Going into Ever Oasis, I expected something akin to the delightfully cute Animal Crossing series, but what I experienced was surprisingly different. Mixing the town-building and cutesy characters of Animal Crossing with action-based RPG gameplay, Ever Oasis is a hybrid of styles, but one that works brilliantly as a whole package.
The first thing I was struck by was the distinct sense of style and great design that characterises the world of the game. Inspired by ancient Middle Eastern culture, Ever Oasis features a world and characters that are genuinely beautiful and wholly unique, and it’s this that marks it out from its fellow RPG titles. Further, it makes great use of the graphical capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS, with bright, polished graphics and a fully realised world.
The story itself, while aided largely by brilliant world building and design, is minimalist, and follows a sometimes disappointingly generic RPG storyline. Taking on the role of chief of the last remaining oasis in the desert, a safe haven from the forces of chaos, you’re tasked with building up your town and finding villagers to populate it. This is taken on in a rather linear fashion, with various characters approaching the village and seeking refuge, or requiring certain tasks to be completed. Further, as chief, you’ll often hear rumours about certain villagers needed help, and can set out across deserts and dungeons to track these characters down. By fulfilling the wishes of these villagers, they’re able to then join your town, with each of them providing a unique skill to the oasis.
Seedling villagers can run stalls, which provide income to the town, and other villagers, such as the snake-like Drauks have special skills that can be used when questing. As you travel further into the story, you can then form parties with these villagers and journey across and desert and through a variety of dungeons. Each dungeon is filled with a variety of challenges that need certain skills to complete, such as mining, the ability to turn into a ball, or the possession of a staff. Crafting a balanced team with the right party members is a challenge, particularly has several distinct skills are needed to complete any dungeon. This often means a great deal of planning, or travelling back and forth between the dungeons and the oasis to maintain party balance.
Venturing out into the desert is initially quite difficult, as your character and equipment are under-levelled, but with the aid of party members, traversing the plains and dungeons becomes an enjoyable experience. As you journey, you’ll come across a variety of useful items that can be crafted into weapons, armour or accessories, and can be used to restock the village stalls. As the chief, not only are you tasked with protecting the villagers when dark forces encroach upon the oasis, you must also ensure that each store in town is well stocked and earning enough dewadems, Ever Oasis’ system of currency. Initially, dewdems are hard to come by, but by fulfilling more villager requests, you may level up your oasis, freeing up space for more stores, and increasing your potential to make dewadems.
Despite having unique skills, the seedlings that you meet on your travels never feel fully rounded as characters, with each sharing a similarly cutesy and happy personality. While the characters are delightful on their own, a feeling of repetition soon sets in, and very few of the villagers ever stand out on their own. While you can stop and chat with your townsfolk, very rarely do they have anything insightful to say, and much of their dialogue is generic. Further, characters like the bird-like Noots, which visit the village to purchase goods are cute, but not able to be interacted with. This lack of interaction and the homogenised nature of your villagers make the town base often feel quite empty, especially when comparing it to the liveliness and difference in games like Animal Crossing or even Harvest Moon.
While town building represents a significant portion of the gameplay, a concentration on action over interaction is often at a detriment to the game itself. Ever Oasis struggles to maintain the balance between its RPG roots, and the interactive oasis hub world, but despite this, the game provides a fun experience, slick gameplay and a wholly unique world to explore. With a range of dungeons to explore, the gameplay never lags, but travelling back and forth on a variety of fetch quests often breeds a sense of dull repetition. As a brand new IP, there’s plenty of potential to be seen, and plenty to be improved upon, but I’m in no doubt that Ever Oasis could be the first entry in a very successful franchise. With a bit more finesse, and an expansion of the wonderfully designed world, Ever Oasis could be something great.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Gorgeous world and character design, fun gameplay
Lowlights: Mindless repetition, linear and minimalist story
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS