The RPG has had quite a good showing on the iPhone as of late. Gameloft’s solid Diablo-esque Dungeon Hunter has lead the genre in app store sales since its release in September while older dungeon crawlers like Underworlds and Zenonia and are still enjoying heathy revenues. These successes prove that well crafted RPGs are a much desired commodity for the adventuring iPhone gamer. So when Chillingo and Crescent Moon Games released screenshots of an upcoming open world RPG a few months ago, RPG fans like myself went into geek mode. After a few delays, the wait is now over.
The much-hyped Ravensword: The Fallen King seems poised to take the app store by storm. Unlike most of the RPGs available in the app store, this game boasts a fully rendered 3-D environment in the vein of the Elder Scrolls series. Although the story is shorter than a console equivalent, the experience doesn’t feel small. Players take on the role of a critically wounded mystery man who is brought back from the brink of death by some friendly villagers. Amnesic, penniless, and unarmed, players must build up this character as he slowly discovers the source of the evil that is taking over the land. While the game could use some tweaking, it does deliver an experience that far exceeds anything else available on the iPhone.
Visuals: The graphics are certainly some of the best to come the iPhone’s way thus far. Beautifully rendered forests and towns have more detail then one would first expect. The scenery is simply gorgeous, landing closer to Oblivion than Morrowind. Also, the team at Crescent Moon Games was smart enough to include an on/off switch for shadows and foliage; this allows gamers with older phones to join in on the fun. Any iPhone as old as version 2.1.1 can play the game.
Open World: One the biggest advancements in the RPG genre over the last few years is the developers’ decision to allow players to get lost in a series of forests, towns, and mountainsides without so much a care in the world. These wanderings sometimes lead to sidetrack adventures or mini-quests that ultimately don’t have any bearing on the overall story, but having the ability to freely roam a virtual environment in search of these little nuggets adds a sense of authenticity and character to the otherwise straight forward RGP. Most developers don’t take the time to build a true sandbox game where pioneering the countryside is just as much fun as hacking and slashing your way through a dungeon. For the most part, Ravensword gets this right. Even though its map is smaller in scale than some recent console RPG epics, Crescent Moon has nailed the aimless seeker vibe perfectly.
Controls: Like many first-person shooters, a virtual D-pad controls a character’s movement while a swipe across the screen guides his attention in any given direction. Touching a friendly character allows players to engage in conversation while touching an unfriendly character targets them for an attack. Although strafing left or right seems a bit slow, this interface works well. One suggestion for an update: since weight of a player’s inventory doesn’t seem to be a problem, an auto pick-up of loot from vanquish foes would be nice.
Audio: The orchestral music harkens back to the scores of Braveheart and Lord of the Rings. What could be better than that? While there are no voice-overs for characters’ voices, the ambient sound effects of birds in the trees and sheep baaing add just the right amount of texture to the world.
Character Progression: As the character gains experience, he also levels up. When this happen, there are no customization options. Many consider this a drawback, but some will consider this an advantage. Most of the time, character customization in an RPG amounts to little more than a false front; no matter what skill tree or attribute a player chooses to advance at each level, by the end of the story, they all equal out anyway. So, why put up the facade? (Note: The Zelda series has never bothered with customization, and they’ve done very well over the years; Link advances by getting an additional heart at the end of each dungeon and that’s it.) Skipping this feature entirely is actually a relief that allows players to experience the world and the story instead of their avatar.
Fighting: While the battle system is never confusing, it could use some tweaking. Even though most battles are determined more by a character’s level than a player’s skill, melee is cumbersome. The touch targeting system helps, but a HUD sensing system would be nice addition, especially when the player encounters beasties at his feet.
First Person Perspective: The biggest annoyance is the first-person perspective option. It only stays activated through one load screen; this means if a gamer prefers playing with this perspective, he must constantly choose the magnifying glass when he enters or leaves buildings or comes into a new area.
Make no mistake: Ravensword: The Fallen King is more than solid; it is excellent. The drawbacks mentioned above don’t pull too much away from the experience. While casual gamers will enjoy the graphical leap the iPhone has made with this game, RPG fans will relish in the experience and beg for more. Not only is Ravensword a new high-mark for the iPhone, it is also the best handheld game I’ve ever seen.
Ravensword: The Fallen King was produced by Crescent Moon Games and published by Chillingo. It is currently available for $6.99; the game’s 1.0 version was reviewed on an iPod Touch 2G equipped with OS 3.1.1.