Sunday, July 14, 2019

A whole lot of thoughts on Ever Oasis for the Nintendo 3DS

I bought a copy of Ever Oasis all the way back in early 2018--when Walmart was clearing out its stock of 3DS games for some reason or other. Sadly, it sat on a shelf, unopened and unloved, until a couple of weeks ago.

While considering which game I should take on vacation with me at that time, my stress-addled brain kindly reminded me of Ever Oasis. So, I stuck the cart into my trusty OG 3DS and tossed the whole she-bang into my carry-on bag.

Surprisingly, I avoided both like the plague on my nine-hour flight as well as throughout the rest of my two-week vacation. I came to my senses on the trip home, though. Not only did I start my way through Ever Oasis during this lengthy leg of the journey, but I put more than four hours into its desert-focused adventure before I landed in Austin.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have seen the posts I've published in the week-plus since I returned home that extol Ever Oasis' virtues. None of them went into much detail about why I've enjoyed the title so much up to now (or which aspects have done their darndest to keep me from enjoying it), though, so I thought I'd rectify that here.

It's gorgeous--Visually, Ever Oasis reminds me of a trio of other games I similarly adore: Fantasy Life, Miitopia, and Secret of Mana. All three are cute as buttons and feature chibi-ish character and enemy designs, of course, but that's only part of what I'm talking about here. The main aspect that ties these four titles together for me is they all use warm, soft color palettes that call to mind sherbet and beachy sunsets. As a result, I basically never tire of looking at them--Ever Oasis, in particular.

The soundtrack gives off serious Secret of Mana vibes, too--And by that I mostly mean there's a breezy, laidback feel to the bulk of it. The rest is made up of atmospheric tunes and tunes that are bombastically epic. All in all, it's an pleasingly eclectic soundtrack that cuts its own path while also offering a bit of nod to one Hiroki Kikuta forged many years earlier.

Fighting in Ever Oasis is a ton of fun--In fact, combat in this game feels a lot like the combat that's front and center in another 3DS game I just mentioned, Fantasy Life. I'd argue it's even more satisfying here, though, thanks to the fact you typically control a three-member party, and each party member tends to hoist different weapons and have different abilities that can be put to creative use while exploring as well as in battle.

I love the unique weapon designs--I'm especially smitten with the hammers wielded by Ever Oasis' portly, frog-like Serkah characters. One has a spiky cactus for a head. Another is capped with a giant pinecone. All of them put a smile on my face. The same is true of many of this game's other weapons, too--from its bolas, to its bows, to its magical wands. Sadly, only Serkahs can use the aforementioned hammers, but that's a pretty minor complaint, all things considered.

That said, I think there are too many weapons in Ever Oasis--I can't believe I'm saying such a thing, to be honest. Usually, I welcome any and all weapons an RPG is willing to throw at me. In Ever Oasis, though, you have to craft--or "synthesize"--the vast majority of them out of materials you collect while in the field. Only a select few can be bought from one of the game's rarely encountered merchants. As a result, you quickly build up a sizable cache of weapon "recipes" that overwhelms more than it impresses.

On the flipside, I wish there were more outfits in the game--I've found about seven turbans so far and maybe 15 coats or robes. That's not a whole lot, especially compared to the slew of weapons Ever Oasis offers up. Still, I'd be fine with this dearth of clothing options if what was available were more useful. Instead, the coats and robes and turbans are purely superficial. Accessories like anklets and rings and mirrors do boost your defenses in a couple of ways, but they're not visible during play--another big bummer for me.

The strategic aspect of the dungeon-crawling here is surprisingly engaging and intriguing--It's quite Zelda-esque in this regard. In fact, one could argue it one-ups Nintendo's classic series now and then thanks to the vast number of ways you can solve its puzzles. An unfortunate downside of this aspect of the game: you have to switch out party members with annoying regularity. Doing so is a lot easier than it could be thanks to the game's "aqua gate" function, but it's still pretty exhausting.

Speaking of which, I'd like this game even more than I do now if I could switch out party members via the pause menu--Considering the "aqua gate" mechanism I just referred to is far from realistic, I wish Ever Oasis' developers had taken things one step further and let players change party members quickly and easily via the game's pause menu.

That seems to be Ever Oasis' only missing "quality of life" component, however--Ever Oasis may fumble a bit with the above, but it makes up for it elsewhere. Don't like gardening? Ask some of your residents to handle it for you. Restocking their shops--or "Bloom Booths"--with materials you gather while spelunking is made similarly easy after a certain point. Early on, you have to go door to door to accomplish this task; later, it requires little more than the press of a button. The game is full of such shortcuts, and they help make it as tedium-free as possible.

I could do without a lot of this game's town-building and NPC-pleasing--Many like to describe Ever Oasis as a spiritual successor to Square Enix's Mana series. And while that makes some sense--especially since Secret of Mana's director, Koichi Ishii, also served as this title's director--it only tells half the story. That's because overworld-stalking and dungeon-crawling are just a part of Ever Oasis' gameplay loop. The other part focuses on town-building, material-gathering, and NPC-pleasing. Those actions are a nice diversion at first, but for me they became increasingly tiresome and time-consuming as I delved ever deeper into the game.

It's a crying shame you can't recruit any of the adorable Noots as party members--As much as I like the designs of most of Ever Oasis' controllable characters (of which there are many), I can't help but feel sad the developers of the title didn't allow players to add even one of the game's cute-as-hell Noot beings to their dungeon-crawling parties. Maybe they saved it for a sequel?

Note: the screenshots showcased here are from this wonderful Ever Oasis walkthrough and guide