I like RPGs, and at this point in my life, I’ve played quite a few. From amazingly epic adventures through time and space to small contained quests for freedom or family, whatever the general idea is, they’re usually all a pretty solid way to blow a good fifty to a hundred hours, if not more. Some of the best gaming experiences I’ve had have been in RPGs. Then along comes Ever Oasis. It’s certainly a game, and I think it’s an RPG as well, but I could be wrong. I’m not sure what it set out to do, but the finished product is confusing at best. What’s even more confusing is that it’s helmed by Koichi Ishii of Grezzo, most notable for directing the early instalments of Final Fantasy and all of the Mana series, so there is some seriously rich talent behind this title. Knowing all this beforehand actually got me rather excited to take a shot at this entirely new IP, so I charged up my 3DS and got ready for awesome. Or so I thought…
“Sand. It’s everywhere. GET USED TO IT!”
Deserts are boring, okay? Let’s just get that clear right from the start. There’s a reason why they always play up the desolate, forbidding nature of a desert in films, often having characters trying to escape it, passing out from exhaustion or needing to be rescued. They literally write the script in such a way as to bypass having to stay in a desert for too long. Saying that, though, Ever Oasis is almost entirely set in a desert. It’s a decent enough desert, I guess, with some curious ruins strewn about and a scattering of cacti and rocks all over, but that’s about it. I was only a few hours in, and I started getting Anakin flashbacks from Episode II what with the amount of sand everywhere.
Putting all that sand aside, even though it’s coarse and rough and it gets everywhere, Ever Oasis is, unsurprisingly, also set in the titular oasis. Your oasis, to be exact after the previous one you were living in gets completely ruined in the first ten minutes – but more on that later. The contrast between the two regions is pleasing, providing some real respite on your adventure, as oases are meant to do. This aesthetic is one of the things I quite enjoyed about Ever Oasis. The art style is very distinct, with strong, vibrant colours in your lively, populated oasis complementing the more subdued, dull colours of the mostly barren desert overrun by monsters.
“Esna, you’re adorable, but seriously, personal boundaries…”
The character designs on show are also brilliant and very refreshing. The little Seedling you play as is your typical, cute, short chibi person, with stubby little legs and arms and an oversized head sprouting a big seed or two from under their turban. After playing many other RPGs with seriously designed characters and ridiculous hairstyles, I didn’t mind the look of these guys at all. I’ve got to say I absolutely adore the Lagora, a race of long-eared funky fox-like dudes. They sport an excellent design, and I love them. The warrior tribe of tall, slim, lizard-like Drauk are pretty cool too, as are the Serkah who are just fat, food-obsessed scorpion people. I especially like how they “speak” by clicking one of their pincers in front of their face like a jaw. It’s the little creative details like those that jumped out at me from the pre-release game previews and made me want to get Ever Oasis for myself.
Then the game code arrived, and I downloaded it to my 3DS…and, well, I don’t have much else nice to say about it. I’m actually really disappointed with Ever Oasis. Those are some harsh words from me, but it’s just how it is. From the very beginning, the game does next to nothing to differentiate itself from any other RPG I’ve ever played. You begin on a blank white screen as the title fades in and that’s it. You just hit start. None of the pomp or ceremony, as RPGs are so often found indulging. Ever Oasis just dumps you right into a character select screen featuring a male and female Seedling and an insulting lack of customization options. Want a different skin colour? Okay, here. Do you want different coloured eyes? Go nuts. Now pick your name and start playing. Oh, what’s that? Did you want more options? Ain’t nobody got time for that!
“Can we lure it into a pot of hot water? No? Fine. Just keep hitting it!”
As jarring as that is, it’s nothing compared to what comes next. After a couple of minutes watching the history of this new world animated in silhouettes and cartoons, the basic plot and major players of the game are introduced. I swear I’m not making this up, but I groaned and closed the lid of my 3DS as soon as the big evil showed up, a dark force of swirly purple crap called Chaos. Seriously, Chaos. I wasn’t even a minute into the game, and I already had to bust out my RPG bingo card. An ancient evil menace, check. After getting a cup of tea and composing myself, I opened the 3DS lid again and jumped into the game with my incredibly unique and original Seedling, finding myself in an oasis. It’s not like I was expecting anything less from a game called Ever Oasis, but I digress. A cutscene begins where I see Tethu or Tethi (the male and female names, respectively, though you could call yourself Assbutt if you want) waking up and meeting their older brother Nour, the chief of this oasis. Older sibling mentor character, check. After he instructs you to clean up some of that pesky sand, you’re told to go chat to everyone and make sure they’re ready for the big festival tomorrow. Festival, check. A quick stomp about the place and some light chit-chat and then all hell breaks loose. Chaos invades the oasis and wrecks the whole joint, killing your brother in the process, although those who’ve played RPG bingo before will know which square I actually just stamped.
After the corruption of your brother’s oasis, you find yourself at a puddle far away in another part of the desert, where you meet a water spirit named Esna, who next to the Lagora, was probably the best part of the game for me. Getting over your incredible loss and trauma takes all of a five or six text boxes and boom, you’re instantly making your very own oasis with Esna, and the proper game begins. That was all within ten minutes, tops. If the game kept up this pace, I’d probably be impressed, but it instead goes the other way. The brakes are slammed on, and the game starts a slow, methodical and frustrating plod through every single little part of itself, dragging you along like a dog on a leash. It also starts an infuriating practice of repeating itself. Every conversation or quest log update is repeated three times, usually by the person who gave it to you, then by your quest log and then again by Esna, who can talk to you at any moment through a proxy. Chatty companion character, check. Why it does this, I have no idea, but it comes across as very condescending and unfortunately makes me feel like I had training wheels on for the entire game.
“You need more stuff? But I just got you stuff! How much stuff do you need?!”
The rest of Ever Oasis can be summed up with three points, namely, recruit residents, upgrade your oasis and defeat Chaos. There isn’t anything more to it, and seeing as we’re talking about an RPG here, that is ridiculous. While doing those three things, it can often feel like you’re playing two different games, because you basically are. The whole resident and building part is pretty much cut and pasted from games like Animal Crossing, except Ever Oasis waters it down to its simplest aspects and restricts your abilities almost entirely. Residents arrive when the game’s story or you reach certain points, and you can’t progress unless you recruit them. The game literally won’t proceed until your oasis hits certain milestones, meaning you can’t turn anyone away, even if they seem like an ass, and believe me, a lot of them are. Everything you can build has one place you can put it, and the game tricks you into thinking your choices affect the design of your oasis, but they don’t. You can only build shops for your residents on particular strips of land, in one of two locations and nowhere else. You can’t even design the look of your oasis. While the overall look changes every time you level up the oasis, everything is pre-determined. After ten or more upgrades, I still felt no connection to the place, even though I’m supposed to be its chief! Your home in the oasis fills up with various stuff as you upgrade, yet it’s completely unrelated to anything I’ve accomplished. It always felt like I was loading up and trying to continue someone else’s adventure.
In regards the adventure side of the game, Ever Oasis once again copy pasted the bare minimum elements it needed from far better games like Fantasy Life and throws them at you whenever it feels so inclined. New player skills and party abilities are usually unlocked to coincide with various beats in the story, but because you can see them coming from so far away, I ended up approaching every new obstacle with a defeated attitude, like “Oh great, ANOTHER thing in my way.” The way you’re required to utilise your non-player characters is interesting in concept but sloppy as hell in execution. Various residents can accompany you on your journey, providing new abilities such as magical attacks, crossbow targeting, leaf helicopters, rock smashing and much more. The frustrating thing is while you can only have two along with you at any time, and that’s usually okay in most RPGs, Ever Oasis makes you warp back to the oasis to change party members every single time. No quick option, no magical summoning, nothing. It’s time-consuming and takes you out of the urgency of the situation every time you have to do it. Some rooms of dungeons will even require you to swap twice, because the solution requires you use some abilities, then change to perform the next step, only to have to bring out your first companions to complete it. A few late-game residents double up on abilities, reducing this annoyance just a tiny bit, but it’s too little, too late in my opinion.
“Lagora & Serkah, the buddy cop spin-off you never knew you wanted… until now!”
That repetitive nature of gameplay extends to everything in the game, and it’s the single greatest flaw of Ever Oasis. You know how in Far Cry 3, Vaas said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and over? He was right on the money with that statement. After all the same gameplay, the same conversations, the same animations, the same rinse and repeat approach to everything, I felt like I was going insane. I was enjoying parts of it, which confused me, but I think that’s because after about ten hours or so, I would find myself playing the oasis parts of the game, then stopping, only returning to the adventure parts on a subsequent session. I made this single game into two games almost without realising it, as a way to plough my way through it. Once I did plough through it, the story built up to what it thought was an epic climax, though it more closely resembles an awkward fart in an elevator travelling to the top floor. On the way to the finale, in even more repetitive gameplay, you have to defeat a series of enemies you have already taken down before. Boss rush, check. The final boss does what every boss does and calls on the dark force of swirly purple crap to face you, changing shapes as you take it down. Endgame boss changes forms, check. Then the game’s story ties up in a somewhat touching epilogue, with your heroic actions forever changing the desert… only for the game to undo everything when you next load your save, dropping you before the final boss. A host of new residents appear for you to recruit after the finale, even though you don’t need them, so your reward for victory is even more repetitiveness. The ending is not the end, check. Oh hey, that’s bingo.
Look, I’m going to wrap it up here because I could rip apart all the various things this game does poorly, but I don’t want to. I tried to like Ever Oasis, I really did. It looked like it had a lot of potential in itself and even after everything I’ve said, I can say it still does. As surprising as that may seem, I still believe that. The world, as dull and boring as a barren desert is, can often be full of entertaining and enjoyable characters. I want to see more of the Lagora, the Drauk, the Serkah and other Seedling oases. I want to venture further than this game let me. It always felt like there was something just out of reach, and every time I extended my hand to try and feel out what it was, the game swatted it away, dropping more of the same stuff on me instead. Ever Oasis could very well be the start of a fun new world, with sequels building on what this one laid down and I would love that, because as I said, I still see potential in this IP, regardless of its flaws. Critically, the game has faired pretty well so far with many reviews glossing over the shortcomings I’ve mentioned, so on that alone, I’d say a sequel is entirely likely. I just hope that the developers take a good look at the formula and make the right changes.
When I first started seeing the trailer images and teasers for Ever Oasis, I have to say I had high hopes. The art popped, there was an unusual Egyptian style to the world, and the characters shown stood out creatively. It’s such a shame the rest of the game is a disjointed mess of ill-fitting parts sliced out of other game genres and better games. It tries to bring in some fun gameplay concepts, but it ends up putting in too much. A more focused game aimed at building its world and characters up, while emphasising the quest, would have been radically better than what we did get. If you’re looking for a game with very minimal stakes to kill some time, by all means, give it a shot. There are a lot worse ways you could spend your time I suppose, but there are also a lot better games that time could be spent on, and it sucks I can’t say Ever Oasis is one of them.