“Looking for an oasis on earth? You fool! Earth is already an oasis in the space!”
-Mehmet Murat ildan
“The following is a guest post by The Over-Caffeinated Nostalgia Mage.”
It was during E3 2016 when a mysterious new IP, Ever Oasis, was revealed during Nintendo’s Treehouse Live event. It’s hard to believe that E3 2017 has already come and gone, and the wait for Ever Oasis was certainly a long one, filled with a minimal amount of information and lots of fan confusion for relatively long stretches of time, wondering if the game would ever see the light of day. Created by developer Grezzo, the gameplay appeared as if the Zelda series, Fantasy Life, and Animal Crossing formed some strange relationship and gave birth to a new series. While all of those games might be great by themselves, could the birth-child of all three stand alone as it’s own IP?
While a new IP is generally an intriguing and exciting event by itself, it was the reputation of the developers that was largely responsible for the hype and excitement surrounding Ever Oasis. Boutique Japanese developer Grezzo already had a respectable portfolio of past work, including but not limited to both Legend of Zelda remakes on the 3DS, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Each were very well received remakes that immediately antiquated the games they were based upon.
The two Zelda remakes weren’t all that the Ever Oasis team had at their disposal as far as bragging rights went. With the studio head being none other than Koichi Ishii, the man behind Super NES action-RPG Secret of Mana, it seemed Grezzo had all the creative talent it needed. With that rap sheet, who couldn’t be excited about a new love-child IP hitting the shelves?
Of course, the months came and went following E3 2016, and very little information about Ever Oasis made its way to the media outlets. If you follow gaming news, you know this is never a good sign, and commonly a precursor to delays or outright cancellation. I may have never forgotten about it, but searches for any sort of up-to-date information proved unfruitful, and it would seem as if all initial interest and hype had died. It wasn’t until the September 2016 Nintendo Direct that Grezzo’s newest creation would be in the spotlight again, and we’d finally get some juicy details!
We were treated to some more gameplay footage during that Nintendo Direct that gave us a greater idea about the game mechanics. Animal Crossing and Fantasy Life comparisons were brought up, with a hearty helping of Legend of Zelda action and adventure elements thrown in. It looked like a perfect blend of the aforementioned properties, and I’m happy to say that it panned out very well for Grezzo and their new game Ever Oasis.
In Ever Oasis, you assume the role of a Seedling named Tethu or Tethi, depending on the gender you select, who partners with a water spirit named Esna to create an oasis in the middle of the desert. Your brother had his own oasis, which was unfortunately inundated by Chaos, the dark plague that has taken over the desert. The overarching goal of the game is to create a prosperous oasis so that all who inhabit it can live in peace and prosperity.
If that sounds simple, that’s because it is! The story in Ever Oasis isn’t overbearing, and it doesn’t get in the way of the player having fun. There’s a few minutes of a basic gameplay setup, and then you’re left to start your oasis.
The primary goal of running a successful oasis is to get folks to move in, and open up stores called Bloom Booths. These Bloom Booths will in turn require materials to create products, which they then sell to attract more visitors to move in, open their own Bloom Booths, and well.. the cycle repeats. You, as the owner and operator of the oasis, are responsible for keeping the supply of materials well maintained so that the booths never run out of products. These products are in turn sold to visitors and Noots, little bird-like NPCs that have deep pockets and love to travel and shop.
When you’re not sitting comfy as the “CEO” of said oasis, you can form a team of up to three party members, including yourself, and venture outside of the oasis to explore the various dungeons and strange lands. The dungeons are filled with creatures overcome with Chaos, as well as puzzles that require different skills from your party members. As you explore deeper into the world around you, you discover new allies, and by exchanging favors, you can work together to protect your oasis from chaos altogether.
I touched upon the basic workflow of Ever Oasis – you convince visitors to move into your oasis by doing things for them, and in some cases, they will open up their own Bloom Booths, drawing the allure of more visitors to move in and open their own Bloom Booths. The product of that booth can attract more visitors, so they visit and open up their own booth, etc. I call this “the loop.”
That loop describes the day to day checklist that you repeat over and over, hence making up the gameplay. Simulation games are known for having a loop or a pattern that you follow, especially in those games with day and night cycles, where certain things need to be done at different times. In Ever Oasis, these tasks can include taking on side-quests from visitors in order to convince them to stay in your oasis, stocking up your Bloom Booths to ensure none of them run out of product, gardening, crafting new weapons and items, collecting your commission from your Bloom Booths, and the list goes on.
The loop can make or break a simulation game – have too many things for the player to do and it can quickly get overwhelming; not enough to do and the player can get bored. Ever Oasis does a great job balancing the freedom to explore and the activities you need to do to play the game. While there are plenty of tasks to complete, you never feel pressured to pull all-nighters. There is busy work, but it all feels very manageable.
Speaking of “busy work,” this is an area where Ever Oasis really shines. As you obtain more citizens in your oasis, you can speak to Esna, the Water Spirit, and level up the oasis, which opens up more of the space to use for Bloom Booths. Not only that, but certain new abilities are unlocked, and among those abilities is the delegating of tasks. This allows you to delegate busy work, and generally, make your life as “oasis ringleader” much easier. After playing for a few hours, you soon find yourself doing less busy work, and spending more time exploring and having fun, while you leave the “grunt work” to your other inhabitants back at the oasis.
You even unlock the ability to send out Exploration Teams to find supplies, which is hugely helpful when you need rare items but don’t want to do the work yourself.
Another example of this is the gardening. Once you unlock the garden, you can spend a few minutes a day planting seeds, watering plants, and collecting your crop. This can be fun at first, but as you open more land plots, it can become a time sink. Fortunately, your inhabitants are very efficient gardeners as it just so happens, and delegating work to them leaves you reaping the rewards of their hard work, while you’re off solving puzzles and beating up bad guys in dungeons. It’s great to be in charge, isn’t it?
With Ever Oasis, Grezzo has found a sweet spot in “the loop.” Make the player do enough busy work to realize how time-consuming it really is. Then, before it can get boring, give them the ability to skip that busy work. In turn, they hit that perfect reward system – not by rewarding the player with an achievement or some equivalent, but by allowing them to move on from that monotonous activity altogether. It makes me appreciate the developers for respecting my time as a player, a respect I wish was more prominent in games of this nature.
The greatest upgrade that I’ve received so far is the ability to auto re-stock all of your Bloom Booths with the tap of a button. Previously you had to run into each booth, talk to the owner, click Restock, select the item, and finish the conversation, every single time. This quickly became unmaintainable as the sheer number of booths doubled and tripled. With that upgrade, it freed up countless minutes from your precious gaming time – and that is a reward you feel in-game as well as out!
On top of this convenient upgrade, as you continue to restock your Bloom Booths, you will eventually earn the ability to hold Spirit Festivals at your oasis! Spirit Festivals are exciting events where loads of visitors pack into your oasis, and your Bloom Booths go all out, pushing product too and generating tons of revenue. This is the culmination of all your hard work, and makes all the exploring and item stockpiling and booth upgrading worth it.
Every upgrade in your oasis makes your life easier in some way, and shifts the focus just a bit towards a fully automated oasis. It’s by far the coolest reward system in a simulator I’ve ever played.
When you’re not partaking in the loop detailed above, you will find yourself going on on excursions, exploring the world around you. If “the loop” is one half of Ever Oasis, exploration is the other half.
Setting up a team of up to three party members affords you the diversification of not only your weapon and attack types, but the use of certain skills that allow you to explore every nook and cranny of the world.
For example, your main character has a Whirlwind ability that can blow piles of sand away, revealing secrets underneath. When you meet your first party companion and add her to your party, you learn that she can use her spear to pull down switches to unlock doors, as well as move large pieces of metal on the floor. Another character has the “pellet” ability which allows them to turn into a ball and roll through small holes in the wall.
You can switch your controllable character in your party at any time, utilizing whatever weapons they have at their disposal. All of said weapons come with their own set of attack patterns and combos that become available when the character levels up.
One of the most highlighted parts of the Ever Oasis battle system is matching weapon types with enemies. A small icon is displayed next to the enemy name that tells it what type of enemy it is, and ideally you will use the most appropriate weapon for that type.
The battle system itself isn’t the most in-depth thing in the world, but it works for what it is. If you like attacking from afar, you can play as a character that throws little boomerangs, or a ranger with a bow. Melee attackers have a few more options, including swords, spears, and giant hammers. But generally you will learn to switch to the most optimal player and start swinging or shooting away, lest you won’t be doing the maximum amount of damage.
When you switch your active character, the other party members will be taken over by the AI, which is definitely something you want to avoid if you value being alive. The AI can be, quite honestly, abysmal at times. Particularly if there is a boss fight and/or multiple enemies on screen. Several times I found myself yelling at my 3DS, and praying to all major and minor deities for an answer to my question, “WHY ON EARTH WOULD MY PARTY MEMBERS DO THAT!?”
Pro-tip from someone who’s been to the edge and back – don’t rely. Ditch the AI.
When you’re not fighting with computer code that’s instructing your teammates to suicide themselves, the world is beautiful to wander around in and diverse enough in appearance to hold interest and keep you craving more. Even on the admittedly antiquated 3DS, the game looks slick and the 3D makes it even more so. The art style is clearly inspired by Egyptian culture and Grezzo paid extra-close attention to each piece of garb, as pixelated as they might appear.
It’s always rewarding to find a new location and start exploring, and Ever Oasis strongly succeeds in making the players want to experience the world in which they find themselves.
When you’re out and about, exploring dungeons, finding treasure, and completing side-quests, it can really take the wind out of your sails to learn that you cannot proceed because you don’t currently have a party member with the right skill equipped. This is where Ever Oasis runs into one of its biggest snags, as switching out your party members is a bit of a process. Not a long process, mind you, but I can’t help but feel they could have made switching party members a little bit more seamless.
One of the first times I ventured off freely and discovered a new cave to explore, I got one room in, only to realize I didn’t have any party members who had Pellet. I needed to get through a hole in the wall, and so I teleported back to my oasis, watched the “XP Gained” screen, as you only gain XP once you return from an adventure, switched out my member, and teleported right back to where I left off.
That’s right – I teleported exactly to where I left off. It’s worth pointing this out. In this regard, Ever Oasis almost makes it easy to tweak your party lineup, but definitely falls a bit short. The XP Gained screen is very jarring, as it makes you feel like the end of your exploration journey has been reached, when in reality you just need to switch a party member before heading right back into the action.
You can imagine my dismay when I teleported back into the dungeon, only to realize that after all of that, I needed a character with a spear, because I needed to flip over a piece of artifact to redirect the rolling Pellet character. Let’s just say I let out an about-six-second sigh, before teleporting back to base and doing it all over again. Time consuming? Not really – each time only takes about 30 seconds if you’re a button-masher like myself. Klutzy and unnecessary? Yes, absolutely.
I can’t help but feel this seemingly needless roadblock to switch characters could have been avoided rather easily. Perhaps some sort of “quick switch” mechanism on the bottom screen could have let you swap out your party members on the fly? They could have worked it into the story or imposed some sort of limit on it if they wanted to ensure you returned to dungeons you had already cleared. As it stands, the only point of forcing players to go back to the oasis to swap out characters is to make them question whether they really want to mine that ore, or dig that buried treasure, both actions being restricted to a small subset of playable characters.
Still, the fact that Ever Oasis lets you teleport to and from anywhere, providing you’re not in the midst of a battle, really makes this game approachable as a portable title. It works great for any available gaming time frame and provides plenty of entertainment and depth, regardless if you have 15 minutes to game, or several hours set aside. It doesn’t waste your time and it wants you to have fun. A want that I wish was found in more simulation games.
At the end of the day, Ever Oasis has been a blast for just about every minute I’ve played it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and, plainly said, wants you to explore and enjoy it! There is a ton of depth to this game, with RPG elements crammed in everywhere, but you really need to experience them first-hand to appreciate how non-invasive they are. If I could describe Ever Oasis in one word, it would be charming. Also, adorable. Ok, fine, two words.
Let’s look at some final rating numbers here.
The 8-Bit Review
I could play this game all day and have nothing bad to say about the visuals. The details look great, and the 3D effect is not only terrific, but appreciated, as much to my dismay, more and more 3DS games are releasing with the entire feature left out. The environments are vast and the draw distance far. Grezzo already did great work with large 3D worlds in the Zelda remakes, so they have the ideal experience to make a huge 3D world happen seamlessly. They killed it with the small details and nothing looks copied and pasted.
With the character models, each character has his or her own distinct look, and it’s always fun meeting new characters and seeing the unique traits about them.
Side note, I also love when games with changeable armor show you that you’re wearing different armor. I may be a grown man, but sometimes I want to play dress up. Tell NO ONE.
The soundtrack to Ever Oasis oozes pure happiness. Just take a listen above, and tell me you’re not happy after hearing it! There are dozens of tracks in the official soundtrack, each one perfectly encapsulating the mood the developers were trying to purvey. From the exciting to the unpredictable, from the mysterious to the epic, Ever Oasis manages to massage your ears to always set the mood as it should be.
As I talked about in-depth, the loop is the defining quality of a simulation game like Ever Oasis. It simply needs to have a good balance of busy work and fun, with the reward system to match. As the loop is half of the gameplay, I rated it a perfect 5/5.
Exploration being the other half to the gameplay equation, I knocked off two points for a few reasons. One, exploring may be fun, but it isn’t particularly difficult, as I’ll speak more to shortly. The puzzles rarely took more than a moment to figure out. Two, the issue with switching characters I believe to be a fundamental issue and a hindrance to the exploration, and that could have been resolved in a multitude of ways.
Three, the battles are very easy, overall. Even the boss battles aren’t difficult. There is enough variety in the enemies to keep them all interesting though, and not once have I run past an enemy to avoid having to battle them. Quite the opposite in fact – I actively seek out beating up bad guys because the feedback is terrific. They got the timing down perfectly and I feel satisfied after having thrashed some bad guys.
The story is very simple and while the game itself is technically linear, as you can do roughly one thing to advance the main story line at any time, you are given complete freedom to approach the rest of the game features as you see fit. I appreciated this work by Grezzo, because they managed to keep a story within what is really a simulation game first and foremost, without trampling all over the gameplay.
For this type of game to work, a narrative isn’t really totally necessary. Why are you building up an oasis? To make a safe place for people to live and prosper. What’s your motivation? Your brother had an oasis that was taken over by Chaos. You run into a Water Spirit and you two join forces. It’s really as simple as that, and that’s all it needs to be.
The game controls rather well, making use of but not requiring the additional New 3DS shoulder buttons and Circle Pad.
While controlling the game may be simple and accessible, figuring out how to do certain things could be made more obvious. There are lots of help dialogues, but no way to find them again, at least as far as I have tried. You get a blurb about a new feature as soon as you unlock it, and then never hear about it again, leaving you to scour the Internet for answers or remain confused forever.
I knocked a few points off just because Ever Oasis can be confusing at times to newcomers. Certain things are much easier, but there’s never an explanation. If you’re planning on picking up this game, know that you can throw a Whirlwind at your grown crops to pick them up all at once. The only reason I know this is because I did it by complete accident.
The fact that you have a big “To Do” button available at all times more than makes up for any clarity issues, however. I liken it to that of the to-do list in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, which Grezzo also developed, explaining the great job they did with the to-do list in Ever Oasis.
Truth be told, the game isn’t hard. It’s challenging at first, before you learn the attack combos and dodge timings. Once you learn the weapon skills and style of your respective party members, you can make short work of just about any enemy, even if the weapon type is sub-optimal.
The puzzles and obstacles within the dungeons themselves are quite easy and rarely require more than a few minutes to negotiate. Generally, if you are stuck somewhere, you are missing a certain skill type, and require a trip back to camp to make the swap. Failing that, you need to simply move the story forward to unlock more visitors who have more special skills.
Where the challenge lies in Ever Oasis is with keeping your Bloom Booths stocked and everything back at camp running efficiently. I kicked the score up a bit more because of that – balancing your micro-economy and knowing what you and your Exploration Teams need to seek is paramount for your oasis and its citizens to succeed and continue to make money.
I’ve only played a few games that let you recreate a town. For years I’ve wished for another game like Dark Cloud, which lets you recreate entire villages to alter the future. What Ever Oasis does is somewhat similar, but mostly different from that concept, and for that I owe it a high score for being unique. Yes, there are games where you farm, swing a sword at enemies, and build up a town. But Grezzo combines them all in a way that makes Ever Oasis a charming IP from top to bottom.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
Look, I don’t often spend hours playing games I don’t love, and Ever Oasis is no exception. I believe this game will end up being a hidden gem of the system, one that would be labeled a “system seller” if it wasn’t released so late into the 3DS lifecycle. I find it strange that it hasn’t been mentioned too much on the corners of the Internet that I frequent. It’s made from a proven recipe of success by a developer with a glowing track record, and I think everyone needs to give it a shot.
It stole my heart, and if you love going on fun adventures, give it a chance – I’m sure you’ll feel the same way about Ever Oasis!
Aggregated Score: 8.1
The Over-Caffeinated Nostalgia Mage (aka Geddy) is the president and CEO of nostalgiatrigger.com, a blog that reflects on video games of the distant past, as well as handheld game reviews and opinion pieces.
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