Towards The Pantheon is a quirky, unique and vibrant SNES-era inspired turn-based RPG that successfully manages to feel like the RPGs of yesteryear, while at the same time managing to implement its own particular style. Towards The Pantheon makes it obvious from the offset that this isn’t your stereotypical RPG world. While many aspects of the game do follow the norms of the RPG genre, such as the friendship-focused, triumph over evil narrative, plenty do not. Elixirs and potions are replaced by Coffees, Green Tea and Sushi, characters travel the world via giant hamsters, and the game even shifts momentarily from adventure to pseudo-survival horror. Towards The Pantheon is undoubtedly outlandish, but alongside its enjoyably goofy world, the journey manages to provide plenty of positives, albeit with the occasional hiccup.
Cat in a minecart, need I say more?
The narrative initially centres on Frejya, a female warrior of the human-populated Keltoi Village. As the strongest warrior in Keltoi she has been tasked with leaving her home and embarking on a journey to take down The Sworn Light, a mysterious cult that have begun causing trouble around the land. The civil unrest surrounding The Sworn Light is apparent; food supplies are diminishing due to the unreasonable demands of The Sworn Light, races have been separated from each other, leading to xenophobia and racism, and people are helpless to fight back. Frejya sets off on her quest towards the Pantheon, finding friends along the way, each of a different race, who quickly bond and join forces to fight the enemy so determined to keep them apart.
The overarching narrative of Towards the Pantheon is brilliant, and the same can be said regarding its cast of characters. Upon saving the game in the save tents strewn throughout the overworld, you are often rewarded with a campfire cutscene. Each campsite cutscene shows the party members you’ve accrued so far relaxing by the fire, exchanging dialogue with one another. In these short segments, you get to know the characters, whether it be what drives them to take down The Sworn Light, or what issues they are currently facing mentally. These moments were arguably my favourite of the game, offering short and often emotional character moments that had me invested in each of the four main characters.
The campfire cutscenes are a beauty to behold
Not everything Towards The Pantheon offers with its story is brilliant however. Notes are strewn throughout the world in an attempt to pad out the story, and despite myself being interested to learn more of the world, they weren’t at all compelling and were overall uninteresting. The poor ending of the story was also a sour note, leaving me particularly upset that some aspects of the narrative felt unanswered. But while the story overall isn’t stellar, the relationships I formed with the characters left me impressed, and when the narrative drew to a close, I was sad to see them go.
As Freyja and friends make their way towards the Pantheon they will have to battle with an array of enemies. When roaming through the overworld, you’ll be greeted by a bunch of sword and shield icons, that pop up and litter the environment. Interacting with these will result in combat, leading to battles you’d expect from a turn-based RPG. Each character has their own distinct battle stats and mechanics however, which spices up the turn-based strategy somewhat. For example, Phenez the Ghost uses Necro Points (NP), which acts as both his attack bar and health bar, while Frejya as a human has the stereotypical RPG setup of Health Points and Special Points, where the special points are used for attacks. The difference in how each character plays is a novel concept ends up being be rather interesting. Battles are particularly fast paced and are accompanied by a nostalgia-evoking soundtrack that continues to impress outside of battles in the overworld. The combat on display in Towards The Pantheon doesn’t reinvent the nature of turn-based battles, but the difference in how each character plays leads to more than just spamming attack after attack until the enemies fall.
Nothing beats a battle in the sewers
Despite the turn-based battles being enjoyable experiences of micromanaging how many special points you can spend to attack each turn, I couldn’t shake the guilt I felt that the game was far too easy. An easy game isn’t a bad thing for everyone, but the lack of challenge overall made me feel like my strategy wasn’t particularly required at times. I never really used any of the items I found along the way, up until the final boss battle at least, which even then was a breeze with the sheer amount of lucrative health items I has accrued by the finale. Although I didn’t often feel challenged by the combat throughout the game’s twelve-hour duration, I did find myself deriving plenty of fun from the combat overall.
One of the biggest issues turn-based RPGs suffer from is the fatigue that can set in from the genre’s battle system. In Towards the Pantheon however, you are constantly rewarded and levelling up at such a rate that you actively seek out battles to continue levelling up and upgrading each character (in my case at least). Each character has a skill point tree, in which you can spend points to upgrade stats and gain new attacks and abilities. I did still find myself bored by the battles on occasion, often when I was about to clear a dungeon and see the next snippet of the narrative play out, but most of the time I was more than happy to battle all those who stood in my path.
Levelling up is addictive and feels particularly rewarding
In between these turn-based battles, you’ll spend the majority of your time traversing through the overworld. Luckily enough, Towards the Pantheon’s overworld is a joy to behold, with a myriad of diverse environments to explore. You’ll journey from places such as the snow-covered and insanely adorable Kitty City, to locales far less pleasant such as a survival horror inspired mansion, and a dreary town inhabited by ghosts. The pixel art on display in the abundance of the aforementioned unique locations scattered throughout the world is magnificent, but the true strength of the overworld lies in how enjoyable it is to explore.
Towards the Pantheon rewards exploration in its overworld. Straying off the beaten path can nab you some cool items that would’ve otherwise easily been missed, such as special combos that can aid you in combat. You can swap between player characters in the overworld, with each character having a unique ability. Frejya for example can climb ladders, while Bam the Cat is able to squeeze in to holes that are inaccessible to other characters. The garnishing of the overworld and dungeons with goodies meant that I was always excitedly trying to find crevices and hidden areas, and the fact that I was more often than not rewarded with an item for my incessant sleuthing is a testament to the solid design of the game’s world. Oh and also, you ride giant hamsters as part of the games fast travel mechanic. It’s glorious.
Kitty City is best city
Sadly, I did encounter some performance issues as I made my way to the Pantheon. I managed to crash the game about 3 or 4 times within the first 2-3 hours of the game, with the lack of an autosave feature leading to about 45 minutes to an 1 hour of gameplay time being lost. It was a little frustrating to experience such crashes as it led to my immersion in the world being shattered a couple times, but developer Connor O.R.T. Linning has been made aware and has begun releasing bug fixes to alleviate the crash issues.
Towards the Pantheon offers itself up as a charming and enjoyable RPG that manages to evoke the nostalgia of RPGs of the past, while being unique and confident in its own design at the same time. The soundtrack is sublime, the characters are lovable, and the gameplay loop of battling enemies and levelling up is particularly rewarding and engaging. Whether you’re nostalgic for the bygone era of RPGs, or you just want to go on a quirky adventure with some humorous characters and eat copious amounts of in-game sushi, you can’t go wrong with Towards The Pantheon.
Reviewed on PC | Review code supplied by publisher