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Caligo Chaser Review: Retreads tired territory, but plays well nonetheless

Caligo Chaser is the latest Action RPG from South Korean developer Com2Us, the same developer who late last year raised the bar for iPhone role-playing games with Chronicles of Inotia: Wanderer of Luone. Sadly, Caligo Chaser falls somewhat short of that bar.

Had it been released in Q1 2009, rather than Q1 2010, Caligo Chaser would likely have been highly praised. But, a year late to the party, the game doesn’t quite hold up. The app store has matured a great deal in the last year, and so too have gamers’ expectations. That said, Caligo Chaser isn’t bad; it just feels dated, and fails to live up to the high precedent Com2Us has already established with their second entry to the Inotia series.

I digress; you are presently reading the second draft of my Caligo Chaser review. The first draft was nearly finished, and just about ready to publish. It was snarky and ripped Caligo Chaser apart, and with good cause. The controls were awful and made the game nearly unplayable. Then Com2Us did something unexpected. They released an update that fixed a great deal that was broken in the 1.0 release –  including the controls — and sent me back to ground zero with my evaluation of the title. Granted, there are things about Caligo Chaser that just cannot be fixed in an update. But the game is much more playable at 1.0.1 than it was before, and I’m much less inclined to lambast the game than I was only days ago.

That said, I still reserve the right to be snarky. Let’s get into it then.

The game centers on the city of Emporion, which acts as your hub throughout the game. It’s where you do your socializing and shopping, and where you receive the quests that propel you out into the world.

Caligo Chaser’s story is textbook RPG and generic as they come. An ancient evil has spent the last 300 years hiding under rocks in the forest, and has finally decided to come out and play. You are Zack, an entry level knight and an awfully nice guy, and so it falls to you to save the world. Standing around Emporion, you will often find more experienced and likely more qualified knights seemingly unoccupied. The only reason I can discern that they are not out saving the world instead of you — a lowly and inexperienced knight fresh into the order — is that they’re not as sharply dressed as you are. Instead, they come and go as necessitated by Caligo Chaser’s flimsy story and occasionally send you on fetch quests.

The quest system is the same quest system I got tired of several Korean RPGs ago, and goes something like this:

You walk up to some guy with a yellow exclamation point floating over his head and he says, “Hey, hey, hey. You have a sword. Go into the forest and kill me some badgers. Five badgers should be enough.”

“Okay,” you say and venture forth into the woods. Sometime later and having killed well over five badgers, you return.

“Hey, hey, hey”, says the guy. “Good job.” You get some EXP and a bottle of funky mushroom juice. A new exclamation point appears over his head. “Hey, hey, hey,” he says. “You still have that sword, yeah? Go into the forest and kill me some white badgers.”

You drop your jaw. “Wha … ?! I already killed a bunch of white badgers when I killed the not-white badgers you asked for before,” you tell him.

“Yeah, but I didn’t ask you to kill the white ones before. Go kill them again,” he says.

And off you go to kill the white badgers. Except in Caligo Chaser they’re not badgers; they’re weasels. And after killing enough weasels, you’ll be sent off to kill some orcs, then green orcs, and then a red orc named Troy. Between slaying weasels and orcs, you will encounter a number of one-dimensional characters who will demand equally pointless tasks of you. Quests seem only to come in two forms in Caligo Chaser, with one greatly resembling the other. Either you get sent off to kill something, or you get sent off to find something; of course, finding that something always entails killing things until one of them drops it, and so all you ever really do is get sent off to kill things.

Outside of Emporion, Caligo Chaser is a brawler with RPG elements. If you’ve played Blade Master, you should feel right at home here. Zach can move up, down, left and right to engage opponents, but cannot move diagonally.

Standard attacks can be strung into combos by repeatedly pressing the action button. Each successful hit builds your combo meter, and you will begin to accumulate damage and critical hit bonuses after 10 consecutive hits — this is not hard to achieve; I’ve had combo strings over 200 hits.

In addition to his sword, Zach can equip gauntlets which are used for charge attacks. By holding down and releasing the charge button, Zack will strike foes with his gauntlet for massive damage. There are three levels of charge, depending on how long you hold before releasing; tapping the button does nothing. The longer you hold, the heavier the damage you inflict, but the more time you give your target to move out of striking range. Wait too long, and the only thing you’ll hit is air.

Rounding out combat are special abilities and items which can be assigned to five quick-slots for use during combat. These are useful, but the buttons are small and can sometimes be hard to activate.

Likes:

Silk suit, black tie: They come running just as fast as they can, coz every girl’s crazy  ‘bout a sharp dressed man … As you equip new armor, pants, swords and gauntlets to Zack, his appearance will change to reflect his gear. It’s important to be well-dressed when you’re a hero, and Caligo Chaser accommodates the fact. Don’t get too excited, though. Most of the changes are merely palette swaps.

Maps: If there’s one thing that Caligo Chaser gets really right, it’s the game’s use of maps. If ever you forget what you were doing or where you need to be, consult your map; it will always tell you where to go next.

In town, characters with quests or who otherwise advance the story appear on your map as orange dots. Shopkeepers are blue dots, and gray dots represent quest people you’ve already talked to. Irrelevant people do not appear on your map.

Outside of Emporion, another map allows you to access the game’s various locations. There are separate maps for regions south, east and west of the city. Areas which are open to you are represented in color, while those unavailable are gray. Areas relevant to active quests are highlighted in red, so you always know where to go. The first time you head for an area, you must first clear all areas between Emporion and your destination. Once you’ve cleared an area, though, you can return there directly from the map, without having to traverse the lands between.

You can always revisit cleared areas to grind for experience points or try for better ratings, but do not otherwise need to return to any area not related to the quest at hand. Caligo Chaser’s excellent implementation of maps helps to alleviate unnecessary backtracking through areas you’ve already visited, something that drove me nuts about Blade Master.

Customization: Caligo Chaser provides you plenty of opportunity to fine-tune your Zack. On level-up, you receive points you can assign to improve your stats, including strength, dexterity, luck, stamina, intellect and spirit — all of which have an important impact on gameplay. You can equip a sword, gauntlet, armor, pants, ring and necklace to improve you combat ability and change your appearance. You can also equip up to five passive skills/enhancements, and assign five special abilities or items to your quick-slots.

Collections: A tab in your inventory keeps track of various books used for collections. Throughout your quest you will fill in entries on monsters you encounter, and combinations of materials used to create new items. You also earn medals for various accomplishments, and ratings for clearing each of the game’s combat locations. Perfectionists will find a lot of replay value in returning to previously cleared areas to improve your ratings.

Music: Caligo Chaser’s music adheres to a rock motif, and while I wouldn’t buy the soundtrack separately, I’ve never wanted to turn off the sound. Quite a nice departure from the majority of South Korean RPGs and their short, tinny BGM loops. The tunes are heavy on guitars, keyboards and drums and work pretty well within the context of the game.

Dislikes:

The Quest System: In a letter addressed to all South Korean RPG makers — including Com2Us, GameVil, MinorAxis and others — I’d like to write, “Dear Developers: Relentless fetch quests are not an adequate substitute for effective storytelling. Please try harder.”

Graphic Quality: I appreciate the large, colorful sprites that make up the game’s inhabitants. Unfortunately, the game’s graphics are soft overall, and seem to be rather low resolution. Additionally, some of the animations are quite poor, such as when Alice runs.

Menus: A little better than the menus in Zenonia, but not as nice as the menus in Inotia 2. Menus are navigated using the d-pad in tandem with Ok and Cancel buttons, and take no advantage of the touch screen. Pretty lame, says I.

Uninspired: Caligo Chaser retreads well-worn territory in every regard. The story and mechanics have all been done before, and many gamers may find themselves tired of the same old stuff. The maps are well implemented, but otherwise the game doesn’t strive to innovate.

Caligo Chaser is an Action RPG that plays by the numbers, but doesn’t count very high. A year ago, Caligo Chaser may have measured up to gamers’ expectations for iPhone games. Released hot on the heels of GDC and it’s many exciting reveals, however, the game just feels dated. If you paid any attention at all to GDC, you know there are some truly impressive titles on the horizon, and good odds you still have titles waiting to be finished in the meantime. Given the circumstances, you would certainly be forgiven if Caligo Chaser fell through the cracks.

If you’re looking for an Action RPG and have already played through the others, though, Caligo Chaser offers a lengthy experience at a reasonable price. I even like it better than a few of the others; I just don’t think it fully lives up to what an iPhone game should be in 2010.

Caligo Chaser ($2.99) is developed by Com2Us and was reviewed at version 1.0.1 on an iPhone 3G.




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