Review: Tower of Fantasy

14 Sep 2022

Every once in a while, something comes along to surprise you. You got the job, a freak thunderstorm appears out of nowhere, or perhaps best of all, you come across a game that defies your expectations.

Tower of Fantasy is an action-oriented MMORPG now available on mobile and PC that aims to take on some of the other popular mobile “MMO” style games (I put that in quotes because mobile games often use “MMO” to mean “lots of people play it” more than “playing with lots of people in the same game world”), such as the well known Genshin Impact.

While I typically limit how many free-to-play mobile games I try to play because of the inevitable pressure to spend money (which I do, but only on one game at a time), when this game was presented to me, it caught my attention more than other made-for-mobile games that hit my inbox usually do for a few reasons. We’ll get into what those reasons are shortly, so let’s explore why this game, which I played on PC for this review, surprised me.

The Exodus

Tower of Fantasy takes place in a futuristic world where humans have long since been forced to leave Earth due to the depletion of its resources. in a distant star system, a celestial body named Mara is discovered, which is rich in a powerful energy source called omnium. A structure known as the Tower of Fantasy was built to capture Mara to extract it.

You play as one of two wanderers (i.e., adventurer) who is working for an organization known as Hykros for unexplained reasons. You and a companion enter some sort of “quarantine zone,” and when you’re attacked you decide to split up (after choosing either the male or female of the pair to play). But while searching for a way out, your Suppressor (which all humans carry and protects you from… something. The effects of omnium energy, I think?) fails and you lose conciousness, with “Aberrant” hounds closing behind. You are then rescued and the game begins, with a lengthy and detailed main story you can follow at your own pace. Oddly similarly to Final Fantasy XIV in a way.

The main storyline surprised me quite a bit. From an unknown Chinese company, I expected bare bones. But the storyline was well thought out, if a bit tropey (but to be fair, everything’s been done at this point), and fully featured for an MMORPG. There’s plenty of cutscenes, active time events, instances, and (mostly) full voice acting, which was particularly surprising. There were issues with the latter which we’ll get to later, but it’s a pretty complete experience.

The core driver of the plot, at least initially, is a girl named Shirli who is resourceful but gets into trouble. She helps you get acquainted with the world around you as you lost your memory after your ordeal, but after sticking her nose someplace you can tell it probably doesn’t belong, she gets in trouble and scolded by her older “brother” Zeke. Then their base is attacked by Aberrants much like the ones met at the beginning, and Shirli overloads her Suppressor while protecting the others and begins to turn into an Aberrant herself.

For a game with such a bright style, it is a remarkably dark moment. Tower of Fantasy has shown in a relatively short amount of time that it’s not afraid to take the story in very serious and potentially horrifying directions. Despite the shelter’s policy of terminating people who succumb to Aberration to protect the others, Zeke finds himself unable to do so. After contacting someone who is rumored to be able to treat this incurable condition, he leaves the base with Shirli and you then spend time trying to track them down, helping others along the way while rediscovering your own identity.

The Legend of Fantasy

The game starts with a brief basic tutorial which goes over the basic controls while (somewhat hastily) setting your character up for how they join up with the core NPC cast. It’s very rigid but I found that while this game was very clearly made for mobile and ported to PC with its on-screen ability buttons, the PC controls work quite well. You have your familiar WASD controls and keyboard shortcuts thankfully available so you never have to click those on-screen buttons with the mouse like you would have to press them on mobile.

While this game frames itself as an MMO, you have a very action-oriented skill set. Jumping and air time are important components to the gameplay, and well-timed attacks and skillful dodging typically seen in smaller-scale action games is also instrumental. Essentially, this is NOT a hotbar and GCD (global cooldown) MMO.

It’s pretty plain that Tower of Fantasy takes quite a bit of inspiration in its world design from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While Tower of Fantasy‘s world is more rooted in sci-fi, many attributes, including exploration mechanics, are very similar to BOTW. You can climb almost any wall and glide through the air with a jetpack and both of these actions use up an endurance gauge. This means you’re free to explore the world in ways that are fairly unusual in an MMO, and there is a lot to discover. Hidden chests, training devices that provide minigames which test your ability to run, swim, climb and glide, side quests, and more. Wherever you go, there’s almost always at least some minor activity you can engage in. I spent a good deal of time exploring as I went, investigating what sorts of places I could reach by climbing and such.

Though the core of combat is handled with just a few buttons (after all, it is also a mobile game with on-screen touch controls), it is surprisingly sophisticated. You can carry up to three different kinds of weapons and switch between them freely to deal with enemy resistances and weaknesses. Attacking with one weapon long enough allows you to perform a special attack when switching weapons. Combined with dodges, the ability unique to each weapon, and your basic combos, combat has a really good flow to it and you can make a lot of things happen despite the small number of buttons.

Some instances and missions will also give you various tools like mounted turrets, cannons, and vehicles which adds to the variety. And to top it all off, the higher tier weapons come with “simulacra,” which allow you to transform into another character entirely with its own weapons and move set. You can go through as much of the game as you want with these simulacrum stand-ins, only seeing your actual self in cutscenes and such.

One minus point is that, at least at the time of this writing, if you wish to use a gamepad, you’re stuck with Hotta Studio’s choice of button bindings, as there is no customization there yet (though it looks like this may change in an update). But combat and exploration were both fluid and fun on mouse and keyboard.

As you can imagine, being the free-to-play game that it is, Tower of Fantasy uses gacha mechanics for obtaining new weapons. Typically these are used to obtain characters/monsters/the like, but that indirectly also happens here since SR and SSR weapons come with simulacra. Now, I’ve ranted about aggressive microtransactions in games like these in the past, but I do realize that F2P games have to make money somehow. What matters to me is whether these mechanics are overly obtrusive or not, and how much the game is willing to give to a free player.

And on that note, I actually am quite happy with Tower of Fantasy‘s system. The game never nags you to spend money, and the gacha system offers guaranteed drops at set intervals as bad-luck protection. Not only that, but the game actually tells and shows you your progress towards a guaranteed drop, and a reasonable amount of the items needed for orders from the shop are obtainable in game through achievements, treasure chests, and story progress.

I had a few of the strong weapons after just a few days playing. Upgrading and augmenting them, while certainly one of the game’s time sinks, isn’t nearly as arduous as some of the similar games I’ve played (I’m looking at you Diablo Immortal…). In short, this is F2P monetization done well. It doesn’t constantly annoy the player and doesn’t make them feel like they won’t be able to do anything if they don’t pony up. I’ve always said that the less you push your game’s microtransactions, the more likely I am to actually partake in them (Note: no purchases were made during this review).

No Aberrations Here

Tower of Fantasy features an appealing cel-shaded visual design, which brings with it an aesthetically interesting feel, something like Breath of the Wild and a dose of your favorite anime thrown into a blender. As for the overall quality of it as a whole, that kind of depends on your platform.

As a PC game, it looks somewhat dated in terms of polygon count and graphical features being utilized. But for a mobile game, it’s near the head of its class. The one low point in the visuals department is the UI. It…works, but it’s bland and looks a bit amateurish compared to the rest of the visual package. On the whole the game looks quite good if you take into account the PC version being limited by the mobile game assets.

On a related note, for those who like to spend lots of time customizing their avatar, there are tons of options for tweaking your physical appearance, along with different outfits and of course the library of weapons. All of it looks good when used tastefully, though if you want a goofily-colored abomination, well, you can do that too.

Moving to the sound side of things, there are notable strong and weak points. Tower of Fantasy offers a good range of music tracks that, while perhaps not standing out as the awesome-est stuff you’ll want to listen to even outside the game, the overall quality of the score is good and music themes are selected appropriately for most environments and situations.

The biggest issue on the sound front is the voice acting. While that may not surprise some given how hard it seems to be to get good English voice acting in games these days, it isn’t really that the voice acting is bad. It’s that it’s inconsistent. I was actually rather surprised to see an MMO from a Chinese company unknown to me having almost full voice acting for all the story characters – even the player character is voiced, meaning the protagonist is not silent – and some of it is actually quite good.

Some of it is also quite bad, unfortunate though it may be. A few of the story characters’ voices sound like the actor is just reading lines off a script with no inflection or emotion, or such that doesn’t match the situation. And while the main story characters are almost fully voiced, there’s a few seemingly random lines that have voice acting missing. You’ll go through a cutscene and every character has voice lines, but one random line of some character doesn’t get voiced. On the whole, the voice acting contributes to the experience, but there is significant room for improvement here.

Suppressor Overload

I spent considerable time evaluating Tower of Fantasy, in part because issues on the test server account I was given initially ended up blocking my story progress so I had to start over with a live account to continue. It’s proven a really challenging title for me to rate. Particularly as a mobile title, I’d say it’s up there with the handful of games it competes with, like the previously mentioned and quite successful Genshin Impact. And it’s certainly one of the best mobile games I’ve played that has a PC version. While the PC version could do with some more enhancements to take advantage of modern PC capabilities, it still looks good in consideration of its mobile roots.

The overall experience is really solid, despite a few noticeable quality issues, mainly with the voice acting and controller experience. And I have to give props to Hotta Studio and Level Infinite for going with a monetization method that doesn’t shove itself down the player’s throat. While that may seem like backhanded praise, I promise it’s not. There is a lot to enjoy even as a free player, and if you give the publisher money, it’s really going to be because you like the game and want to support it, because they did it right. And this is something that I find really sets apart quality F2P and mobile games from the okay and poor ones.

So: Do I recommend it? If you like games with anime looks, and you feel like the popular MMOs today are just too clunky for your taste, Tower of Fantasy looks to be a solid option. It’s kind of rough around the edges, but more than makes up for that with the fun factor and potential for long term playability. Perhaps not for everyone, but it is a surprisingly good entry into the F2P MMO space, especially among those with a mobile version.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Pre-launch game account provided by Level Infinite for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.