I love a good RPG, particularly those that blur the lines between genre and add a bit of strategic and tactical flair. Released originally back in 2018 on Steam, Event Horizon’s Tower of Time is exactly that, a CRPG with a focus on its story that isn’t shy to flex its innovative combat muscles either. Porting the game to Switch was a pretty bold move given the complexity of the game, but none the less welcome, so I was excited to get stuck in and see for myself how the game performs in handheld.
Tower of Time begins by placing you in the shoes of a young boy, who while out hunting, comes across the entrance to the Tower of Time itself (though naturally, he has no inkling what the tower of time even is). The game takes place in Artara, and the land is dying with various extremities like droughts, earthquakes and events of general misfortune befalling the populace. The boy himself is aptly named ‘You’, to convey the idea that you are experiencing the story itself. Whilst out hunting, you come across a set of ruins that have recently been revealed following an earthquake, and after a bit of exploration, you happen on an entity that instils a longing in your mind to return to, what you discover later, is the Tower of Time. Twenty five years later, you are now a man, and after some exemplary service in the employ of the king of Artara, he has granted you a small contingent of soldiers to explore the Tower and unearth a way to save the land.
Tower of Time is a heavily story driven adventure, with real depth and quality in its writing. There are numerous points throughout the game where exploration is key, and this includes tuning into conversations between party members and NPCs, as well as paying attention to descriptive elements in the environment. The story is intrinsic to the experience, sometimes being the most important facet in progress, with clues and objectives being hinted at that would otherwise be overlooked if you’re not paying attention. It’s actually quite wonderful to see such focus on the narrative and lore, and it all meshes together beautifully to deliver an experience that expects you to pay attention to the story.
Basic gameplay has you exploring some impressive environments from a top-down isometric perspective, where you control a group of up to four champions. Starting the game, you have access to two, in the form of Kane, your typical tank class warrior, and Maeve, a rogueish ranger class with access to some pretty fine damage dealing ranged attacks. Exploration follows the vein of many other modern titles in the genre where you move freely around the map, with the opportunity to discover points of interest including lore objects, chests and some enjoyable and welcome puzzles. As I mentioned earlier, paying attention to the conversations and story will give you plenty of insight with some being quite important in solving the various challenges you’ll come across, giving way to progress or a number of rewards that will make your time in the tower easier.
Whilst exploring, you’ll also come across enemies that will be represented by a single creature rather than a group of them. Getting into combat is as simple as bumping into them, and this is where Tower of Time really shows its worth.
Encountering an enemy will display a window giving a breakdown of the creatures you’ll face off against in the coming battle, including a small overview of their stats and resistances. This might not seem all that important, but combat in Tower of Time can be a harsh mistress dependent on your preparedness and the difficulty level you chose at game start (I chose ‘Normal’). After having a gander at what you can expect, you’re transported to a combat map that will take on the aesthetics of the environment you are in.
Combat itself is a lesson in strategy and tactics that is more similar to the Divinity side of RPGs as opposed to your typical Diablo-type aRPG. The start-up phase of combat gives you a small ring in which to position your heroes optimally, and positioning plays a massively important part in determining how successful you will be in combat. Enemies come at you through various entry points in the combat environments in a wave like fashion, with each kill contributing to a percentage at the top of the screen with the overall aim to reach 100%, signalling the end of the battle. You’ll also encounter some pretty impressive boss battles, as well as a battle type that sees you destroying portals or towers throughout the combat map to achieve victory. There’s plenty of variety to be had, and definitely enough that kept me interested throughout.
Each character has something they’ll be particularly good at. Kane for example, does well at holding and tanking enemies, while Maeve sits behind and uses her range to pick them off. Naturally, Maeve and other champions that focus on dealing damage are a little bit squishy, so in a straight up fight, you’ll easily find yourself overwhelmed unless you utilise all of your characters effectively in their roles. Later battles are pretty hectic and can equally go south very fast if you’re not careful. A particularly nice inclusion of the system gives you access to a real time pause, which is so handy. It gives you plenty of time to work out your next move, as well as chain up some abilities to work in unison.
Each champion has situational strengths, as well as access to a foray of skills that you can use to both stem the tide of enemies or outright destroy them. This can range from AOE damage abilities, status inducing abilities like slow, or even just abilities that deal damage or impede the progress of your enemies. Early on, one of the handiest tools in Kane’s arsenal is his ability to erect a stone wall that will obstruct enemies, allowing for other characters to nonchalantly pick off the nasties in relative safety. Abilities are fed from your mana pool, with replenishment being a relatively slow process, so it’s important to manage effectively whilst your exploring the floors of the tower. You don’t want to get caught short and slaughtered after all.
Don’t be under the impression that combat sounds easy though. I can assure you it isn’t. Learning to adapt on the fly is part of the combat mechanics and offers up some really engaging battles. Sure, there’s a learning curve that may seem a little overwhelming to players that aren’t used to this level of depth, but it nonetheless provides an experience that is both challenging and satisfying and proves enjoyable if you stick with it.
Tower of Time was easy to get used to where controls were concerned, and that in itself is a feat considering the complexity of both the battle system and game in general, I never felt outside my element with each aspect being easily accessible through a simple press or via the shoulder buttons. The entire control scheme is pretty intuitive, making the learning curve a little easier to take in and doing wonders for the game’s enjoyability.
Throughout your exploring you’ll also come across various heroes to add to your roster, including such RPG archetypes as a druid, mystic and blademaster. There are a total of seven heroes to get your hands on, each with varying skills and attitudes. The make-up of your party and conflicting personalities will also have some effect on your combat prowess, with each champion having a particular attitude when paired with each other, which can both give you advantages and disadvantages. It’s a nice touch, adding a bit more strategy to deciding your party composition.
In between dungeon crawling, you’ll have the opportunity to return to the city area which is almost Darkest Dungeon in it’s set up. There are various facilities including a barracks, blacksmith, library and keep. Each has a function that you’ll likely use throughout your journey. Tower of Time’s champions don’t level in the conventional sense, with the only way to increase their stats and skills coming through levelling them using gold in the barracks. The library provides you with a hub to look over your quests, bestiary and a section to revisit elements of the story experienced thus far. The keep allows you to check stats and outfit your heroes, whilst the blacksmith allows you to create powerful items. Finally, the armoury allows you to increase the level cap of your heroes. Some other facilities will be unlocked as the game progresses and once you meet certain conditions. Facilities can be upgraded using blueprints that you’ll come across in your adventure. It’s a handy little base of operations that you can use to gather your thoughts and mull over the strategies you’ll be employing on your next dungeon delve and offers a welcome break in between the main gameplay itself.
Visually, Tower of Time is plenty impressive with its ambient environments and exceptional attention to detail, making for an excellent pairing with the story rich world. The environmental effects are spot on and the sound effects all come together nicely to round out the experience offering some intriguing and exciting exploration experiences throughout the game. The music is unfortunately a little forgettable, and whilst each area offers some variance in soundtrack, there isn’t anything about it that particularly stands out, though Tower of Time’s ability to make up for this in other areas left me undeterred in my enjoyment of the title.
Despite the positives, naturally a port of something with such depth would have a couple of teething problems. There are occasions on Switch where the framerate stutters, and whilst it doesn’t break the game, it happens often enough to pose some annoyance whilst your dungeoneering. It’s also worth mentioning that there are loading screens between general exploration, battles and area transitions. Whilst these don’t detract from the overall enjoyability of the game, some of the heavier battles take a little bit longer to load and offer a small frustration in an otherwise complete experience. Again, nothing here that ruins the fun, just enough to slightly irritate.
The entirety of the game takes place over ten floors, and these are quite large in scope too. Completion of the story will set you back around 35 – 40 hours, with exploring and experiencing everything taking you closer to 50 hours total. There’s plenty on offer here, so with it’s rich narrative and exciting battle system, this is absolute value for money considering the title is a fraction of the cost of other titles that offer far less for the cash.
With its well thought out and excellent story driven gameplay, Tower of Time is a real cornerstone of the RPG genre. Its attention to detail and wonderfully complex but insightful combat system was so satisfying to master and its bold addition to the Switch library is a great move on the devs part.
Yes, the title has a couple of slight issues performance wise that hinder it’s otherwise excellent delivery, though it’s hardly enough to take away from how polished other elements of the game are and still offers an experience that is well above the price tag.
Tower of Time’s rich narrative and excellent tactical combat is one for the ages.