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A Tower Full of Secrets

Turovero: The Celestial Tower is a slightly deceptive traditional RPG about four heroes who go on an adventure to save their world from a malevolent deity known as The Dark One. On the surface, it’s a relatively bog-standard RPG, but there’s more to it the deeper you go.

Let’s Talk About Graphics!

While it has the look and feel of an average VX Ace game, there are quite a lot of custom assets for it. The character portraits and enemy sprites have all been created specifically for this game. The characters pop up alongside their dialogue and have a decent variety of expressions. There are also bigger art assets for special in-game cutscenes and several alternate title screens. It comes together well and helps this game stand out, which it needs since the overworld graphics look like they could be from any typical RM game. In a way, it’s kind of a shame that the tilesets are so familiar, but it’s also part of the facade in a sense.

Let’s Talk About Audio!

Along with its great looks, this game has a totally unique soundtrack made by the developer herself. This would’ve had me fooled, which is kind of a sideways compliment as the OST is perfectly suited to an RPG of this style. Basically, it’s good quality, but generic for the same reason. Don’t take that as me complaining, though. The game creates the atmosphere it wants for each scene, and that is definitely to its credit, especially when so many similar games just lean on RTP for their music. That said, the sound effects mostly come from RTP, so it’s not like it escaped from that completely.

Let’s Talk About Story!

It may not seem like it at first, but this is very much a story-centric game. We’re introduced to our band of intrepid heroes just as they reach the tower. There’s a lot of banter and they bounce off each other (like, a metric ton of banter), but all feel pretty stereotypical to start out with. They share a memory journal where they write down their thoughts about the locations they visit, monsters they encounter, and their own personal bios. In spite of that, we don’t know much about them as they all conveniently have amnesia. Discovering their pasts is largely the focus of the game’s story.

The further along you go, the more foreshadowing starts to pile up. Each of the heroes has their own history of trauma, the nature of which you gradually discern from their reactions and the tower’s subtle hints (or sometimes, not so subtle). There are several events that could go one way or another depending on a choice you make, and this not only affects who you find out more about, but also the course of the game much later on. It’s through these things that the heroes find their depth, and while it takes a while for them to flesh out, you can eventually see that they’re more than what they seemed on the outset.

However, the game is somewhat formulaic in a way that makes it predictable. You could almost describe it as symmetrical. If there’s a puzzle to the left, there’s a puzzle to the right. If one person has a traumatic event here, another person has a traumatic event there. For the game to function as intended, it practically needs to be this way, but I can’t help but wonder if it couldn’t disguise this better. It also hurts the impact of the traumas when they crop up so often, since they eventually become expected, and a portrait of a shocked character appearing alongside an ellipse can only carry for so long. Still, the characters are each likable in their own way and you could find yourself attached to them as you get invested in their quest.

Let’s Talk About Gameplay!

If any one thing stays true to the RPG formula, it’s the gameplay. You explore the dungeon, fight monsters, find treasures, solve puzzles; the whole bit. Exploration and puzzle-solving are accentuated by a series of special skills each character can do. For example, the knight can use Stonecleaver on the world map to remove statues and other rocky obstacles, or the mage can light fires to burn things out of the way. These abilities are mapped to the 1 through 4 keys so you don’t have to dig around in the menu for them, and many situations come down to recognizing which of these abilities you need at the time.

That may sound interesting, but it’s really not that big of a plus. Using that Stonecleaver example, it’s akin to cutting down shrubs in Pokémon. There’s no mystery to it, and most of the time, the thing you need to do is obvious. While the hotkeys help, the engine is a little finicky in that you have to bump into a valid object for it to recognize that an action can be performed on it. This is exacerbated by the fact that RM could just as easily handle this with the action key by checking the object and asking the player if they want to do the relevant thing. There are some cases where this might not work as effectively, but it feels like a more intuitive approach to me. It’s rather tedious as it is.

Apart from the ability puzzles, there are a wider variety of actual puzzles to solve, most of which require some attention to detail. Puzzle clues are written in such a way that they feel innocuous, almost like flavor text in several cases. The game rarely minces words over these things, so if you thought you had a solution and it didn’t work, it usually means you overlooked something in the hint that you didn’t realize was part of it in the first place. It’s hard to knock the game for that; the player is responsible for their own attentiveness, after all. I only felt it worth mentioning since I fell into that trap a few times, and long after I should’ve known better (though I swear my brain is less functional in a Let’s Play environment).

Combat is pretty frequent and a bit of a bear. The monsters are tanky enough to survive a few rounds against your heroes unless you really lay into them, which you don’t always want to do. Resources on any floor of the tower are scarce until you invade far enough to reach the shop, after which it becomes a non-issue because you can keep yourself well-stocked. Random encounter rates in RM have always been an issue, and this game could’ve done to modify the formula for calculating them. Occasionally, you’ll get long stretches without being harassed, but there will be other times where you go two steps before finding more monsters.

Anyway, with the enemies being so bulky, it encourages you to strategize and fight effectively to get through them more efficiently. The party has enough skills to make that possible, and there are enough answers for what the enemy can throw at you. It’s only a question of whether you can afford it or not since, as before, you have to manage your inventory until a shop becomes available. Mashing can get the job done sometimes, but it may just drag things out and result in eating more damage.

Similar to the story’s “symmetry,” the game’s structure is very formulaic. Every area has approximately three enemy types and a boss. There is an equal distribution of puzzle situations throughout each part. It takes great care to ensure this rigid quota is met for every step of the journey, and it’s not specifically wrong for being that way, it’s just a tad predictable like before. However, what isn't so predictable is how the late-game will proceed. Depending on your choices, you'll find yourself down one of several routes, each of which has its own unique theme, final area, and final boss. A first-time player would be none the wiser to how this happens, but once you understand what's going on, it's pretty easy to decide which route to take. This gives the game a lot of replay value, but it's a bit sad that there's no New Game + feature, since you would either have to fall back on old saves or replay the early areas that don't have any significant variation.

Let’s Wrap This Up…

I feel as if I’ve complained a lot in this review, but most of the issues I’ve described are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. This game has a high level of attention to detail and very few bugs or errors. It’s clear that a great deal of love was put into its creation, and it shows in a slew of little ways. In spite of its shortcomings, it’s certainly a worthwhile experience. I would give it a...

4/5

Also, if you thought this review was kind of vague, that's intentional. I wouldn't want to spoil it for you...


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Posts

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Thanks so much for the review and for your adorable little comic! I enjoyed watching you play the game and getting your views on it. :)

Thinking more about your critique, I think some things turned out "formulaic" and "symmetrical" as you put it because I was trying to create an even playing field where all routes had a similar probability of occurring for any first-time player. While I think I achieved this based on data I gathered from beta testers and early Let's Plays (all... two of them lmao) I can see how it'd be a double edged sword and make things more predictable. If I remake the game, I might try to challenge myself in maintaining that balance while shaking up the formula a bit, so to speak, even if that just means rearranging dungeons or adding more variability to trauma event spots.

That said, I'm glad you enjoyed the game overall (enough to give it 4/5 stars anyway!) and your LP and review can really only help in bringing the game more views and plays. Take care of yourself!!
halibabica
RMN's Official Reviewmonger
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author=QZProductions
I was trying to create an even playing field where all routes had a similar probability of occurring for any first-time player.
Mhm, I kind of figured that was the case. The characters need an equal number of opportunities to avoid having some outcomes be more likely. The best I could suggest to avoid it is to space out those opportunities differently.

For example, the ice area had a poem inscription for each hero, but they were all in that area. If they were divided up between the first and second floors, it would feel less symmetrical. However, they could also appear on other floors besides those two. Basically, it doesn't matter where the poems appear as long as the relevant heroes can find their way to them. I think this would work best with more individualized events, though.

It may yet be a few weeks before I start streaming any other routes, but I'll be sure to mention here when/what time they begin. You're certainly welcome to attend!
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