As gamers in the twenty-first century, we are spoiled for choice. Why should I choose to play a turn-based 2D RPG when the most beautifully created games with the most compelling stories to date are dancing temptingly at the tips of my fingers? We have so many fantastic options. Before playing Towards The Pantheon, I had not only never played a turn-based game, I’d also spent very few seconds of my life considering picking one up. I like action. Realism. But now… well now I’m not so sure that I know what it is that I like.
Towards The Pantheon looks and feels very much like a classic SNES game, although there’s a hint of a new flavor (and it tastes like tuna nigiri, mmmm…). From what I understand, your typical turn-based RPG consists of generic love stories, elemental types, elixirs, and elves. You’ll find none of these things in Towards The Pantheon. This game is a story about friendship and overcoming obstacles – both the literal obstacles that you must combat, and the figurative obstacles in the minds of the characters. You’ll drink coffee, eat sushi, ride giant hamster-like creatures dubbed “Speedsters”, and find delight in jokes about catnip.
Your journey begins with our young hero, Freyja – a mute, gentle-hearted girl and the strongest warrior in the village of Keltoi. The Sworn Light, a group that was thought to be in charge of keeping the peace, is growing hostile and dangerous. Slowly but surely, the “peace keepers” have found ways to form a wedge between the many villages and gain control over their food supply. While the villagers dwell on rumors about their neighbors and begin to distrust one another, they edge closer and closer to becoming slaves to the keepers while hardly noticing the trap they are falling into. Freyja has been given a task: to travel to the Pantheon and put an end to the darkness that floods from The Sworn Light.
Along the way, Freyja meets many villagers that tell their stories through dialogue and the books they keep. Although Freyja does not speak, you get a sense of who she is by the way others react to her and by her subtle, nonverbal reactions to them. Over time, three companions with varying skills join her adventure and battle alongside Freyja. All four characters are different races and their coming together seems to be symbolic since it happens in a time when an outside force is trying to drive them apart. A human, a feline, an electropunk, and a ghost. Each of these characters serve a different purpose while battling and also while exploring the world. Freyja might not be able to fit into a small cavern, but once she meets up with her future cat friend, they can return to the places she wasn’t able to squeeze into herself.
Danger lurks in every corner but is easy to avoid if you’d prefer to play the game more passively. Sword and shield symbols spawn randomly as you walk through forests and mines, automatically triggering a battle when touched. Sometimes they land in your path without warning, but most of the time you can just walk around them if you wish to avoid a fight. As those of you familiar to the genre will know, the turn-based combat is strategic and, to my surprise (but maybe not yours) I found this very satisfying. As long as you manage your inventory well and take advantage of replenishing items from the shops, failure in battles is unlikely.
This may be good news to some and a deterrent to others. If you’re looking for a challenging adventure, this is probably not for you, but if you’re new to the genre like me, this is a great entry game. As you battle, you gain coins and XP. In no time at all, I was rolling in XP, healing items, and more coin than I knew what to do with. While the battles themselves were fairly easy, there were a few puzzles that stumped me for some time. Although some of the puzzles weren’t particularly fun, there were a few that were very clever and once I solved them I felt good about myself, and the game, for forcing me to come at a problem in a different way.
Towards The Pantheon really rewards exploration. The ever changing scenery and music are two of my favorite things about this game and, good thing too, because you can spend hours wandering around taking in the sights and sounds of this wonderfully strange world. If you’re not into walking, there are Speedsters located in every city for fast traveling across the map. Occasionally in my travels, I’d bump into battles, but mostly I explored and collected items until I felt satisfied that I had found every little thing in each and every section – the completionist in me was very satisfied by this.
If I had to find something about this game to pick at, it would be that I didn’t find the story super compelling and it was a bit cheesy at times. Even still, this didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the game, and the story that is there finds a way to make itself relevant to the world we live in. There are campsites throughout the world that allow you to save your gameplay and, quite often, you can activate a cutscene of sorts when you step into the tent. During these scenes, our four heroes become acquainted with each other and you begin to understand them more. When the game ended, I was surprised to find how fond I’d grown of all of them.
I went into Towards The Pantheon thinking I knew what I want from a game and left with a newfound love of this genre… and a craving for some sushi.
A copy of Towards The Pantheon was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Make sure to visit the official site for more information.