Is more always better? That’s the question I asked myself when solving Tower of Fantasy’s overworld puzzles, jumping into ruins, analyzing the gacha pull system, reading the character upgrade pieces, looking at the weapon upgrade chips, playing a whack-a-mole-esque agility training course, trying to survive a timed combat challenge, opening the first type of treasure chest, the second type, the third type and–Oh my god, is this a fourth type? Fine, I’ll open it–much, much more.
I can sum up my 30 or so hours with Tower of Fantasy with one succinct thought: There’s a lot going on. Tower of Fantasy is a sci-fi gacha MMORPG with Honkai Impact 3rd-inspired combat, Genshin Impact-inspired design–and thus, by default, Breath of the Wild-inspired everything: from puzzles to dungeons to overworld tools.
I know some players will say that because Tower of Fantasy is an MMORPG, all these different features aren’t meant to be experienced in a compressed span of time, which is fair. But even if you spread out solving ruins, opening chests, and embarking on myriad side quests, there is still a problem: I’m not sure if the game is greater than the sum of its parts.
Tower of Fantasy is ambitious–clearly a lot of work went into it–and it’s a sheer feat of human effort to pull all the elements present into one game. Many kudos should go to the developers for creating Tower of Fantasy, but let’s take the combat as a case study. The combat is very similar to Honkai Impact 3rd’s design. Every weapon has a basic attack, a special attack (that can only be used after a cooldown), and then an ultimate attack with special launch conditions. There’s also a counter system between different elements, and each weapon has a Frost, Flame, Volt, or Physical attribute.
If you evade at the right time, the enemy is frozen for a few seconds in a state called Phantasia, and you can take that opportunity to deal extra damage. This is very similar to Honkai Impact 3rd’s Time Fracture skill. When switching between weapons at the right time (full weapon charge or triggered Phantasia), a special ability will be triggered–something along the same veins as Honkai Impact 3rd’s tag-in and QTE formula where swapping between characters will initiate a unique ability, depending on conditions.
Taking inspiration from another game isn’t a problem. Honkai Impact 3rd’s combat itself takes a lot of inspiration from Bayonetta–one of Honkai Impact 3rd’s first Valkyrie encounters, White Comet Kiana, has an ultimate neko-charm attack that feels very similar to Bayonetta’s bullet arts moves like heel stomp.
But whereas Honkai Impact 3rd was able to mold the Bayonetta formula into something unique–a simplified version that still gives the oomph of a stylish console hack-and-slash game–I’m not sure Tower of Fantasy does the same thing. The combat is solid, and I can see a lot of potential for interesting weapon combos among the three different defender, DPS, and supporter classes, but something feels missing. There’s nothing memorable–at least in the few SSR and SR weapons I pulled from the banners (King, Echo, Tsubasa, Bai Ling, and Hilda)–like Honkai Kiana’s cute kitty stomps of death, or QTEs that offer different strategies depending on if your enemies are airborne or stunned. Tower of Fantasy’s combat lacks a special recognizable identity that makes it stand out from competitors.
I can say the same thing for other elements of the game: The Ruins are inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, complete with puzzle-solving and unlocking rune abilities, er, I mean, relics. Are the ruins and relics better than the ones in Breath of the Wild? Frankly, no. There are more relics in Tower of Fantasy than the rune abilities available in Breath of the Wild, but like I said, more isn’t necessarily better. I had a lot more fun with Magnesis in Breath of the Wild than with the seven relics in ToF.
If I were to evaluate every single mechanism and feature, I’d be Scheherazade and this would be the Tower of Fantasy rendition of One Thousand and One Nights. So I’ll talk about two more features: technical quality and of course, the main storyline that drives everything forward.
Tower of Fantasy has had a troubled launch, but playing the game pre-release, I was impressed with the overall lack of egregious glitches. However, there are a couple of problems I must mention. I had major issues with cooking. It worked fine for a couple of days, but after some time, pressing the little cooking robot just did nothing–which is an issue, since cooking is necessary in the game. Health is recovered by eating.
I had to quit the game in order to fix glitches a few times too. After failing a mission, my WASD buttons wouldn’t move the character, and in another case, entering the world chat somehow glitched the game so that I couldn’t get a wall of text off the top left of my screen. But two or so such glitches in around 30 hours of playtime honestly isn’t too bad for a newly released game of this scale.
Teleportation animations and some of the cutscene animations are a bit awkward too. Every teleport takes a few seconds, which makes sense, but the waiting animation just shows your character standing there, so you’re not always sure if the teleportation worked or not.
The main storyline
I’m someone who survived A Realm Reborn, so I’m a veteran of not-so-great MMO storylines. Tower of Fantasy’s main storyline has the opposite problem, though–it’s too fast, not too slow.
Cutscenes move at a breakneck pace, and I felt like a sheep being chased by a herding dog between storyline objectives. Your character doesn’t get a chance to develop a relationship with any NPCs, which leads to the unfortunate result of not really caring about their fates. Shirli and Zeke are two of the very first characters you meet and are both strong driving forces for pushing the story along. Mostly, you’re tracking Zeke for a good chunk of time, but Zeke’s hanging out with his new buddies–the Heirs of Aida, a mysterious entity with mysterious goals.
I get that, perhaps, the Heirs of Aida story and characters involved in the organization are being saved for later updates, but even Zeke’s characterization is pretty minimal. I don’t know anything about him except that he’s gruff and loves his sister. Shirli’s situation is slightly better, in that we do know more about her desires and personality, but it’s simply not enough to carry the entire story from Astra to Banges and beyond.
I played up to level 30, and the main story was choppy and didn’t engage me at an emotional level. You could argue that Tower of Fantasy is more focused on introducing the vast world of Astra, Banges, and other locations to us in the beginning story chapters, rather than being a character-driven narrative, but around level 30, a major aspect of Tower of Fantasy’s world is revealed in a five-minute info dump. It’s very anticlimactic.
While the main storyline’s writing just didn’t do it for me, I will praise the amount of surprising variety of gameplay sprinkled in. From an arcade-shooter scenario in one scene, to a stealth-like mission (I’m using this term very liberally here) in another, I found that mix really worked in adding engaging parts to an otherwise lackluster tale.
The English voice acting for some characters felt very jarring, and some lines weren’t voiced at all in cutscenes. The male main character’s voice is aggressive all the time. I get it–fetch quests and being ordered around by Hykros is annoying, but I wanted him to relax. Archon Elric, one of Hykros’s head honchos, resides on the opposite spectrum of the main character: He speaks in a completely neutral tone with no affect, which leads to unintentional hilarity since he talks about serious and sometimes tragic topics with minimal emotion.
Tower of Fantasy is not a poorly made game, nor is it devoid of any positive qualities. I even think that most players can probably find something they like to do in it–be that PvP, cooking, or building weapons. But holistically, Tower of Fantasy just feels like a lot of different games, mechanics, and features duct-taped together in a package that isn’t better than its inspirations. From Shirli’s post-op Evangelion-inspired design to a minor villain’s surprisingly One Piece-esque look later in the story, the game’s references come from a lot of places. But none of it serves a unique core identity that is recognizable as Tower of Fantasy. Just like how the main character sets out to find out who they are, Tower of Fantasy needs a similar journey.
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