Review: Ever Oasis

 A hidden gem, or should I say a hidden oasis?

Console: Nintendo 3DS

2017 was a weird year for the Nintendo 3DS. It marked the beginning of the end for the Nintendo’s last dedicated handheld console. In March of that year, the company’s newest entry into the console market the, Nintendo Switch, released. While Nintendo pledged it support to the ageing handheld, even stating they were working on a successor at some point, the picture was clear to many. The Switch was replacing the 3DS. They said the same thing when the Nintendo DS came out about its predecessor the Gameboy Advance and what do you know: the DS quickly replaced that system. Now to be fair to Nintendo they did indeed kept supporting the handheld. All of its services are still supported 3 years later and Nintendo themselves published new games for the system until last year but 2017 was the last year in which the supply of new games was steady.

This brings us to the subject of today’s review: Ever Oasis. Developed by Grezzo, a developer with close ties to Nintendo. They were developers behind most of the Zelda remasters from the last few years and the Luigi’s Mansion 3DS port. Do you know the Mana series? The one that got a remake in the Trials of Mana? This game was directed by Koichi Ishii, the director of the Mana series, and is considered a spiritual successor to that series.

This introduction is already 2 paragraphs long so without further ado, let’s dive in!

The world of Ever Oasis is that of a giant desert inhabited by ferocious monsters. The only safe have in this desolated land are the settlements of the game’s races and Oasis’s. An Oasis is created when a seedling and a genie combine their power and is a prospering bit of land where vegetation grows, water is plentiful and a place where all of the different races live in harmony. Everything was fine in the last Oasis until the Chaos attacked, a malevolent force that’s responsible for the destruction of all of the other Oasis’s. The Oasis falls but your brother manages to send you to safety in the nick of time. As luck would have it, Thetu/Theti ends up right next to a small pond were Esna, last of the water genies, live. Together, they build a new Oasis while simultaneously trying to figure out what the Chaos is exactly and what became of Thetu/Theti’s brother.

Before long, you oasis will be sprawling with life!

The best way to describe Ever Oasis is as the child of both The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing with some Egyptian influences thrown in for good measure. The game has two main features that work together much better than I initially thought. Your Oasis is the Animal Crossing part. As its chief, it’s up to you to manage the day to day goings. Visitorss are drawn to your oasis and after you match a certain requirement, like finding a specific resource or having a specific shop in your oasis, they become settlers. Each seedling comes with their own unique shop, selling a variety of items such as food, clothes or ornaments.

Bringing in new seedling and other setlers to your oasis is the backbone of the gameplay loop. The game actively encourages you to grow your oasis. You need to raise the level of your oasis or bring in a seedling with a specific ability to further progression at multiple points in the game. To attract that specific seedling though, you first need to attract another seedling and before long you’ll find yourself knee-deep in managing your oasis and leveraging many of the more intricate aspects of the system with ease.

This gameplay loop of attracting a seedling to grow your oasis so you can draw more seedlings can get frustrating and tedious at times, yes. But overall, the loop is rewarding, easy to pick up and above all else fun. In large part, this is because of the sheer amount of fun it is to draw in new settlers. Each settler, be they seedling or otherwise, come with their own distinct little personality and story that will put a smile on your face. They might look alike, but many of the characters in the game will put an impression on you regardless.

The Legend of Zelda inspiration comes in with the exploration and the story. Outside of your oasis, you and up to two different settlers can explore to your heart's content. Scattered across the endless dessert are roughly two dozen dungeons and a handful of labyrinths just waiting to be explored. These dungeons function similarly as those of Zelda. They’re in essence one giant puzzle that requires the use of one or two abilities to traverse. These dungeon can be rather long, but the game has enough systems in place like instant warping  that it's very easy to put the game back down and pick up again later without any real penalty.

Where Zelda has items, Ever Oasis has settlers. Each of them come with a weapon and special ability that do this job and it’s where two systems meet. To get a seedling with a certain weapon, ability or combination of both that will help you along in your journey you need to have a good enough oasis to attract one first. This dependence on the seedlings to progress can get annoying at times. You'll frequently find yourself warping back to your oasis to switch out party-members in order to progress, killing the the momentum.

The labyrinths are very similar to the dungeons but focus on combat instead of puzzle-solving and are much more challenging. They’re not necessary to complete for story progression but they’re a good challenge and offer up quite a bit of loot when you manage to get through them.

When it comes down to the story it’s better then I expected but it sure does have its issues. When first booting up the game, I thought that Ever Oasis would be a game that’s more concerned with its gameplay than its story. That the latter would be more minimalistic, just there to set it all up and the game would more or less you doing your own thing from day to day. There would be a beginning, a goal that would mark the ‘end’ and that’s it. To my surprise, the game isn’t like that, not at all. The game has a pretty meaty story that will carry you throughout the campaign, one that has genuine stakes and emotional moments.

Bit of shame though that the structure of the story is fairly derivative and the pacing is all over the place. Ever Oasis takes more than one que from Zelda and its story structure is one of them. Opening hours, - first quest in which you find 3 shiny things - escalation of the story with tougher 2nd quest - end. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if not for the bad pacing. The first few hours of the game is done well but once you get to the first quest the game becomes rather repetitive and slow.

Once you’ve done one, you’ve done them all so having to do it another two times at a pretty slow pace is not ideal. The second half of the game is a bit better but has the complete opposite problem: it goes too fast. The story becomes darker and the emotional stakes are higher, but the events follow each other up so fast that it doesn’t have enough time to resonate.

The story has its problems but it’s far from bad and it gets the job done.

Be careful when outside of your oasis! Monsters lurk everywhere and are especially common during night-time. Better only explore during the day!

The general atmosphere of the game is something that sets it apart from its two inspirations. The game is dipped Egyptian architecture, lore and culture. From the buildings to the music, you can feel this inspiration. It results in a game that looks and feels quite different from anything that I’ve ever played. Speaking about the music, it’s quite good though sadly not plentiful. It fits the atmosphere of the game perfectly, helps a lot in establishing it, but it’s also rather limited. Tracks are re-used a lot but good quality nontheless. It’s just this lack of variety that hinders it.

That last sentence applies to other aspects of the game as well. The game is graphically and performance wise up to snuff and has good visuals, but the lack of variety is felt throughout. From parts of the world that feel very samey to the aforementioned seedlings re-using the same model just with different colours. The game makes to most out of its assets. A cost-cutting measures if you ask me. Not a deal-breaker, there are also plenty of unique seedlings and locals to be found, but it is noticeable.

Conclusion

Ever Oasis is a little gem of a game that is worth your time. It has issues, sure. Trom the pacing issues to the clear asset reuse and some other nitpicks that would have just made this review even longer then it already is. These issues are annoying and can hinder you enjoyment at times, but the game makes up for it with its strengths. From its world to the blend of management and exploration to how easy it is to pick it up and play there is more than enough to like here. The game is unique and if you’re interested in what you read here or are just a big The Legend of Zelda and/or Animal Crossing fan, Ever Oasis will be a blast for you.

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