Things seemed to have quietened down over at KEMCO HQ in recent times, and it has been a little while since we last saw a retro-flavoured JRPG from the undisputed kings of the genre. However, the hiatus is now over, and the latest title to hit Xbox One is Miden Tower, boasting the usual KEMCO staples of an involving story, retro graphics and turn-based combat.
Valen is the hero of the Miden Tower narrative, and his is a story driven purely by revenge. As a child, the Imperial soldiers invaded, murdering his parents right in front of him, and then killing his best friend, Neena, while Valen ran away and left her to her fate. As you can imagine, seeing this amount of violence at such a delicate age has warped Valen somewhat, and his life is just based around getting vengeance on any Imperial soldiers who cross his path. Luckily, Valen is a mage. Well, I say luckily, it’s lucky for Valen – not so much for the Imperial soldiers he comes across.
As he is exploring the tower, he does find a friend who is, wait for it, a Magicka. Now, Magickas in the world of Miden Tower are creatures made as familiars, and depending on the will of the person creating them they can take any number of forms. This explains why this friend, Leila, is actually a walking wall. Yes, you read that right, Leila is a wall, with eyes, who can walk about and disguise herself as human when the need arises. As the story progresses, two more companions join the team, Mia, the Eternal Sage, who for various complicated reasons has decided to always appear as a 14-year old girl, despite being more than 100 years old, and the most imaginatively named character ever – a grumpy old man, with a heart of gold, called Gruff. Not so much a name as a description of his character…
The world of Miden Tower is quite an interesting one. Long ago, the tower was created to prevent the mages that lived in a number of towns from being killed by the empire. Basically, what seems to have happened is that all the towns in the area have been picked up, rolled into a tower, and thrown onto a specific floor; each one housing a different town. The top of the tower is the Jurisdictive Town of Stohl, where the Sages’ Council chamber is, and also the headquarters of the Sentinels, a group of warrior mages whose job it is to protect the tower from incursions. They aren’t too keen on Valen going out and murdering all the Imperial soldiers he can find, but while the commander doesn’t like Valen, his second in command is one of Valen’s oldest friends, so there is a tension there straightaway. As you play through the story, and its many twists and turns, these things begin to make sense, and while the game has a cracking story running through it does occasionally fall into the usual KEMCO trait of hammering a subtle message home with a sledgehammer.
As the story advances, we get to explore the tower more, and it is certainly a varied place. Floors range from the Magma Sea, where all the solid land is surrounded by molten rock, to the Watered Town of Matarl, where it is constantly raining, via lush vistas where plants grow to ruined and burned villages; souvenirs of the last time the Empire invaded. And the monsters that inhabit these places are something to behold again, with many being instantly recognisable if you have played an Asdivine game before.
The usual rules apply: as enemies get harder, they change colour and appearance slightly, so a skull on an upper floor will be basic and easy to kill, while a skull lower down may be purple and have horns, and will be much harder to take down. One pro tip I can offer is this: as you fight, or do daily Guild missions, you will earn Prismic Fruit. In the menu, under the shop option, you can exchange these fruits for various goodies. For 300 fruit, buy an EXP doubler, as it makes life a lot easier. I actually bought two, and by the time I was mopping up end game activities I was level 916. And even this isn’t enough to kill the two optional bosses that are in the game!
As you level your characters, they will learn many skills, depending on the actions you favour. So if you use a lot of magic attacks, their “Wizard” skill will increase, making future magic skills stronger. The same goes for all the other actions, including physical skills. Getting these skills ranked up in a consistent way is the key to developing a strong character, and with the help of weapon synthesis, allowing you to merge unwanted weapons into your main one, the build and loadout of your character is very deep. For instance, the strongest weapons I found were called “Bear” weapons, which do 1.5 times the amount of damage. Sounds great, until you read that if you miss or fail to do damage on your turn, these weapons trigger a “swoon” effect, and your character essentially dies. Not so great. However, with the right build, it’s possible to minimise this effect, and that is all part of the fun of experimentation.
Combat in Miden Tower takes place in the traditional side-on view, with the good guys on the right and the bad guys on the left. Animation in the battle is minimal, with your characters flying across the screen to smack someone with a sword or a glove, or dirty great lumps of rock being dropped on the enemies’ heads. The Auto battle system seen in other KEMCO titles also makes a return, but this time it is a lot better and more tweakable, for want of a better word. It’s possible to have each character actioning a different set of automatic moves, from purely physical to purely magical, and everything in between. My personal favourite is that which allows characters to use physical attacks, magical attacks and items as they see fit, and the game makes a pretty decent fist of keeping people alive and healed up, right up until the closing stages. Once you see people start to go down and not get up, you do need to be prepared to step in and rectify matters, but other than that it’s a pretty chilled experience.
There are difficulty spikes included for good measure too, as is usual for a KEMCO title, especially when it comes to the bosses, but it’s nothing that a little light grinding won’t solve. In particular, if you find your way to the Metal level, the enemies there give a truly ridiculous amount of EXP.
Graphically and Miden Tower is very much business as usual – gorgeous retro sprites wandering around nicely drawn backdrops. And the sounds are all as to be expected as well, with the music a real highlight; it can be very soothing one minute and stirring the next as you enter a fight, and the tunes are very lovely indeed. The story keeps you playing and guessing right until the end, even in the traditional extra chapter after you defeat what you think is the final boss, only for the entire narrative to be stood on its head in the end game. In fact, Miden Tower has kept me playing long after finishing the main storyline, and for a change the achievement list is very doable, as there are no really tricky achievements on the list.
The story, the characters, and the relationships that grow between those you meet will make you want to continue playing Miden Tower on Xbox One. If you don’t like retro styled JRPGs it’s unlikely to sway you, but for everyone else, this is a game that needs to be played. In fact, it’s the best KEMCO game of recent months and you really should give it a try.