If you’re into mobile gaming, especially mobile gacha games, you’ve probably heard a lot of buzz around Tower of Fantasy. Touted by some as a possible “Genshin Killer," this MMORPG recently entered into its Closed Beta Test (CBT) and this author was lucky enough to get in.
As an eternal skeptic of free-to-play titles, I went into Tower of Fantasy's CBT with no small amount of apprehension; ready to be let down at any moment by predatory monetization mixed with sub-par, phoned-in gameplay. However, it seems that my trepidation may not be entirely founded, as Tower of Fantasy is proving to be more addictive and fun than I first thought.
It’s been a little over a week since the CBT went live and here are some of my first impressions based on what I’ve seen, heard, and played so far.
Tower of Fantasy’s setting and story are as bonkers as you would hope an open-world sci-fi anime RPG would be. The short version is that dwindling resources forced humanity to emigrate from Earth to the planet Aida, where our story takes place. Once on Aida, comet Mara was discovered and found to be a source of a powerful resource called Omnium. In an effort to harness this resource, the Omnium Tower was built.
Things went awry, as they are wont to do, and the tower wound up leaking massive amounts of radiation, causing the Omnium Plague. A huge chunk of the human population on Aida was wiped out and the remaining survivors now need to wear devices called Suppressors, lest their DNA fall prey to corruption, transforming them into Aberrants; violently mutated shells of their former selves.
You, the Wanderer, get dropped right into the action as you attempt to escape an aberrated pack of beasts. Who you are and what you’re doing in this dangerous situation aren’t explained yet and things only get weirder as you fall in battle, only to hear some mysterious figures observing and talking about you.
You later awaken in Astra Shelter with your memories wiped clean. From there, the story centers on the developing drama between siblings Shirli and Zeke, the aberration, the Tower, and how you and the siblings factor into the grandiose plans of the warring factions around you.
The on-screen virtual controls are in line with what you expect from any other modern mobile game; there’s a virtual D-pad on the left and a bevy of action buttons on the right.
The controls are highly responsive and user-friendly enough for beginners, but I’ve found with progression that the setup starts to get quite crowded on the right-hand side once your combat kit starts to come together. You can equip three weapons at a time, each of which gets their own dedicated button, and you’re meant to cycle through them during combat to trigger devastating attacks.
On top of that you have separate buttons for dodge, jump, special attack, and even a few extra items like your jetpack and missile launcher. Since dragging the negative space on the right screen also controls the camera, this has led to more than a few missed inputs and/or inconvenient camera angles during battles. This is definitely a game that you’re going to want to pair with a Bluetooth controller, especially if you’re settling into longer play sessions like I am.
I had very low to no expectations going into Tower of Fantasy as far as the combat was concerned and I’m happy to report that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the experience. It’s your typical hack-n-slash with extra flare by means of the different weapons you can equip, plus a super-fun feature called Phantasia.
During combat, each hit you land with your main weapon charges up a special attack with the other two. If you then swap over to a fully charged sub-weapon it unleashes a powerful attack that can turn the tide of almost any encounter. The trick is, these charges take time to build up and once you’ve used one, you have to build back up to another with more manual hits… unless you’re able to pull off a perfect dodge.
If you dodge out of the way of an incoming enemy attack at exactly the right time, you’ll trigger a brief period of slowed time, Phantasia, that also instantly gives you another full charge on your two alternate weapons, allowing you to swap over and land another critical blow. It feels awesome when you nail the timing and serves as a great means of crowd control when you’ve got a horde of baddies knocking at your door.
There are definitely some rough areas that need to be ironed out with Tower of Fantasy. Playing on my OnePlus 9 running Android 12, I’ve run into some performance issues during crowded combat and cutscenes. It’s a shame, because the cutscenes are fun, flashy, and gorgeous, but the frame drops make them difficult to appreciate.
I was also unable to successfully pair a PS4 controller with the game. It did technically pair, but not in any form or fashion that would support actually playing the game. In fairness, I haven't tried every Bluetooth controller out there, so if any other beta testers find a setup that actually works, please let me know.
One of the the more jarring issues is that the translation is still a work-in-progress. As of right now, your player character and only a handful of NPCs have full voice acting. This makes the many cutscenes and character dialogues fascinatingly weird. Everyone has subtitles, but when just one character in a conversation is giving impassioned responses to dire circumstances, it makes the entire conversation land like a wet fish flopping around on a dock.
There are also a few extra fancy cutscenes that still don’t have English voice acting or subtitles, so I was only able to pick up some of the bigger story beats through context clues. Finally, I’ve run into a few instances where dialogue boxes are displaying text that runs right off the screen, or that linger too long, or that end abruptly before I’ve finished reading them.
I've also noticed that the camera is out of focus when zooming in on some characters during dialogue, but it's unclear to me if this is intentional or not.
I have no doubt that most of these issues will be fixed in the final version, but I’m still putting a pin to check back on them later down the line.
Not Just a Genshin Clone
Despite how the hype makes it seem, Tower of Fantasy isn’t just a shameless cash-grab Genshin clone. The comparison isn’t completely unwarranted though. Tower of Fantasy’s aesthetic, its world, its character models, its gacha mechanics, and — at face value — its hack-n-slash combat could all be seen as eerily evocative of Genshin Impact.
However, Tower of Fantasy has a few aces hidden up its sleeves, particularly when it comes to the gacha mechanics. Rather than recruit characters to fight as part of your team like in Genshin, Tower of Fantasy has you playing as yourself, the Wanderer, the entire time.
At the start, you get to choose to either play as female or male and shortly thereafter you get the chance to customize your character. Character creation is robust and a ton of fun, allowing you a solid degree of control over your hairstyle, face shape, features, outfit, coloring, etc.
Once your perfect character is ready for the world, you’ll obviously need an armory of awesome weapons to propel them to victory, which is where gacha enters stage right. Tower of Fantasy uses banners called Simulacra, which are described by the game as the bodies and personalities of ancient heroes preserved as AI. When you roll up a high-ranking Simulacra, you have the option to essentially wear that entire character as a costume, including their look, weapons, and abilities, or to turn off the aesthetic features and just use their weapons/abilities.
It’s a great way to choose how you want to play. You might equip a legendary bow user as your main Simulacra, but equip a sword and spear from other Simulacra (or stand-alone weapon rolls) as your additional weapons, thereby creating an experience all your own.
What’s more, drop rates on banners are more forgiving than those in Genshin, meaning casual players are more likely to have a chance at landing a high SSR Simulacra. You’re guaranteed to land an SSR (highest rank) at least every 80 pulls and pulling an SSR by sheer luck doesn’t reset your progress toward that guaranteed SSR after 80 pulls.
Plus, you can find in-game currency for Simulacra packs, called dark nuclei, just laying around the map if you explore enough, so there’s plenty of incentive for players to spend time in the game, complete side missions, and explore the world.
Even with its current quirks, glitches, and performance issues, I’m still having a good time. Another massive consideration to keep in mind is that Tower of Fantasy is intended to be an MMORPG. Genshin Impact has online multiplayer, sure, but Tower of Fantasy is clearly building a true massively multiplayer online experience by encouraging players to join Crews (guilds, more or less), help out others with quests, and play with friends and strangers alike for a social gaming experience.
In short, I would encourage skeptical gamers to at least give Tower of Fantasy a try (when it eventually releases to the public) before writing it off as a Genshin clone. I consider myself to be painfully cynical when it comes to gacha games, but Tower of Fantasy is slowly winning me over the more I play and I wouldn’t be surprised if other folks have similar tales to mine.
The full game is slated for release sometime in 2022, but there’s no firm release date as of this article's writing. We’ll be watching development closely and providing updates as Tower of Fantasy sprints towards full release.
A lifelong gamer, Mogan has had a controller in hand since the PlayStation 1 ruled the world and Neopets seemed eternal. She loves to play new and old games alike, especially if it's something weird and charming. Puzzlers, JRPGs, adventure, and rhythm games are her favorites.
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