For the majority of the Nintendo Switch’s life thus far, cRPGs have not been synonymous with the hybrid system. That said, with more recent releases the likes of Divinity: Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity, and the Dungeons & Dragons games, the genre is findings its roots on Switch. Enter Tower of Time, a game originally released in 2018 that screams “cRPG” at its core but which has some differentiating factors, the largest of which would be its instanced real-time battle system. Couple that with an intriguing story of a mysterious upside-down tower, and the end result is a mostly enjoyable adventure that is only limited by some technical hiccups and nuances of porting a computer RPG to consoles.
Since new fantasy worlds are a dime a dozen these days (across all media, not just games), it stands to reason that some narratives fall victim to the same rote tropes over time. That’s not to say Tower of Time’s narrative suffers in this way—while it would be a vast oversimplification to say that this is the same old “band of heroes works to save world from destruction,” it’s not an incorrect assessment, but it does do some interesting things with that story. One of these is that the narrative is seen through the lens of the king of the humans (simply referred to as “You,” the player) watching over his champions as they descend the tower, solving environmental puzzles, defeating bands of monsters, and scoring loot along the way. The details of the story unfold through planned cutscenes, party banter, and tomes found throughout the tower, but I never found it intrusive or ever felt like I was stuck reading too much text. One balance Tower of Time recognizes is a fair share of told narrative, combat, and exploration.
Combat is the main area where Tower of Time excels. Unlike other cRPGs in the vein of Baldur’s Gate, where exploration leads you right into found battles, each combat scenario in Tower of Time is strategically placed and, save for ambush encounters, can be spotted from afar, allowing you time to prepare accordingly. Some combat encounters can be avoided entirely, but they often block paths—be it the main path or divergent ones—so most are unavoidable if you’re intent on exploring every last nook and cranny of each of the tower’s levels. Once your party gets too close to an enemy, you’ll get a popup on screen that gives you the details of the types of enemies you’ll come up against, including each enemy’s weaknesses and defenses as well as some flavor text. You then have the option to begin the encounter or withdraw, the latter of which allows you time to either prepare or choose another path, if applicable. The fact the game tells you what you’re coming up against before each battle is a nice addition, and it never felt like my hand was being held too much. Rather than throwing the player to the wolves and hoping for the best, the game affords the player every opportunity to know what they’re up against so they can plan accordingly.
Once in an encounter, you’re transported to an enclosed battlefield based on the surrounding environment, and you can survey the terrain before starting the encounter. Once the battle begins, enemies will begin spawning from various pre-determined locations along the edges of the battlefield. This is where Tower of Time takes is strongest cues from some of the aforementioned cRPGs—you move your characters around, point-and-click style, and command them to attack enemies or use spells and abilities. The control scheme here felt a little disjointed—rather than using the face (A, B, X, Y) buttons for most actions, things such as character and location selection are done using various combinations of the L, ZL, R, and ZR buttons, while A and B both start and stop time as needed. The X and Y buttons are noticeably absent from any control functions in combat at all, which seems an odd choice. This isn’t too much of an issue, but it’s slightly baffling as to why such heavy emphasis is put on the shoulder buttons and triggers more so than the face buttons.
In terms of difficulty, there are several difficulty tiers to choose from, and these can be changed at any time via the game’s settings menu. That said, even on the easier difficulty settings, the most common of battles can prove deadly for your party if you aren’t prepared or if you approach the battle lacking strategy. The few times I did die could easily be chalked up to going in without a plan, but the game makes it easy to retry a battle after you’ve been defeated, and most times simply being more thoughtful about my character placement or ability/spell use turned a loss into a win.
Exploration through the tower itself is fun and interesting, but some technical limitations hold this back slightly. Rather than retooling movement from the ground up to work with a thumbstick, movement is simply remapped from a traditional PC movement scheme. A slight tilt of the left thumbstick will move your character at full speed to a pre-determined distance. There’s no slight-tilt-to-walk, full-tilt-to-run setup here. For nuanced movement, it feels a little disjointed, but covering large areas doesn’t see much of an impact. Interacting with objects, on the other hand, can be tedious. There are gold, loot chests, and other interactive items throughout the tower, often in close proximity to one another. If you simply push the A button to pick up an item, it’ll only work if there is one interactive object in the area. If there are multiple, pressing the A button does nothing. Instead, you have to hold the Y button, which will single out one of the items, and then pressing the A button will pick up that item. It usually works (sometimes, I would have to press the A button multiple times will holding Y before the item would successfully be picked up), but it’s inelegant at best.
In terms of performance on the Switch, the game plays exceptionally well in docked mode, but struggles in handheld mode. While docked, the game seemed to reach 60 frames per second at times, but in handheld, the game had significantly noticeable frame rate drops, likely below 30. The issues I experienced weren’t enough for me to wholeheartedly recommend against the game being played in handheld mode, but if you’re on a Switch Lite or primarily play Switch in handheld mode, keep that in mind.
As cRPGs become more prominent on Switch, Tower of Time strikes while the iron is hot. While it doesn’t quite reach the height the likes of other ports like Baldur’s Gate or Divinity: Original Sin, Event Horizon works with the tools at their disposal to make Tower of Time a solid recommendation for Switch owners who are fans of fantasy cRPGs. A few technical issues attributed to the console port slightly hold the game back from being even better, but if you can look past them, Tower of Time is a safe bet for the “slow” summer release list.
Disclaimer: A review copy of Tower of Time was provided by the game’s publisher.