Miden Tower Review (Switch)
Release Date: June 25, 2020
File Size: 861MB
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
Miden Tower is more than just a game about a magical, brick wall waifu. While advertising for the game casts the magical wall girl as the hero of the story, the protagonist of our tale is actually a troubled and vengeful young man named Valen. The game combines absurd, whimsical elements with Valen’s core character arc to create a mashup of mature and rote themes. Despite some moments of tonal dissonance, the game offers a surprisingly well-balanced experience that combines its fresh story with steller combat and character progression systems. Miden Tower can proudly stand as one of the best titles developer EXE Create has put out in the last several years, and makes a nice addition to the KEMCO RPG catalogue.
Miden Tower tells the story of a young mage who lost his family, friends, and entire village when the Empire their society had rejected comes knocking. Centuries ago, when the Empire asked this city of mages to create weapons of war, they refused, then transforming their city into a massive tower full of individual villages, caves, forests, and other biomes designed by specific mages. In doing so, the mages cut themselves off from the outside world- that is, until the Empire attacked two years before the story begins proper.
Our hero, Valen, grows up to be a cynical, vengeful young man, prone to embarking on solitary excursions into biomes controlled by the Empire to kill any soldiers he happens upon. Chided by the proper protectors of his society, Valen shows no sign of remorse for flirting with disaster by provoking the Empire, nor does he sway from his unyielding desire for revenge. This changes when he finds the instructions for creating a magicka – a sentient being born of a mage’s mana reserves – and when backed into a wall, uses the spell to bring the magicka to life.
Leila, as the magicka styles herself, was born from the walls of the tower themselves. Able to transform between her wall form and a more human appearance, Leila follows at Valen’s side as he gets dragged into the wider conflict between the Empire and the mages who inhabit Miden Tower. As the Empire attempts to take over more and more territory within the tower, Valen joins with Mia, an eternally youthful sage, and her enigmatic companion Gruff to take the fight back to the Empire and discover their reasons for attacking the tower after hundreds of years of tentative peace. Over the course of the journey, the player will explore the implications of war, revenge, the pursuit of knowledge, and of course, how one’s relationships with others can soften or harden their hearts.
To say Miden Tower makes bold choices with its story would be an understatement. Both the game’s introduction and (normal) ending prove that EXE Create can do more than play with cookie cutter tropes in designing their stories. However, alongside these more mature themes comes a littany of familiar tropes, jokes, and gags that soften what should be a more morally gray, melancholy adventure. That’s not to say that a mix of humor and seriousness isn’t welcome – I think most players would agree that a healthy balance is ideal – but Miden Tower can sometimes stray a bit too far in the direction of levity, despite such a strong beginning and ending.
In addition, the way the plot is told is somewhat limited by the game engine EXE Create continues to use in a large portion of their releases. Character sprites are unable to emote in any meanful fashion, and while the developers have certainly learned to make the most of this through creative blocking and dialogue, the absence of robust animation is felt here.
Players set out to explore Miden Tower in a more or less linear fashion, traveling to each biome and working your way down floor by floor, ever closer to the Empire’s stronghold, battling more powerful monsters and soldiers along the way. There is no overworld to speak of, and you can fast travel between almost every floor in the game with the touch of a button. That being said, the floors themselves are generally well-designed within the limitations of the game engine. Props are distributed in a naturalistic fashion, and the weaving, intersecting paths you explore offer just enough mystery to keep them from becoming predictable.
While there are a few puzzles to speak of, each floor has false walls and hidden corridors that lead to secret treasure chests, and these are much more well-hidden than those featured in previous EXE Create titles, where the locations of the false walls were practically broadcasted with a loudspeaker. These mild exploration elements will keep you on the lookout as you navigate to your next objective, though if you are expecting any grand labyrinths or sweepingly beautiful locales to explore, you will walk away disappointed. That being said, its obvious that the developers are making the most with the tools they have to work with, and I never found any area of the game unsatisfying to explore.
Miden Tower’s combat deploys a 3×3 grid system to bring both nuance and strategy to traditional turn-based battles. Players can set their party’s formation in the main menu, with characters placed in the front row both giving and receiving extra damage, while those in the back give and receive less. Different abilities your character possesses will affect different panels on the grid – some cross a single column or row while others create unique shapes like X’s, plus marks, or even a capital T. This system is applied to both healing/buff spells as well as damaging/debuff spells, and encourages players to think strategically how they will deploy their individual characters, who all come with their own strengths to leverage or weaknesses to mitigate.
Character abilities are both varied and unique, giving players a glut of options as they battle their way through each segment of the titular Miden Tower. Every character comes with a set of specific abilties that play to their indivudal strengths and usually rely on their physical attack stats for damage. These abilities come with varying effects, from raising and lowering battle statistics for your allies and enemies and delaying their turns to inflicting status effects or even summoning temporary allies (called golems) onto the field of battle. These golems become critically important during boss fights, as they not only often confer stat bonuses to adjacent units (again, adding a layer of strategy), but they also become additional targets for enemy attacks. Tactically, the value of golems cannot be understated. Boss fights in Miden Tower often include large groups of powerful opponents rather than a single beefed-up foe, meaning that getting your golems out early in the fight means the difference between life or death.
In addition to indivudal abilities, your three human characters can learn elemental magic attacks, grouped in three categories: Fire, Earth, and Water. These three elements form a traditional weakness triad, with fire attacks being strong against earth monsters, earth strong against water, and water strong against fire. Each of your humans will start with the ability to learn spells in one of these three elemental schools, and by acquiring special scrolls over the course of the story, you can unlock other elements on each of your characters. As with physical abilities, spells will hit in predefined shapes on the enemy’s grid and come with a variety of secondary effects. Learning to maximize your spells – and effectively manage your mana reserves – becomes very important as you play, especially in the middle portions of the game, where its easy to get caught up casting your most powerful spells, only to unexpectedly find yourself running low on resources and unable to dish out meaningful damage.
The final, non-human character Leila is able to equip special brick items found throughout the game, which allow her to cast specific spells from the larger elemental spell list. This gives her a certain amount of flexibility, though never so much that she feels overpowered. I typically found myself relying on her character-specific, physical abilities (which includes several golem-summoning skills) rather than her magic attacks. All told, Miden Tower’s combat system hardly ever sways into feeling too easy or unfairly hard, providing a nice challenge with each boss fight or newly unlocked segment of the tower. With mastery of the tools at your disposal, you’ll find yourself moving along at a brisk pace for the majority of the adventure.
Coupled with Miden Tower’s combat system is a usage-based character progression system that rewards players for repeatedly using similar skills in battle. Casting a certain number of spells or a certain number from the same school, repeatedly using summoning abilities, fighting strictly in the front or back of the formation, or meeting a variety of other unique criteria will open up bonuses for the continued use of those abilities. You may reduce the cost of these abilities by a certain percentage, increase your damage output, or even increase the HP pool or battle stats of your summoned golems. Each character comes with several pages of potential bonuses to unlock, and each can be leveled up repeatedly with continued use of the relevant abilities.
This system encourages players to customize their characters, gearing them towards specific magical schools or roles within the party, opening up the option to have a dedicated healing, damage dealer, summoner, etc. The bonuses are never so extreme that your characters become overspecialized, but they do give your characters additional longevity by keeping their mana reserves high. A few of these bonuses are also tied to in-game events and story-beats, though these are few and far between and typically are used more for comedic effect than anything else.
Impressions and Conclusion
Miden Tower is a modern RPG, which means common conveniences like the ability to save anywhere, freely accessible fast travel, auto HP restoration, and adjustable difficulty settings are all included. The HP regeneration is a feature that often comes as a double-edged sword, as it can strip the sense of danger from the game if executed improperly. Thankfully, the developers managed to strike the right balance in this endeavor, as both the need to carefully manage your mana as the game progresses and the difficulty spikes that come with each new area you unlock provide just enough risk to keep you from resting too easily on your laurels.
In terms of bonus features, Miden Tower comes with two critical systems that stand out from the rest – a bonus shop and alchemy lab, both of which can be accessed from the main menu. As you play through Miden Tower, you will naturally acquire in-game currency from enemy drops, chests, and for completing quests. This currency can be spent in the bonus shop for enhancement items that increase EXP gains, ability growth, gold accumulation, and other features. You can also purchase rare items, equipment, or gain keys to unlock secret treature rooms or special side-areas to explore. Through natural progression, you’ll never find yourself so glutted with currency that you can completely game the system, though as you approach the endgame, you should have enough resources to smooth out the difficulty curve if you so choose. This gives players the freedom to better customize their experience as the game goes on, a quality that comes up again with the alchemy system.
As you gather items throughout your adventure, you’ll have the option to throw individual items into an alchemy pot, which may either duplicate the item in questions or transform it into a more powerful form. Players can use this system to unlock special equipment or accessories, increase the amount of powerful restorative items in their inventory, and – as was the case in my playthrough – build out a huge collection of stat-boosting items to further customize my characters. For a good portion of the game, I was boosting specific stats on specific characters, creating a mage with huge MP reserves, a physical tank with high vitality and strength, and a hero with enough speed to act twice as often as his companions. By the endgame, I was growing items that increased stats across the board for each of my characters, allowing me to face off against the increasingly challenging mobs and bosses without spending too much time grinding.
Other features include a daily quest system, battle arena, bonus areas, and a post-game content that offers an alternate ending and unique challenges. Fans of other EXE Create games will also find the familiar monster-summoning nodes in each area of the game. These allow you to summon monsters in batches of three successive battles – a time saver for those looking to grind, provided you can survive all three fights. These nodes also allow you to adjust the random encounter rate of each area, giving you more ways to customize your play experience.
The combination of excellent customization options, a rock solid combat system, and a story tackling mature themes makes Miden Tower a strong outing for EXE Create and KEMCO. The game is not without its faults, mostly in the presentation department, but the strengths here far outweigh the weaknesses. I can wholeheartedly recommend Miden Tower to any RPG fan looking for a enjoyable budget experience, and I look forward to what these particular design threads will lead to in EXE Create’s next adventure.