I thought pretty much knew what I was getting into when I popped my copy of Ever Oasis into my 3DS. Cute sim games are fairly common now, and while I do enjoy them, they are generally unremarkable, though the addition of a battle system, reminiscent of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles or Fantasy Life did promise to add a bit of spice to this tried and true formula. Despite the fact that this game was developed by Grezzo, the studio behind the 3DS remakes of multiple Legend of Zelda titles, I went into the game with fairly low expectations. I was entirely unprepared for how much I found myself enjoying Ever Oasis.
The game begins as you create and name your Seedling, Seedlings being one of the six races who live in the desert, and while customization restricts a number of elements, including the shape of your Seedling’s horns, it does allow you to select your gender, hair color, and even offers a wide variety of skin tones, including red and blue-gray. You begin your journey in an Oasis run by your big brother, who teaches you the basics of both how to use your Green Gale, a special wind magic which only Seedling chiefs are able to wield, and how to be a good leader for your people, once you strike out and create an Oasis of your own. Your time with family is short lived, as the arrival of Chaos forces you into the depths of the desert all on your own.
As fate would have it, you quickly meet Esna, a water spirit whose power allows you to create an Oasis of your very own, the last in the Chaos-ravaged desert. By your powers combined, you must build a thriving community of Seedlings and other desert wanderers and keep the evil force of Chaos from taking root within your small corner of the world. This aspect of the game plays rather like a glorified shop simulator: Each Seedling who decides to move into your Oasis can grow their own Bloom Booth, a store which sells merchandise unique to the interest of that character. You will need to keep these shops stocked with raw materials so that they can create and sell goods, and shopkeepers will reward you for your efforts by leaving Dewadems, the game’s currency, on the roof for you to collect via your Green Gale. …Because leaving money on the roof is a totally normal thing to do.
Charging off into the desert, you will encounter any number of evil creatures to vanquish. These once cute and cuddly animals have been possessed by Chaos, but defeating them allows them to revert to their normal form unharmed, leaving behind many of the raw materials your Seedlings will need for their stores. Eventually, you’ll be able to bring up to two citizens of your Oasis on adventures with you, each with their own set of skills. The lizard-like Drauk can use spears to pull down wall-mounted switches and move objects in soft sand, the bunny-eared Lagora can use their dual knives to clear spider webs, the insect-like and always hungry Serkah use giant hammers to crush obstacles such as walls and rocks. Seedlings are unique, in that different characters can use different weapons, and they each have one of a wide range of skills, such as the ability to turn into a seed and be launched like a ball, to parasail across a long distance, or to form a leaf wall, blocking objects and monsters.
While not in your party, Seedlings man their Bloom Booths, selling goods and providing you with a steady stream of cash. Other species can’t grow Bloom Booths, but they are not without their skills. In addition to being great to bring along for fights, your non-Seedling residents can be sent out to explore areas you’ve already cleared to collect items and fight monsters, saving you from having to harvest these items yourself.
Each morning, you’ll have a new batch of visitors, as well as a handful of Noots, adorable bird-like desert creatures who can’t talk or join your Oasis, but who always seem to be have plenty of Dewadems to spend at Bloom Booths. The disappointment of a day without a new visitor can only be compared to finding an empty mailbox shortly after moving away from home for the first time. Completing quests endears visitors to you and encourages them to move into your Oasis. Some quests are more difficult than others, some seem downright silly at times: “I’m going to move here and plant my Bloom Booth, forever binding myself to this place, because you brought me my favorite snack!” I guess the fact that you run the last Oasis in the entire world does makes that an easy choice, though.
The world map may appear small, but numerous dungeons, which often expand in unexpected ways, creates an impressively large world for you to explore, and new areas opening up with surprising frequency. Unlike games such as Animal Crossing and Story of Seasons, where there’s often depressingly little to do early in the game, Ever Oasis wastes no time in filling your days with story elements, quests, resources to be harvested, Dewadems to be collected, and general Oasis upkeep, such as using your Green Gale to clear away piles of sand which blow in from the desert and pile upon your roads. It’s a good thing you have a lot to do, as the game prevents you from going to bed before a certain time each day, telling you to go out and work on quests or collect resources instead. (But Mooooom, I’m tiiiiiired…)
No sooner did I begin to worry if all of these housekeeping chores were going to dominate my days, preventing me from actually getting anything done, than the game provided a way to automate a number of things, allowing me to spend less time managing my Oasis and more time fighting monsters, clearing quests, and advancing the story. Time and time again, I started to feel the temporal demands of managing daily life within the Oasis, only to have the game provide better time management tools just as they became needed. I was really impressed by the timing and the rollout of these mechanics, and how effective they were in keeping my people happy and my Oasis productive, while allowing me a certain amount of oversight but still freeing me up to enjoy the game’s more exciting elements.
These player-friendly elements carried through into its puzzle-filled dungeons, with features which made exploring, returning to previously completed areas, and treasure hunting very accessible and fun. Dungeons often require a particular skillset in order to access a new area, and with such a wide range of skills spread across so many individual characters, the chances that you’ll have someone in your party with the exact skill required to move forward is pretty unlikely. Enter the Aqua Gate, a magical connection to your Oasis which allows you to instantly warp to the Oasis and/or back to the place you most recently visited with a tap of the touch screen. Need a spear to open that door? Back to town, pull a Drauk into your party, then warp right back to the exact spot you were standing, minimal time lost.
The game also enables several warp points throughout dungeons, settlements, and eventually your own Oasis, allowing you quickly and easily jump to whatever town, area, or map is most convenient to help you advance your story, collect needed materials, or complete a quest. It’s a simple mechanic, but it goes a long way towards making the game a treat to play, rather than a constant slog across maps.
The battle system itself is fun without being overly challenging. You control one character at a time, the other two being directed by the game’s AI systems. Pressing the left trigger will lock onto the nearest enemy, keeping the camera aimed at them and directing all your attacks at the targeted baddie. The AI is pretty good about following your lead and focusing the attacks of your teammates on the targeted monster, though it can frustrating how AI controlled characters don’t seem to pay attention to, much less even try to avoid some of the most highly telegraphed attacks. Pressing the up or down button allows you switch control to other members of your party, pretty useful as certain characters are able to inflict more damage against different kinds of monsters.
Your game will continue until all three characters have been knocked out, though the combat is kind enough that I only experienced this a handful of times times during my playthrough. So long as at least one character is still alive and kicking, you can help resuscitate fallen teammates by performing something akin to CPR, standing over them and pressing the A button again and again (and again, and again…) until your buddy wakes up from their nap. While enemies do become progressively more difficult throughout the game, the mechanics also become more forgiving in that, as the Oasis becomes more powerful, it can revive you a certain number of times, based upon its level and status, saving you from a game over and allowing you to pop back up and jump right back into the fray.
Ever Oasis lacks both online play and StreetPass. Being able to take on a boss with two real people at my side would have greatly reduced my frustration with the AI, but there is no way to team up with other Oasis chiefs, either online or locally. While not a necessity for the game, some kind of StreetPass feature which would allow you to show off your character, the size of your Oasis, or even swap items would be a very welcome addition, but perhaps this was left out for good reason: the narrative asserts several times that yours is the last Oasis in the desert.
The story has a strong message of community, helping one and other, and embracing diversity and multiculturalism. It’s not entirely free of stereotypes, but the message is clear without being heavy handed. At one point, a Seedling who could not grow a Bloom Booth arrived at my Oasis, and I fully expected to undergo a quest to help ‘fix’ him. Much to my surprise and delight, this little Seedling was happy just the way he was, and found another, incredibly vital role to fill within our community. The same priority is given to befriending strangers and helping others as to exploring and fighting, and this creates a great sense of community; at the risk of sounding cheesy, it really did feel like my character was going home each time I returned to the Oasis.
What I expected to be a silly little sim game, best played in short bursts while killing time, turned out to be a delightfully involved and feature-rich casual action RPG with a surprising amount of substance. I’ve found myself returning to my Oasis time and time again, eager to help my Seedling residents grow their Bloom Booths, coax new desert-dwellers into my little town, and to protect my corner of the desert from the devastating effects of Chaos. If you’re curious about life in the Oasis, check out the Nintendo eShop, where you can download a free playable demo and start exploring the desert yourself.