Arcana of Paradise – The Tower Review – Descent into mystery

Reviewed April 20, 2023 on PC

Platforms:

PC, Nintendo Switch

Released:

April 20, 2023

Publisher:

SHUEISHA GAMES

Developer:

Tasto Alpha

Arcana of Paradise – The Tower is a roguelike deckbuilder, where you must guide a small community of children down a mysterious tower to the paradise that lies at the bottom. With a delightful art style and soundtrack and some innovative twists on a familiar gameplay concept, the game unfortunately falls into a repetitive loop too soon despite its strengths, and could have done more with its premise.

The game takes place at the top of an enormous 13-story tower, where two amnesiac children must venture down to the tower’s base to the surface, where Paradise allegedly awaits. You do not play as the children directly, but are instead embodying a mysterious incorporeal entity who merely guides the children along their way. As the children descend the tower, they must rescue other trapped children to add to their commune on the top floor and recover more bread, which is both used for food and as offerings to obtain permanent buffs. If you run out of food, it’s game over, so each run is as much about replenishing your bread reserves as it is about progressing further into the tower.

“Despite the somewhat intriguing premise, Arcana of Paradise – The Tower does very little with its setup.”

Despite the somewhat intriguing premise, Arcana of Paradise – The Tower does very little with its setup. One might think the question of why¬†these children woke up in a strange tower, how they know that Paradise exists at the base of the tower, or the nature of exactly who you are technically playing as, would form part of some sort of mystery plot that unveils itself as the game progresses, but that isn’t really the case.

It’s not that incorporating a more fleshed-out plot would necessarily improve the game substantially; indeed, many acclaimed roguelikes, such as Slay the Spire, are quite light on narrative content. However, the fact that it includes many ideas that feel like they should be expanded upon, but aren’t, is somewhat disappointing.

Fortunately, Arcana of Paradise – The Tower innovates a bit more on the gameplay side of things. After assembling your team of two children, you then descend the tower, encountering enemies and traps. Unlike many of Arcana of Paradise’s deckbuilder contemporaries, combat is in real-time, with enemies continuing to attack your party while you decide which card to play. Choosing when to play a card can be as important as which to play, as timing a defence card right as your foe is about to land an attack can stun your opponent for a time.

It’s a clever design choice that keeps the pacing up, adding a great amount of tension as you frantically redraw your hand time after time in search of a healing item to play before your characters expire. Passive buffs and debuffs can be encountered in your travels, which may provide passive healing after each encounter, or drastically reduce the amount of time you have to play a card before your hand is redrawn at random. Each card also has two orientations and may have different effects depending on if it is played right-side up, or upside down.

In addition to enemies, there are also non-combat encounters, which can range from an old man who wants to cook his meal, strange chests, and an eccentric shopkeeper. Your deck also comes into play here too, with the player called to play the correct card to respond to the situation. The intended solution to each puzzle is usually pretty straightforward, although there are a surprising number of divergent outcomes which can result from playing an unconventional card. For instance, try and sell the shopkeeper trash instead of cash or bread. What’s the worst that could happen?

Your child army, for want of a better term, also evolves as the game progresses, with randomly generated skills that can be re-rolled with offerings of bread. Bread can also be used to permanently increase their hitpoints and purchase new amenities for your commune. There are 20 children to choose from in the game, but you will only encounter up to 10 of them in a playthrough. The children can be one of three classes; the Swordsman, which is a tanky class focused on chaining physical attacks, the Mage, a more squishy class that can cast powerful spells, and the Diviner, a kind of complicated class that can debuff foes by chaining together hand seal attacks in a particular order.

Where Arcana of Paradise falls down on the gameplay is variety, or a lack thereof, in its encounters. It is not very long before you have seen fundamentally everything the game has to offer in terms of hazards. The small variety of enemies and bosses means that even during individual runs, you will likely fight multiple instances of the same boss encounter before you arrive at the end. New cards are made available as you gain Tower experience to unlock permanent upgrades across runs, but that doesn’t prevent the experience overall from feeling very familiar once you have explored the tower often enough. Your ultimate goal is for your whole commune to reach Paradise, however as you can only take two children per expedition, you need to descend all 13 floors a minimum of five times to fully complete the game, which really feels like padding after a while.

Fortunately, the game’s presentation makes the experience enjoyable despite these issues. From the pleasing choral theme in the commune to the jaunty and mysterious tracks which play during the encounters in the tower, Arcana of Paradise’s soundtrack has personality to spare. In addition, the painterly art style is gorgeous, with its environments and bosses lovingly detailed. One touch I particularly appreciated was the ability to unlock cards of the game’s characters for your collection, allowing players to review the designs in detail from the pause menu.

6.5

Decent

Positive:

  • Fast-paced real-time combat is a great twist on a familiar deckbuilder genre
  • Card-based puzzle solutions offer reward experimentation
  • Gorgeous art direction and soundtrack

Negative:

  • Underexplored setting and concept
  • Lack of encounter variety causes experience to feel repetitive before long

Arcana of Paradise – The Tower is a decent addition to any roguelike deckbuilder fan’s library. With its real-time gameplay adding tension to what is generally a slower, more tactical affair, it’s a refreshing twist on the formula. The inventive combination of card-based gameplay and puzzles also incentivises experimentation in an interesting way. Unfortunately, despite its gameplay strengths and gorgeous presentation, the shallow setting and lack of sufficient encounter variety cause the experience to become repetitive after only a few hours.