When Tower of Fantasy (ToF) by Hotta Studio first dropped on August 11 (Malaysia time), I wrote an article about it pretty much raving about the free-to-play game. At that point, my playtime was barely an hour or so, and I was high on the hype.
But I’ll be honest—since then, I hadn’t felt that inclined to keep playing. Thinking about it now, I just wasn’t that invested in the characters or storyline (yet), something decent gameplay can’t make up for me.
Over the weekend, though, I decided to give it another shot. This time, I tried it out on the PC, because I really couldn’t bear to delete any more apps (cough, Genshin Impact, cough) to make room for additional content.
Earlier, my managing editor, Sade (die-hard Genshin Impact enjoyer), had tried the game on PC too and gave a few scathing remarks about it.
Based on reviews online, it seems like ToF, much like many other games, has been a hit or miss depending on personal preference.
Some describe the game as having a “slight jank that’s hard to overlook”, while others say it’s “truly something special”, and in a good way.
So, despite Sade’s cutting words, I blocked out her critiques and delved back into the game with a hopeful outlook (warning: minor spoilers ahead).
First, a rundown on the game
An open-world adventure roleplay game, ToF’s plot is one that we’ve heard before (probably across a variety of media).
The main character, whom you can customise, loses their memory in the opening sequence and finds themselves in a shelter called Astra.
Here, we quickly meet Shirli and her brother Zeke. Some misfortune ensues, and Shirli overloads on Omnium, a product of human folly and greed that turns living things into zombies (or aberrated creatures, as this game calls it).
Aberration is rampant in the cyberpunk, dystopian world of Aesperia, and suppressors help keep the aberration at bay, though Shirli’s couldn’t handle the overload, hence her sickness later.
But high above the shelter rests Hykros, where the nouveau riche live. For whatever reason, these folk get to live free from the dangers below.
Challenging this status quo is a rebel group called Heirs of Aida, a group that Zeke joins after Shirli grows ill.
Somehow already super attached to this sibling duo, the main character sets out with a little malfunctioning and lovable smart robot, Mi-A, to find Zeke and rescue Shirli. With that, the true Tower of Fantasy story begins to unravel.
Admittedly, a little worse than I remembered
I hate to say it, but after a somewhat engaging start, the game started to get a little too dull a little too fast. The intro that I just summarised was slow yet had no proper build-up.
As much as I personally find Shirli to be adorable, the game doesn’t do a good job at fostering a real friendship between our character and the others. We’re supposed to just naturally be involved in Astra’s drama, for no reason other than… kindness, maybe?
Allow me to draw a quick comparison to Genshin Impact. In HoYoverse’s hit game, I immediately felt a sense of kinship with the characters because I knew their ambitions and (some) reasoning behind their actions from the get-go.
But with Zeke and Shirli, other than the brother’s possessive streak over the sister, I couldn’t really tell what it is that drives them as people.
Initially, they seemed to just be… present in Astra without any real purpose. Forget challenging the status quo, they didn’t even seem to be concerned with just improving their own lives in the first place. It wasn’t until Shirli grew ill that things were put in motion.
On top of this, I found certain cutscenes were pointless and the voice lines had begun to feel stale (Zeke’s monotonous voice in particular grates on my ears).
Paired with the fact that you can’t skip dialogue until the text fully plays, the “skip” button I usually avoid is starting to look more and more appealing.
There’s also this inconsistency with the main character, whereby sometimes they would speak, and sometimes we’re prompted to select the answer (not multiple choice, even) and they don’t voice the lines at all. I’m guessing the voice actor didn’t record those lines?
Another thing was that I really disliked playing on the PC. This surprised me, because I’m usually 100% a PC kind of girl.
I’m not sure if it’s because my laptop couldn’t handle it, but the game ran pretty badly on my laptop, which handles Genshin Impact just fine, by the way.
I’ll explain more about the pitfalls of the gameplay later, but one of the biggest things that rubbed me the wrong way was the characters’ animations in the cutscenes.
This didn’t happen on mobile, but on the PC, the characters’ idle animation during dialogues would suddenly glitch out, making it so jarring to experience. It immediately pulls me away from the immersion, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
It takes effort to appreciate it, but can be kind of worth it
Once I decided to give the main quest a break and do some light exploring, I rediscovered the charm of the game.
ToF does the open world thing pretty well, giving players quite the plethora of things to explore. I’m reminded of how much I like the design of the world. Plus, I really have to commend how the developers made each NPC so unique and fun to look at.
Overall, the cyberpunk ambience is so charming, even though the world building is… a little contrived, to say the least.
This is most obvious in the loading screens where the game vomits a chunk of text about the condition of the world.
The game also throws this long video (that hilariously looks like an old movie with my phone’s dimensions) that’s essentially a trailer to the main conflict of the game—which is the standoff between Hykros and the Heirs of Aida.
I would’ve preferred if it were more seamlessly integrated into the plot, rather than just shown to us in the form of an Heirs of Aida PR video. But I have to say, the dialogue in that video was good—that speech would get me to join their cause.
After this, once you finally understand the premise of the game, things start to look better. Making it to Hykros has also made me way more interested to delve back into the game. Even though the plot is a little generic, I’m excited to see more of the world.
A moment of appreciation for the combat
Surprisingly, the combat on the PC feels trickier than on mobile. It doesn’t quite snap to the nearby enemy, but instead just directly attacks whatever’s in front of the character. This added layer of difficulty might appeal to some, but I found it to be frustrating at best.
That aside, the variety of weapons we have in our arsenal is exciting. The relics, which include things like a Missile Barrage and a Jetpack, are fun when you remember to weave them into your gameplay, and the Phantasia function is interesting, too.
Phantasia is a phenomenon that occurs when you do a perfect dodge from an attack. When activated, the world slows down and your other weapons fully charge, so when switching to them they release a powerful attack.
It’s an extra layer to the combat, which is new and refreshing. I like that there’s a bit more strategy and skill to it, even if that means I suck more.
Most recently, after pulling the Pummeler with the gacha system, I’ve been enjoying using the big old icy hammer. But I can’t wait to try out more guns, weirdly enough.
I got the first taste of the turret gun the game lets us use in the fateful fight where Shirli went down. It’s exhilarating to be able to hold down a button and just blast away enemies. I’m glad friendly fire isn’t on, though, because Shirli would’ve died earlier with my aim.
Hotta wants me to stay
When logging back into the game after my short break, I was stunned by the insane amount of rewards waiting for me. I felt very appreciated by the game and much like an early adopter when showered with all these gifts.
Like others, the game also offers compensation for maintenance and various issues.
Speaking of other games though, one can’t help but still draw a comparison to the other wildly popular Chinese game, Genshin Impact. It’s just how the entertainment industry is, I suppose.
There’s no question that Genshin Impact does offer a smoother, more refined experience. The graphics and animation and even storytelling are inarguably more polished. It’s had almost two years since its global release to get to this level of quality, after all.
Still, from what I’ve seen so far, ToF has the potential to come into its own one day. In my opinion, a game is best played when it’s popular.
A bigger community usually means more and better content surrounding it, and I think once that happens, ToF will become a more engaging and exciting world to romp about in.
But, I don’t hate the slow burn I’m experiencing with ToF right now. Sometimes, good things just take time.
- Learn more about Tower of Fantasy here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about gaming here.