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When I reviewed the first 15 hours of Ever Oasis last week, I was delighted with the game’s charm but a bit bored with the combat and low level of customization. Though it takes a while to pick up the pace, Ever Oasis eventually proves itself as an absorbing labor of love.
This desert adventure attempts to combine town-building aspects of Animal Crossing, RPG elements of Fantasy Life, and dungeon puzzling similar to The Legend of Zelda titles. While none of these concepts are expansive enough to sell Ever Oasis on its own, the combination of the three grows more fun and engrossing the more work you put in.
Like I said, it took about 15 hours before I started to really enjoy the rhythm of the game, but I did a fair amount of side-questing. If you beelined through the main story, you could get to the meat of Ever Oasis much faster than me.
About half your time in-game is spent developing your town-like area called an Oasis. It’s one of the few places of refuge from the evil Chaos that’s taken over the desert, and as Chief, it’s your job to attract as many residents and merchants as possible. Your water spirit companion Esna aims to expand the Oasis throughout the desert to push Chaos out for good.
The first several hours spent working on your Oasis are a bit of a drag. There isn’t any customization beyond placing shops — called Bloom Booths — on a grid and planting a few seeds in a garden. As your Oasis levels up, you start to see more greenery, better gardening options, larger expanses for shop placements, custom roads, and stone monuments. It takes a while to get really excited about your town, but I promise you get there.
As you build more Bloom Booths and attract more travelers to your Oasis, more features become available to you. While you have to enter each shop individually to restock their wares at the beginning, you soon have access to a worker who can stock the Bloom Booths in bulk. Other handy options you unlock over time include more fast travel locations, an automated gardener, exploration parties that bring back loot from the desert, and achievements that reward you with items.
I mentioned this in my first Ever Oasis review, but it remains true throughout the game: I love the daily activities that go into managing the Oasis. Town management isn’t as involved as a game like Animal Crossing, but once you expand your Oasis to unlock more roads and tools, it’s easy to spend days in-game bouncing around town checking on everything. It’s so fun to wake up, check in with your gardener for new plants, collect money from the Bloom Booths, go to the restocker to give supplies to shop owners, send out an exploration team, meet new travelers, find rare items on the roads, craft new recipes, and trade with the merchant.
You can never customize your town quite as much as you’d like, but it’s still incredibly enjoyable to see the fruits of your labor in a more lush Oasis, better Bloom Booths, and expanded features.
The other half of your time in Ever Oasis is spent exploring the expansive map and its many caves. Like I said in my original review, the combat isn’t great. Though there are many different types of beasties to fight, most of them have similar patterns of 1. Getting ready to charge, 2. Charging, and 3. Close-range attacks. You quickly pick up on the patterns and can easily step out of the way when an enemy is about to charge. Bosses have more complex attack strategies, but you’re 20 hours in before you face a real challenge.
You can always have two other characters exploring the desert with you, and you can switch between the three party members at any time for combat, puzzle-solving, and foraging. Another reason to attract more residents to your Oasis are their abilities. Once travelers become residents, they can join you on adventures and use abilities to unlock new areas, find hidden items, or complete parts of a puzzle.
Specific tasks require specific abilities, which often go beyond those in your party at the time. You can fast travel to the Oasis to switch out party members at any time, but the way the caves are laid out, it’d be more fun and productive to implement a skill tree for characters to have a few abilities at once. When taking on some of the more involved puzzles, I found myself fast traveling every few minutes because I needed a different ability. The party system is interesting, but god it can be tiresome.
As you trek through the desert with your party, you’ll discover many unique caves, dungeons, and settlements. The visuals of all these locations are stunning, and they’re pretty enjoyable to explore. I found myself scratching my head a few times when trying to get to the next area, but between the interactive cave features — switches, bridges, breakable walls, etc. — and helpful map points, I never got too frustrated.
I’m talking about the story last because its the least enticing aspect of Ever Oasis. The conflict with Chaos is established at the very beginning; it’s making animals into monsters, threatening desert dwellers, and occasionally creeping into your Oasis. The basic good-vs-evil narrative stays steady throughout the game and is never really expanded on, with the exception of a few glimpses into the world’s history.
Even though it isn’t a sweeping narrative, the theme of the game is genuinely heartwarming. You’re constantly focusing on providing a safe, flourishing residence for other beings, as well as saving all those affected by the corrupt Chaos. You don’t actually kill many enemies at all. Once a monster’s HP bar reaches zero, you see a smaller version of the animal scamper off, showing its return to its good nature. Bosses are the big exception, but a lot of them are plants anyways.
Ever Oasis could use a richer story, deeper customization, and more involved combat, but this colorful RPG still provides players with a rich, multifaceted experience. It just takes a dozen or so hours to get there.