JRPG Journey 2021: Ever Oasis (December)
November’s game: Fantasian
What an odd duck of a game. Developed by Grezzo and published by Nintendo in 2017 for the 3DS, Ever Oasis is a town sim mixed with a dungeon crawler mixed with JRPG elements, quite a feat on the 3DS. While it’s not great at being any one of these, I also couldn’t put it down. It’s like your average Chinese food: enjoyable while it lasts, but forgettable once you’re done.
The town sim makes up the core of Ever Oasis. You play as one of the Seedlings, which are this world’s human equivalents, in all their chibi cuteness. Your Seedling has the power to build an oasis, in hopes of attracting new residents and greater prosperity. Ever Oasis frames all this under a thin but substantial enough story — in a world where desert has overtaken much of the land, your character lived peacefully in their older sibling’s oasis, until one day, that sibling gets kidnapped by Chaos (more or less the standard “dark force” that’s common in JRPGs). It’s up to you to finish your brother or sister’s legacy by building another prosperous oasis from scratch, with the guidance from a Water Spirit named Esna. It’s a standard-as-heck JRPG story, but it gets the job done.
At the outset, it’s just you and Esna, but it’s not long until your first potential resident shows up. Once you woo her, she’ll open a shop, called a Bloom Booth, which non-Seedling travelers called Noots will patronize, letting you collect money from the shop every once in a while. As you attract more residents, they’ll be able to open their own Bloom Booths selling various different items, which can in turn attract more visitors, who become residents when certain conditions are met. Speaking to certain characters also reveals hints about how to find people in the wilderness, who, again, can become residents. For example, you might get a hint about a person who likes scarfs. If you have a Bloom Booth selling scarfs built by the time they visit your Oasis, they’ll ask to become a resident. Otherwise, they’ll wander off, and you may be able to attract them again later.
Of course, being a town sim, there’s a resource management aspect that drives Ever Oasis’s out-of-town gameplay. As you explore the world and its dungeons, you’ll collect resources used to restock your Bloom Booths and keep your residents happy. The happier they are, the more HP you’ll have when exploring. Unfortunately, this is never something you have to think about much. The thresholds for keeping town happiness up are super low, and I never found myself with much less than the maximum. Your Seedling gets showered with items as they explore and fight, and unless you’re tracking down a specific item or drop to attract a resident, you won’t have to worry about resources at all.
In fact, the whole game is a breeze, which is a shame. Combat consists of a basic system with a light attack, heavy attack, roll, and a few simple combos. It never evolves or changes throughout the game, aside from adding the aforementioned combos, and it starts out easy and only gets easier. If you’re looking for deep combat, look elsewhere, but on the other hand, I didn’t get bored of Ever Oasis’s combat, either. It’s breezy and fun, and the emphasis is more on figuring out where to go and how to attract new residents rather than twitch combat or worrying much about your stats. Dungeon exploration is Zelda-inspired, often containing rooms of enemies you need to clear or a few light puzzles, and that part’s pretty fun, albeit too easy. I ain’t looking for Dark Souls here, but this is “Baby’s First Zelda” combined with “Baby’s First Town Sim”.
As you progress, you’ll get the ability to add up to two of your oasis residents as party members, a nice spin on the town sim formula. Each resident has one of several different weapon types, and since you can swap between characters during combat, it’s fun trying them all out — though since the game is so easy, I tended to stick with the heavy hammer users to make fights as fast as possible. Residents also have special skills used in puzzle solving, such the ability to roll up into a pebble and zoom through a hole, or being able to break boulders with your bruiser characters. It’s a shame none of this is difficult; in fact, it gets tedious quickly, as you’ll find yourself warping back to town to swap characters very often to make use of all their skills. Most dungeons can’t be completely finished with just three or even four characters, so backtracking is ever-present. Thankfully, the maps are small overall, and dungeons have plenty of warp points to save time. Still, though, I would have liked more freedom to explore without having to feel like I’m missing out on items by not going back to town to switch characters.
The town management, ironically, is the game’s weakest part. You build Bloom Booths — and that’s about it. There’s a garden for growing various kinds of crops, which can be used to restock your booths, and you can assign residents to tend the garden as well as explore to find even more items, but there’s not enough interesting changes to the Oasis as I had hoped. I never felt like I was building an oasis town: there’s nothing to build besides Bloom Booths and a few items that boost their effectiveness. The main character can’t buy or use items from shops; instead having to upgrade their weapons and armor through crafting. Perhaps the crafting system would have been more rewarding if it were tied into the oasis building, but as it is, it feels tacked on.
There’s just not much to Ever Oasis. It flies by, and the story is over before enough interesting developments happen. Early on, your oasis is infested by Chaos flowers, and you’ve got to clear them out. Standard JRPG stuff, but at least it’s a tangible change in the world. I like it. But then this happens two more times, in exactly the same way, and that’s it. Beyond getting new residents and building new Bloom Booths, not much notable happens in the game. The story is a snore, the characters are forgettable to the point of not being worth mentioning here, and there’s nothing exciting to do. I was hoping to become attached to some of my oasis’s residents — they’re cute enough, but they feel more like tools than actual characters. The personality of a game like Animal Crossing is non-existent here, and that hurts.
On the bright side, the music rocks. Not literally — there’s no rock music here — but you’ve got your standard catchy JRPG dungeon tracks, inspiring overworld and town themes, and even custom tracks for various in-engine cutscenes that sound like something out a movie. Presentation-wise, Ever Oasis goes one step beyond most budget JRPGs, and it’s one of the reasons I wanted the game to be better than it is.
Ever Oasis has several good ideas, such as mixing town sim elements with real-time combat, residents with unique weapons and skills, and having to pick the right party for the right situations, but it doesn’t motivate me enough to care. Clearly, it was made on a low budget, and I’m impressed for how many ideas the developers managed to pack in, but that’s not quite enough. With more development time, this could have been something special, but as it is, it’s hard to recommend.
With that said, I had fun playing Ever Oasis despite these qualms. But once it was over, I felt underwhelmed, thinking, “Hmm, did I just waste my time on this?” Oh well, it doesn’t matter now.
With that one in the can, this concludes my JRPG Journey for 2021! I’m enjoying this so much, I plan to continue in 2022. Thanks for reading, and see you in February.