Tower of Shades, persevere – First Sip Review
Tower of Shades is a turn-based RPG where you start at the final boss. Both developed and published by Lame Jam. Tower of Shades marks their debut on Steam.
As mentioned in the intro the game starts out at the final boss. Not just the final boss, however, but actually 98% of the game completed. But this isn’t an issue with programming or pacing, it’s part of the story. Chances are that you’ll lose the first time, then a mysterious voice asks you to promise that you’ll never give up. You then return to the menu and can reload the file at the last boss once again. But this time you don’t have the skills, specials or items you had before. Naturally, this means you’ll likely lose again. This provides you with some abilities and starts the cycle again. You continue this over and over until your persistence pays off and you win. Or well, you should win but something happens.
Following this, there is a lengthy scene in which you see the early days of the hero. You also get the theme of the game hammered into you. Don’t give up. It’s a very blunt message as it explicitly tells you, hey this is what I want you to feel. But it also feels like an earnest message so I can’t fault it too much. While it would have been nicer to see the themes woven into the games more naturally, ultimately it’s a positive message that is worth sharing. If you have a dream, don’t give up. But not for anyone else, do it for yourself. Plenty of other games carry the same sort of morals and themes but for what it is the story is the most important aspect of this game. And feels heartfelt.
The game also carries some other easy to see themes with the fact that the final boss is literally your inner demons. But again the game spells it out that you are your own worst enemy. Still a nice idea though.
Tower of Shades uses a retro pixel art style. The pixels are large enough to make all lines appear jagged. And it lacks the super detailed pixel styles of games such as Ghosts’N DJ’s, Metal Unit, Monster Sanctuary or even the first game I covered for Sip Read Repeat, Big Day. This isn’t to say the game is ugly or even that it looks bad. I quite enjoy the art style personally, it’s detailed enough to know roughly what you’re seeing. Yet vague enough that you still don’t really know for sure. However, when the game is mostly cutscenes and animations it feels like it could have been more detailed.
This aspect of the game will most likely vary greatly for people depending on their taste. But objectively I’ve seen games that look better and games that look worse. Tower of Shades still manages to look better than average especially when compared to similar small indie projects. And there are some really wonderful backgrounds mixed in every so often that elevate it a lot.
Much like the graphics the sound in Tower of Shades is very heavily inspired by early SNES games. And again there are both better and worse games out there. For instance, the music is stronger than StetchBot as it is more memorable. But it’s less complex and fun than Awesome Pea 2. The music is quite comparable to Knightin’+ as in both games you have retro NES/SNES inspired chiptunes with a lot of repetition that still manages to sound fun.
Sound effects are what you’d expect from a SNES inspired RPG. Completely average here, most likely stock effects. But there’s not a whole lot you can do with sound-effects to make them sound unique and still fit in. So as in most games, the sound score is more geared toward music than sound-effects.
As mentioned in the story section, the gameplay is very heavily just there for the story. While you control the battles by selecting techniques to use a lot of the game is pre-determined. It might technically be possible to beat the game on the first run you do as you start off with everything you need. But, generally speaking, most will fail due to not fully understanding the mechanics the game throws at you. As is typical with the turn-based RPG you have the options for Attack, Skill, Special and Item. Attack launches a basic attack, skills include buffs to atk, def or both and various elemental attacks. Special gives you three jewels that do 30%, 20% and 10% of the bosses 5000 health. So if you use all three you’ll shave off 3000 health and just need to deal another 2000 to beat it.
However, it’s not that simple either. For instance, you don’t start with full health or magic and randomly the boss will change its element and launch powerful elemental attacks. By default the water attack the boss uses deals 400 health, you start with 750 so this is absolutely devastating. Many times I experienced the bad luck of being hit with the Water Attack and dying before inflicting any real damage. It’s best to buff your attack and defense power to increase both the damage you inflict and your own survivability. However, the boss has a move called Weaken that will remove your buffs completely. And even if your defense is high enough to negate damage from attacks you can be poisoned and lose 50 health a turn.
It’s all rather frustrating and requires a decent amount of luck in addition to reclaiming all your abilities.
Failure makes you stronger
The game claims that dying makes you stronger. That’s not exactly the case though. When you die at the start you lose almost everything. A subsequent death restores a skill and a special (or possibly an item I can’t fully recall). But you can’t just hit attack until you die and gain everything back. What the game doesn’t tell you is that you need to inflict a certain amount of damage at later stages to receive the final upgrades. And even when you’ve reclaimed them all the fight still requires some luck. For instance, if you begin by upgrading attack and defense a few times you can negate the bosses normal attack and deal damage. But sometimes before you can launch an attack the boss will use weaken to remove your buffs and you’ll need to use an ether to gain MP and a few turns to reapply them.
For a game where the whole purpose is to persist and never give up. I felt like giving up constantly because once you get back to the level you started at nothing changes until you beat the boss. Or almost beat it. Before you can kill it the boss will heal and then kill you. And then next time you try you’ve lost your Special jewels and received a new one the Diamond. The diamond will deal 4999 out of the 5000 health but the boss crashes the game before you can kill it. Somewhat reminiscent of Undertale. You then get the lengthy scene reinforcing and spelling out what the game is about. And then you fight the boss again with no real changes. You go back to the 3 jewels and when you knock it to 100 or so it heals and then you get the diamond and do the 4999 cycle again. But this time the developer allows you to win if you promise to follow your dreams.
Tower of Shades is less of an RPG and more of a visual novel honestly. If you’re lucky and can get good runs on the boss then you’ll probably spend more time watching the game preach to you than actually playing it. And that would be ideal because the gameplay gets pretty stale pretty fast. While most games like this include an in-depth story and varied worlds to explore and bosses to fight. Tower of Shades feels like it has a world but it would rather you just watch it instead of exploring it yourself.
It’s not the first game to start you at the final boss. Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger vs Darkdeath Evilman has you lose at the start and journey through a procedural world gaining stats and returning to level 1 until you can beat Darkdeath Evilman. Soul Nomad and the World Eaters gives you enough power at the start to defeat the final boss but relying on the power source will end the world. So the goal in that game is to resist the temptation for easy power and work hard to become powerful without it. And Trillion: God of Destruction pits you against the final boss knowing you’ll lose, but in between battles you gain power before the next deadline, as well as containing dating simulator elements.
But Tower of Shades is closer to a game like Under What? acting as a short inspirational visual novel. But pretending to be an RPG on the surface. It’s not a bad game, it just feels like the same effect could be received by reading a few inspirational quotes without the frustrating battle.
In Coffee Terms
In coffee terms, Tower of Shades is another one that is actually tea. And a fairly weak one at that. There’s no subtlety to the flavor, it’s all there surface level. But it was brewed by someone trying their best which makes it go down a little smoother.
Tower of Shades Links
Tower of Shades Review Summary
One half of the YouTube brother duo, The Game Bros with Sirhc and Ar0n, Chris is a lover of games, movies and other great things you can do from home.
Coffee of choice: I like the sweeter kinds, mixed with chocolate, coconut, caramel etc. but I won’t turn down a flat white or a straight black either.