The seedling Tethu’s once-flourishing home has just been wiped out and his chieftain brother slain by the embodiment of Chaos, a creature responsible for the world’s steady desertification. Nonetheless, and in one of many bizarre tonal shifts, Ever Oasis spends the majority of its first half focusing on the exaggeratedly cheerful suggestions of Tethu’s water-spirit ally, Esna. “Let’s go on an oasis adventure together!” she shouts, and by which the game apparently means, “Let’s plunge into an onerous, ill-explained town-building simulation!” Games like Suikoden embedded the recruitment of characters into its army-building war narrative and classics like Soul Blazer made them an organic part of its mix of dungeon-crawling and puzzle-solving. Ever Oasis uses this mechanic to pad out a tremendously slight (and trite) story that to a large degree revolves around revitalizing your oasis home by coaxing characters into visiting and setting up shop there.
As a result of Ever Oasis’s distracted focus, there’s a lack of impetus and a general lack of accomplishment behind each task on your literal “To Do” list. Each of the game’s main areas is a generic wasteland in which to slog across: a desert, a canyon, the scarred outskirts of an inexplicably resilient forest—and most early-game direction involves exploring two-to-three-room caves and ruins in search of harvestable resources. Along the way, you encounter citizens who ask you to complete banal fetch-quests before permanently joining you. These individuals can then be tasked with going on item-gathering expeditions or to usefully grow new items in your oasis’s garden. All this new labor doesn’t actually make the game any less of a chore, so much as it indicates just how much more there is to manage as your oasis town grows.
All the work that goes into building up your community makes sense in the light of it being a final rallying point against the encroaching darkness of Chaos. And yet, water-deprived settlements stubbornly choose to isolate themselves from your abundant oasis, and, most cruel and capitalistically, your citizens go about tending shops, called Bloom Booths, that sell vital foods and clothes, taking advantage of visitors who are very much in need of supplies. (For some reason, novelty items like pinwheels and balls are also highly in demand.) The soullessness of your vendors is even more obvious given that their shallow personalities revolve entirely around selling goods; each Bloom Booth’s owner has a three-part story that can be unlocked through the selling and restocking of their wares, and the only reason to bother with all that light and unmemorable fluff is that the conclusion to each tale might yield a useful armor-granting accessory.
For some players, the cuteness of the character models and the colorful storefronts might genuinely be enough to excuse the shallowness of the oasis-management simulation. There’s an admittedly satisfying feedback loop created from using the dewadems earned from stores to build additional frills and enhancements, or to organize massive festivals that drive sales through the roof. But Ever Oasis isn’t really about selling things, and once it establishes a clear villain, it’s certainly not about cheerful citizens; in fact, it becomes hard to tell what story the game wants to tell.
Ever Oasis fares best when it escapes the repetitious environs of your oasis, and delves into its all-too-rare puzzle-filled dungeons. It’s here, finally out from behind a counter, that the characters get a bit of freedom and come into their own, making use of their rock-breaking hammers and switch-pulling spears to overcome obstacles and their beetle-staggering bolas or bird-sniping bows to target enemy weaknesses. Special powers, like the Pellet (redolent of Metroid’s Morph Ball) or Paraflower (a floral propeller), must be used in interesting combinations to get past some of the trickier rooms.
Even here, though, the game’s construction gets in the way, as enemy types keep changing, as do the types of obstacles, meaning that one’s adventure is constantly put on hold while Tethu warps back to the oasis to swap out party members. The only sort of pure dungeon-diving comes from the optional, randomized “desert labyrinths” that can be accessed by collecting hidden hieroglyphic tiles, but that’s only because there are no puzzles (or story) in these areas. Emphasizing the combat turns out to be a mistake, because it shows just how repetitive encounters—including boss fights—really are.
None of the components of Ever Oasis ever fully coalesce into satisfying whole. At best, they offer a mirage of fun, one that quickly fades each time you have to laboriously reassign a worker from a Bloom Booth to your oasis garden, or you have to backtrack once again through the same dull crevasse to find an ingredient or an overlooked companion. Menus must constantly be opened and consulted in order to track down the constantly shifting residents with side-quests, or to remember where a specific shop was placed within the oasis, and if players want to delve into the superfluous item synthesis, there’s even more research to be done when it comes to tracking down the merchants who will trade the rarest of resources. If there’s any overlap to be found between the game’s plot and the management gameplay, it’s in how badly chaos seeps into the best intentions of both.