Best known for bringing Zelda titles Majora's Mask and Tri Force Heroes to the 3DS, developer Grezzo has already received plenty of applause for delivering quality experiences to the handheld platform. The studio's first fully-fledged adventure, Ever Oasis, is an addictive blend of Animal Crossing-like town management, dungeon crawling, and RPG mechanics; offering far more depth than its cartoony exterior may suggest.
Assuming the role of a young seedling, you find yourself at the centre of your brother's thriving desert oasis and begin to learn the ropes so that one day you can take the reins. It's not long before school is over, however, as the oasis is enveloped in darkness, dominated by a malevolent force known as Chaos. Fearing for your safety, your brother banishes you from the desert, allowing you to escape before true carnage is set to unfold. Crashing into the sand, you find a lonely water spirit named Esna, with a mutual ambition of creating an oasis free from the clutches of the aforementioned Chaos.
Your time in Ever Oasis will be split between ruling over your oasis and venturing into the desert to engage in quests and harvest materials. As chief of the fledgeling desert paradise, you must allow your new home to flourish and grow by convincing visitors to become permanent residents. This is done by completing side-quests; usually involving finding a desired item or opening up stores known as bloom booths to help earn their affection. Once you've received a certain amount of residents, your oasis can then be levelled up, providing you with room for more bloom booths and allowing you to grow more crops in the garden.
Many residents can grow their own individual bloom booths, which can be grown to sell items such as flutes, balloons and juice to visiting penguin-like creatures called Noots. You can also upgrade bloom booths and expand their offering by completing additional side quests for owners which will unlock over time. Making sure these stores are appropriately stocked will take up a large portion of your time as supplies are quick to deplete. Later in the game, however, you earn the ability to send residents out on supply runs to harvest relevant items, which prevents restocking from being much of a chore. Making sure the booths are stocked and your residents are happy is a must as it can deliver you HP bonuses when venturing off into the desert.
At the synthesis tree found upstairs in your home, you can craft weapons, attire and healing items by spending dewadems and finding the appropriate materials. Crafting introduces an added incentive for exploration and scavenging, and you'll constantly find/receive additional blueprints for items for upgrading your oasis. This is another example where the action and town management sections intertwine beautifully as by allowing your oasis to grow you can find better gear to use in combat.
While its blend of gameplay styles is both innovative and creative, the same can't be said about its combat, which lacks satisfaction due to its simplistic approach. Pressing the L shoulder button allows you to lock onto enemies and you inflict damage by chaining together light and heavy attacks. Blocking and countering attacks isn't an option, though, and instead you're left to roll out of the path of danger, mashing the A button at max speed. You can, however, unlock combos by levelling up, which do shake things up and can deliver considerably more damage on successful execution.
Charging into the desert, you can bring along two other residents of your choice to aid you on your journey. Choosing the perfect companions does take some consideration as some, for example, have ranged attacks perfect for striking flying enemies and others have abilities like inflicting paralysis. Pressing up on the D-pad allows you to rotate between members of your party, enabling you to control up to three players on the battlefield. The AI's intelligence leaves much to be desired, however, as once character's stray beyond your control you'll find them mindlessly stumbling into oncoming waves of attacks.
Making your way back to the oasis is fortunately never too difficult as a quick travel function named aqua gate allows you teleport from your current location. Each resident has their own specific skills which can be used to clear blocked paths or allow you to progress through puzzle segments. Some characters, for example, can transform into a leafy barricade to block oncoming boulders and others can use magic to assemble shattered bridges and pathways. While each region indicates what specific skills you'll need upon warping, you'll still find yourself returning to base constantly to switch up your party. This could have perhaps been remedied by having a function within the main menu to teleport party members.
Despite arriving on the ageing platform of the 3DS, Ever Oasis' visuals are a joy to behold and ooze charm through its cartoony flair and ancient Egyptian-inspired cast of characters. The title also utilises the 3D capabilities of the 3DS to great effect, whereas recent titles like Pokemon Sun and Moon have ditched the function completely. Also lending to its appeal is an excellent soundtrack produced by independent composer Sebastian Schwartz. Its cheery town tracks and dark melodious flourishes, which echo during exploration and dungeon segments always work perfectly to underscore the onscreen emotion.
Ever Oasis, especially in short bursts, delivers an engaging mix of town management, exploration and RPG action, which is suitable for players of all skill levels. While some of its puzzle and combat elements may suffer from sloppy execution; its jigsaw-like mesh of gameplay styles and undeniable charm cement it as a solid all-round experience. Landing during the slow but steady decline of the 3DS, it may sadly fall under the radar of many, but it shouldn't be missed for RPG fans who are seeking another quality portable adventure.