With oodles of old-school RPGs out there, it's hard to tell which ones are worthwhile so here's the very impressive Miden Tower.
Miden Tower stars a young man who you get to name from a random selection of names. I chose Valen because that sounds like Van Halen. Anyway, he's a troubled dude as when he was young, he witnessed imperial soldiers tearing up his village and killing his loved ones so he sets forth on an adventure while filled with rage and bloodlust for imperial guards. Although this is a very heavy-handed plot, he'll meet plenty of delightful folks along the way and they definitely provide a great deal of levity to the otherwise serious plot. The first companion that he meets is a magician who can transform into a wall (AKA a wall maiden) who I named Betty because Betty White is awesome. You'll also be joined by a little sage who I named Avery after my nephew and a tough albeit lazy sword-wielding guy who I named Gruff because that's what he is. Thankfully, the dynamic between them is spot-on for quirky JRPG fun.
I absolutely love Miden Tower's retro aesthetic which feels like it belongs in the early PS1 library as its characters and environments are rendered in 2D while the battles have this cool shifting effect as you fight. Meanwhile, the sense of humour is great as you watch the wall maiden stealthily listen to guards' plans while she's literally just a face on a wall in the room. This contrasts with the hero's unwavering seriousness perfectly. With all of that being said, although I enjoy the soundtrack, it is quite discordant as almost every little event has its own little ditty which interrupts the musical flow. For example, when you pick up an item, a song starts then you tap a button and it abruptly stops and the background music commences yet again. It's not a big deal but it does regularly sound jarring.
When it comes to gameplay, Miden Tower features a fantastically clever combat system that really got its hooks in me. Basically, your party and your enemies are placed on 3-by-3 grids then you exchange blows whenever a character's icon reaches the left side of the time meter at the top of the screen. You can simply attack which often results in your pals assisting you with combos, unleash offensive and defensive skills that usually affect an area, perform a character-specific Hyper Art which is useful in a pinch, and use items. You can even set battles to fight themselves which is useful when you're facing easy foes. Anyway, combat gets complicated as you summon golems to help you in various ways, push enemies around so they line up better, and afflict interesting ailments and buffs.
Miden Tower also features rewarding character progression which goes hand-in-hand with the fun battle system. Aside from levelling up and equipping better gear, you can unlock new passive skills via unique items and such which may allow you to learn new elemental magic skills, change party formation as well as tactics for auto-battle, use stat-boosting items, and enhance weapons via synthesis. One element that's unique to the wall maiden is that you can slide certain bricks into her front and back that provide her with additional skills. On top of all this, there's an achievement grid that unlocks items as you fill it out and there's a magic cauldron system where you can leave items for a while in order to eventually multiply or enhance them. When you factor in side-quests, the Statue Smashers mini-game, and an enemy guide that you can fill out; you're looking at a ton of content that will take a very long time to master.
Finally, allow me to discuss some of Miden Tower's downsides. First of all, some of the environments become rather tiresome as they can go on for a bit too long. Sometimes, I'd think that I'm at the end of an area only to realise that I have a few more massive sections to play through. Another issue is that it's a bit too easy to grind. To be clear; I usually don't enjoy grinding in RPGs but whenever I got stuck on a tough boss in Miden Tower, I could usually overcome it after minutes of fighting regular enemies and reconfiguring my party and strategy. I wish that it involved more effort because I didn't really feel like I accomplished much whenever I managed to progress.
As a huge fan of mid-'90s RPGs, I must admit that Miden Tower does a phenomenal job of recreating the magic of that era by offering a creative and immersive game world as well as satisfying combat and character progression that's surprisingly clever.
- + Colourful game world that's full of memorable characters, humour, and drama
- + Rewarding combat and character progression
- + Loads of clever mechanics and extras
- - Audio is rather discordant
- - Some areas go on for too long
- - It's a bit too easy to grind