Ever Oasis review: Wondercrawl

Ever Oasis is an action-adventure RPG game developed by Japanese developers Grezzo for the Nintendo 3DS. You may or may not have heard of Grezzo, but they’re the people responsible for developing several notable titles for 3DS, including the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time remakes for 3DS, as well as the more recent title Triforce Heroes. Ever Oasis is a brand new IP from the developers, led by director/producer Koichi Ishii, creator of the legendary Mana series. Ever Oasis is firmly rooted in the action-RPG genre, but with added life-sim elements. You, a Seedling with the magical power to create an Oasis, must attract residents to your Oasis, encourage them to set up shops and keep them happy to ensure the wellbeing of the desert’s residents. A significant portion of the game’s themes explore the importance of friendship, teamwork and cooperation, with the action itself taking place in a lush, Egyptian-themed fantasy world, with sprawling deserts and unique inhabitants.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect, though I had been anticipating this title since the first reveal trailer at E3 2016. I’m a sucker for RPGs and life-sim games, and this seemed to have both of those things wrapped up in a gorgeous, cute art style. I was especially impressed to note that there was some character customisation at the start: The player can choose their gender, as well as change some minor aspects of the player model such as skin and eye colour. Though the options are not particularly comprehensive, it was still a welcome surprise, given that much of the pre-launch material only featured the male character. There are even two save file slots, so you can share your game with another person or start again if you feel like it.

Right from the opening cutscene, it’s apparent that a lot of love has been put into this game’s universe, inviting the player to understand the world that they are about to journey into. You are then forced out of your Oasis into the desert, where you’re tasked with making your own Oasis as a sanctuary for the desert’s residents from the effects of the evil Chaos, a force that threatens to destroy or corrupt all life in the area. However, you’re not without friends; you’ll meet some colourful types fairly quickly, and begin your quest with their help (if a company ever makes plush toys of the Noots, I’ll buy at least ten).

The tutorial is comprehensive and takes you through the first few days with guided quests that explain the UI and Oasis building system along the way. The ‘tutorial’ part of the game does go on for a fair while; four or five hours in, I had only just begun to build my party and explore more independently. This may frustrate some players, but it is done in a way that is not excessively limiting or hand-holding. Your Oasis expands to fit new shops and visitors as you progress and find more residents; the list of Oasis residents is impressively long, and will provide quite the challenge if you intend to find them all, as some are located in remote areas or require certain prerequisites to recruit. The game also has a day and night cycle, which affects the times you can enter your shops and when the day resets (you can sleep until the next day, or stay up three days straight in a dungeon, and not too much will change, with the exception of your garden growing and shop stock). Eventually you can craft new healing items, combat weapons, clothing and more using things you pick up in dungeons. Keeping your shop owners happy by delivering materials you find on your explorations is a necessity; your Oasis’ general happiness provides combat and health bonuses, without which the game’s dungeons can become very punishing. Eventually you can also delegate residents to do tasks such as go on explorations and tend the garden, adding another layer of complexity to the resident system.

Although this game was mainly pitched for its oasis-building gameplay, it became immediately apparent to me that the dungeons and exploration is where this game really shines. I was a huge fan of Fantasy Life, and given their similar aesthetics, I assumed it’d be the same type of basic combat — I was wrong. Behind the colourful exterior and chibi-style models, the combat and gameplay is engaging, intuitive and even punishing at times. Combat happens in real-time, with the player having to use weapon combos (unlocked over time) and dodge rolls to defeat enemies, all of whom have unique attack patterns and weaknesses. I learned the hard way that this isn’t a game you can expect to just mash buttons through. The first time I went in the desert, I got killed in two hits by one of the weakest enemies in the game because I failed to dodge and heal. This wouldn’t be as bad if not for the fact that you need to reload your save when you are defeated — save as frequently as you can! The combat becomes even more complex when you recruit party members, whom you can switch between in real-time to use individual abilities and weapons. To top it all off, the controls are seamless and fluid (remember you can also switch party members using the ZR button if you have a New 3DS; you’ll thank me later).

As for the dungeons themselves, if you’ve ever played Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask, you’ll recognise some layouts, puzzles and enemy mechanics right off the bat. Despite this, Ever Oasis manages to avoid feeling derivative. Instead of using different items to activate environmental puzzles, you use different party member skills. You might need to find a member who can plant vines to reach far-away ledges or leap across gaps, or a character to smash boulders. As you collect more party members, you can return to old dungeons to collect all the chests, giving a lot of the game’s areas excellent replayability. The areas outside the dungeons are massive, and it may take you some time to walk from one end to the other. Keep your eyes open along the way, in case you spot a harvestable plant or a hidden doorway submerged in the sand. And be careful when you go out at night; monsters are different, and stronger. Small details like this make Ever Oasis’ universe come to life with many hours of content to explore and conquer.

Ever Oasis is filled with lush, orchestral soundscapes that really enhance the atmosphere of your surroundings, with surprisingly ‘mature’ compositions that feel like they could belong in a Final Fantasy or Xenoblade title. Make sure you play this game with the sound on. An unfortunate downside is the lack of voice acting, even for cutscenes. There are some babble or voice effects in combat and conversation, but it can ruin the immersion in some cutscenes where communication is done with character lip flap and subtitles; the game would benefit from having even a handful of lines voiced, or more consistent voice effects.

Just as disappointing are the complete lack of communication features and multiplayer, which is surprising given how well the game’s concept and gameplay would work in a multiplayer context. Being able to visit other Oases through Streetpass or partying up for huge bosses in the overworld would have been a brilliant addition, but unfortunately, we may have to wait for an Ever Oasis sequel to see those features. I would also have enjoyed more complexity to the Oasis building sections, and customisation features for your Oasis and character’s appearances.

Despite its flaws, Ever Oasis is a game that doesn’t disappoint. Its engaging puzzles and immensely satisfying combat system alone make it worth playing, with the Oasis-building element adding some fun for those who like a bit of simulation in their RPGs. Although there isn’t any multiplayer, there are still many hours of content here to sink your teeth into, and the game will hit a sweet spot for both casual and more dedicated gamers alike. It’s a charming and enjoyable addition to the 3DS lineup, and definitely isn’t one to be overlooked.
If you do pick it up, don’t forget to check the game’s digital manual for a special message from director Koichi Ishii himself.