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How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Time Limits

(and Other Things)

Alex Fuller

There are a few things I generally avoid when choosing RPGs to play, though I do make exceptions on occasion. Pandora's Tower has two such things - specific time limits and purely solo dungeoneering - but has managed to use them in a way that removes most of my concerns over them.

For me time limits usually have the same general effect as a big yellow warning sign. As someone who likes to spend as long as possible making sure I haven't missed a line of NPC dialogue or potential treasure chest in an obvious dead-end, a time limit based on actual gameplay time is usually a concern. Pandora's Tower's time limit is the amount of time Elena has before she completes her monstrous transformation. The player character, Aeron, has to scale to the top of each of the game's towers to collect (raw) flesh from that tower's master in order to break Elena's curse before the timer runs out. Fortunately, Aeron can also refill the timer by returning with a piece of lesser flesh from the tower's other inhabitants should he not have time to complete the tower in one go, which becomes ever more difficult after the first few towers. In Pandora's Tower, each of the thirteen towers that serve as the game's dungeons are short enough, including shortcuts that are unlocked as players advance up the towers, so returning to base to hold off Elena's tranformation is not a big issue. Another big help towards making this time limit work, however, is that these mid-tower breaks are key to advancing and reaffirming Aeron and Elena's very touching relationship (largely thanks to Elena because of Aeron's traditional silent protagonism).

To qualify my issue with purely solo dungeoneering, I'm more than happy to explore solo if there are other characters interspersed throughout the location or I'm being accompanied by an NPC follower, but I'm not generally a fan of the lonely trudge through dark dungeons. Here again is where the combination of how the game handles time limits and the main characters' relationship became a saving grace. It serves to break up the lonesome parts by frequently interspersing heartwarming events between the two, giving a reminder just of why I was going through the towers, and making those sections worthwhile for the reunions between.

Pandora's Tower has issues elsewhere that prevent me from wholeheartedly recommending it to others: awkward controls, unfriendly camera angles, and repetitive dungeons that mar the experience somewhat. However, it has shown that features which may cause automatic consternation are not necessarily deserving of it, and that given a chance they could prove quite interesting, especially when working together to showcase a game's other strengths.

One other rule I rarely go against is not attempting to replay a game less than two years after its initial completion. Even upon doing this I will manage to stick with it again all the way through. One game that has managed to be an exception is what was easily my favourite game from 2011, Xenoblade Chronicles. My opinions of the game from the initial playthrough last August/September are already well documented, but what pleases me more is that my enjoyment has retained those lofty heights. As someone for whom story is a key part of RPG enjoyment, there is always the likelihood that knowing what happens can dull the experience, but thankfully Xenoblade's narrative is strong enough to keep my engagement in the story flowing a second time, keeping the suspension of disbelief that applies to the few minor hiccups that always appear on second playthrough, especially after someone actually points them out.

My initial playthrough took around ninety hours, even after skipping a lot of end-game side content to try and achieve a more timely completion. My second playthrough, which isn't quite completed at the time of writing, looks to surpass that (even as I manage to accomplish individual missions or quests at a quicker pace) thanks to the abundance of optional content that makes traversing the fantastic world, while listening to a no less fantastic soundtrack, a joy.

The key thing that these games have imparted upon me is to not let preconceived opinions negatively affect how much I enjoy a game. Broadly speaking, a feature is not necessarily good or bad. It is rather their implementation and interaction with other features that is to blame or praise, and a bit more open-mindedness in this area could help broaden many people's gaming horizons.

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