Ever Oasis is exactly the kind of game you want to see pop up in the closing year of a beloved console's lifespan. By now, we all know what the Nintendo 3DS is capable of, so developers no longer have to worry about prioritizing learning the tech and hardware. Instead, they can more efficiently sink time into the creative process, using their foreknowledge to create fun, experimental games that exist more to please than to impress.
Persona 4 and Okami fall into this category for the PlayStation 2, but as console lifespans start to blend into one another, I was afraid we wouldn't be seeing games like this anymore. Thank goodness for the Nintendo 3DS keeping this trend alive.
Grezzo, the developer behind the Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask ports for the 3DS, and its legendary founder director Koichi Ishii, of Secret of Mana fame, created this fun little action/adventure life simulator hybrid that just simply works on all fronts.
Ever Oasis is one with nature
Ever Oasis puts you in charge of a seedling child. It is the duty of these beings to create a habitable oasis in an ever expanding desert and protect their citizens as they seek shelter and a comfortable lifestyle. Outside, a calamity called Chaos spreads its influence across the desert and eats entire settlements with its minions, a selection of corrupted monsters and plants.
You are the last seedling child, and you are taking care of the desert's last bastion of peace. Your brother was killed before your eyes defending his town, and his residents were slaughtered as you were saved at the last second. How do you set about protecting own people from the same fate?
While it sounds like the bleakest of setups, Ever Oasis is about as cute as games come. It warms the heart with how friendly this game is. I remember not liking the character art so much when I first saw it. Many of the characters are overdrawn with excessive garments and accessories for my tastes, but I've come to admire the charming locals who inhabited my town.
After all, isn't that the ultimate goal of a life simulator game?
The hero is absurdly cute too, filling the role of "silent protagonist" splendidly with his outlandish expressions and gestures. You'll fall in love with him or her right away, and his water spirit companion is also quirky, as you would expect from a being with little social interactions during the first millennia of her life.
As opposed to the post-apocalypse of Fallout, this bright and colorful end of civilization will overflow your heart with happiness. Koichi Ishii also taps into his Secret of Mana roots by weaving a world that is dominated by nature and the spirits that control each of its elements. Similar storytelling themes, environment presentation, and character designs all inspire images of classic JRPGs more than anything really, a style I was more than happy to consume.
The music, while definitely not up to Secret of Mana standards, also sets a nice, relaxing mood while you hang around in your town or explore the vast deserts. If anything, Ever Oasis is both lovely to look at and pleasing to hear, and if a charming aesthetic is all you need to lose yourself to these kinds of Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley/Rune Factory games, then this will easily be a nice couple dozen hours for your to sink into.
It's a life simulator if your life is an adventure!
But, of course, the aesthetic is not the sole element in these games because nobody wants to just look at pretty things for hours on end. You need a reason to come back and see those pretty things, and Ever Oasis has the gameplay backbone to keep all this supported properly.
It's proper to call this game a hybrid of the action RPG genre and the Harvest Moon life simulators since both of these elements complement each other perfectly.
On one hand, your seedling will carry out his duties as the town's chief. This means running the town's commerce and making sure all of your inhabitants have something to do. Most of them will be able to set up a shop of some kind on your main street, selling useless trinkets to fat birds that swarm to your oasis and frivolously spend their money.
To run these shops, the seedling child must collect resources out in the world and bring them back to restock their supplies. Keeping shop keepers happy makes you money, levels them up, expands their inventory with more valuable products, and will even grant them special abilities in combat if you take them adventuring. More on that later.
This micromanagement is very streamlined. A simple press of a button in its menu screen drops off all necessary items, and casting your Gale spell on the shop's tent will suck out all of its profits. Even with a maximum number of shops, it never feels like a burden to collect your taxes.
Those not running the shops have others tasks they can perform, like gardening and planning festivals, but any resident can also be dragged out into the map for some good, old-fashioned exploring!
Ever Oasis sets itself apart from Harvest Moon and its ilk by actually having a full blown adventure to compliment all this town management. Actually, I'd say that this adventure is the main show. The seedling child learns of certain objectives out on the map by talking to his residents, and completing each quest will score him new residents, access to new resources, or open up entirely new maps. Some of these are story based, and others are fetch quests. Ever Oasis dodges the problems of some RPGs by never becoming grindy to the point of tedium. The town management and pace of the story are brisk enough to keep it flowing naturally.
The seedling child also gets his hands dirty with combat, meaning Ever Oasis has its fair share of item management with weapon upgrades, armor upgrades, accessories, healing items, all you would expect to find in a full-blown JRPG. Make your dude stronger, pummel enemies that much faster. Again, the point of every RPG.
Enthusiastic residents are also always willing to help in battle. Those with leveled up shops have passive abilities that will help in some combat situations, and others have situational weapons and skills that will open doors, solve puzzles, or land you sweet, sweet treasure chests. Making sure that all of the town members are up to speed and selecting the right ones for each outing a huge decision in Ever Oasis.
Combat feels fine, too. It's very reminiscent of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask with a lock-on system and rotating camera. It employs a sword/spear/range weapon system in which some creatures will be weak to certain weapon times, and your seedling will also gain combos and new magic abilities as he levels up, each allowing him to approach enemies with the proper tactics.
Ever Oasis is more of an adventure with a farming add-on, rather than the vice versa you find in most games of this genre. That's fine, and it helps set it apart from the rest.
You won't live in this oasis forever, though
This isn't a complaint from me, but I know that many fans who approach these life simulators want to bring a certain level of personalization with them. They want to lay out every brick of their buildings and plant every crop in a certain layout that is pleasing to them.
That's not happening here. Ever Oasis is a very focused adventure game that plays out the same way each time you start a new game. Quests, residences, and characters all appear at roughly the same point in the story, and it's much more scripted than the open-ended progression of the usual games in this genre. I haven't gotten there yet, but the post-game is also supposedly very scant, meaning you'll have to start your town all the way from the beginning if you want to play again.
It's not Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing or something you'll be able to personalize forever. It's an action RPG with a little customization that pulls you by the nose from plot point to plot point first and foremost. Personalization is an afterthought here.
Again, that's no complaint from me, and I find it actually refreshing knowing that the post-game doesn't make you feel guilty for quitting when the credits roll. That's something not enough games do these days.
I like Ever Oasis a lot, and while it doesn't reach the level of "future classic" like Persona 4 or Okami, it fits the bill perfectly as a closer for the Nintendo 3DS and its impressive run. If Nintendo drops a few more hits like this in our laps over the next year, I'll be happy to keep my 3DS in rotation.
Extra kudos to Grezzo for making such a solid game with their first original IP. All those Legend of Zelda ports really paid off, didn't it?
Disclaimer: We purchased Ever Oasis with personal funds and played the game to completition before beginning this review.
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