Review: Ever Oasis shines, subsists in shifting sands

Ever Oasis‘ release timing is ideal for what it’s trying to do: be, much as its name implies, a respite from the hot, dry days of summer. To be a tale about rallying and working together to keep on living and fight away the darkness that pervades our world. To bring refreshment through familiarity and sustenance, seeking not to wow you with style and taste but to quench a more primal, nostalgic thirst.

Brought to you by Grezzo, the team headed by Mana patriarch Koichi Ishii that has mostly found itself busy with Zelda remakes, Ever Oasis isn’t afraid to show the marks of its lineage. The world, with its pastel tones and themes of growth and nature, is just what you’d expect from a Mana game. Its edges have all been rounded off and it’s filled with little ornamental touches that evoke a sense of a long-lasting organic culture. The combat is team-based and methodical, reminding you of Secret of Mana on occasion and sometimes even improving upon that setup.

Ever Oasis isn’t afraid to show the marks of its lineage.

It’s also not afraid to be a little bit Zelda. When you’re targeting enemies, rolling around to find an opening to slash and definitely not jumping around, it’s easy to see how the team has built off its work on the two N64 remakes. When you’re solving dungeon puzzles with elemental features and special tools, you get those inspirations as well. The Mana games were never entirely unlike Zelda, but it’s clear how much of Ocarina and Majora has rubbed off on Grezzo.

Finally, Ever Oasis is shaped by Grezzo itself, the modern company that hasn’t to this point had quite as large an opportunity to show its stuff. We’ve seen flashes here and there, from the Japan-exclusive Line Attack Heroes to the StreetPass-fueled Flower Town. Grezzo’s staff likes a layer of brightness and hope over the subdued honor of a hard day’s work, unafraid of tedium when it’s in the service of lifting spirits. Many of these ideas would be at home in Story of Seasons or Animal Crossing, but here they are in an adventure with very different ambitions.

The resulting game is one that’s best experienced in shorter sessions. The tedium of oasis maintenance is much less overwhelming if taken a bit at a time with a good 20-minute dungeon crawl. The bright, cheery nature of Ever Oasis gives way to the despair of subsistence when you start wearing out your welcome, and the organic, improvisational fun of the combat works for it as long as you don’t stare long enough to see the parts that lack the precision of Ocarina. (Or, at times, the parts that have exactly the precision of Ocarina, a decades-old game that was certainly impressive for its time but still was forged in a time before we really knew how to make polygonal titles.)

About that tedium: it’s not all just game design. Presentation and world-building do get in the way sometimes, like with how your oasis is segmented and how priority is sometimes placed on animation transitions that could be sped up or truncated for expediency. Restrictions also create some of that, like when a dungeon is designed to need companions with three different abilities but you can only bring two at once. That sort of backtracking? Simply not fun. Still, there are also times when the menus could be snappier, or when it takes a few button presses to do what should take one.

The resulting game is one that’s best experienced in shorter sessions.

It’ll be worth it for many players, though. There’s an undeniable charm here, and while the structure of the game doesn’t really facilitate becoming attached to the many characters you’ll meet, you may find you’re a fan of at least a few anyway. The dungeons’ puzzles are comparable to Zelda itself, and with more combat variety available as you move through them. Quality-of-life improvements and increasingly open worlds are delivered consistently, if regularly well after you would like, and you’ll feel that rewarding loop of progress and a sense that your work — and yes, it’s work — is helping others.

Is Ever Oasis quite everything it could be? No, its ambitions are too broad and its focus is too wide to deliver fully what it could. Still, if there’s anything the game teaches, it’s that there’s value in meeting expectations, pushing forward and hoping for a better tomorrow. And a better tomorrow is exactly what we’ll be expecting from Grezzo.

Score: 7/10
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: June 23, 2017
Developer: Grezzo
Platform(s): 3DS
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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