come and go with no apparent cause. (I think it’s because the game has a lot of underfloor areas that aren’t always visible but are always getting rendered.) And before you bag me, I am literally a Unity developer, I am totally allowed to call them out on using Resources.Load with a 3GB archive, which causes the game to take a good thirty seconds of “did I definitely double-click the shortcut?” before it even starts.
It does at least have a fairly interesting plot. The characters are fun enough and the mystery of why the tower — and the world — is in the state it’s in is unfolded in neat chunks as you proceed. I must be about half-way through and I fully expect more surprises because in all honesty, when I started the game I didn’t even expect it to go in this direction.
The mechanism of unfolding the backstory through “visions” (i.e. narrated cinematics) that the characters experience exactly the same way the player does may be a little bit on-the-nose — maybe they could have integrated all of that better by spreading fragments of clues all throughout the exploration sections — but overall it’s a fun mystery doled out at a decent enough pace to keep you going.
So, yes, it’s definitely in “I can understand why they gave it away for free” territory, but I’m still intrigued enough that I want to see it through. You can take from that what you will. 7/10?