When news of a new RPG by Square Enix broke, both speculation and expectations ran rampant. Hot off the releases of ports of perennial favorites Final Fantasy I and II, the fact that Chaos Rings would be a totally new game made specifically for the iPod Touch and iPhone, anticipation was great and the countdown began. Many times when there is such a high level of hype the game disappoints. But in this case, the game exceeds pre-game conjecture.
So what are my space limitations here because I could go on and on with how impressed I am with this game. Or I could sum it up in three words: just get it.
But in all seriousness, this title comes through and brings a quality J-RPG to the platform. It seems like no stone went unturned in the development of Chaos Rings. Everything was geared toward the unique aspects of the device, right down to the battery indicator on the status screen. So many different successful titles can be seen as inspiration for this new game and they range anywhere from Chrono Cross to Kingdom Hearts. Presented in a portable package, the game delivers from the get go.
The story starts off rather mysteriously as you are paired up with a partner that supposedly has some connection to you. At first you have two teams to choose from and each pair will bring you through a different story line. As you progress through the game you see that several other choices will be made available to you. None of the competitors know just what the Arka Arena ultimately has in store for them and each team will gain strength, poise, and maturity while battling through the different worlds that open up to you while chasing each of four Chaos Rings. Of course the leveling up and ability to upgrade weapons, armor, and items doesn’t hurt either. But the story is engaging and entertaining as it unfolds throughout the game; very gripping, but simple to follow at the same time, the story does not detract from the game play at all.
Intermixed between fighting monsters that range from fantastical to rather humorous (Gorgonzola always gets me to smile and in no way intimidates me) are puzzle rooms. These puzzle rooms must be cleared in order to progress to the next area. Collecting gems, sliding boxes, a “lights out” type are among those that you will find yourself scratching your head over.
The game is definitely geared to a wide audience of gamers with its structure of dungeons. Before you enter each dungeon you can choose what levels the enemies you are facing will be. Of course, ease of battle comes at the sacrifice of rare items and lower experience gained. Also, key to becoming a stronger warrior is learning key skills from the enemy monsters known in the game as genes. The higher level monsters allow your characters to absorb better skills and these genes can be crucial for your success. How you choose your dungeons and how you equip your genes will affect the ease at which you follow through the game. But bottom line, no matter where you fall on the RPG experience chart, the ability to choose the level of your enemies makes the game approachable to a wide audience.
Battle System: Turn based fighting is perfect since the situations in which a portable game will be played, interruptions are inevitable. Turn based battles allow your hero to wait a moment while you talk to a friend, check the upcoming bus stop, or even unload your shopping cart while waiting in line at the store.
Moreover you can choose to attack your enemies individually or together. While attacking together delivers twice the punch so to speak, it also allows your enemies to attack your team as one. Strategy is definitely involved as there are situations that require a pair attack, or a different situation where it is prudent to attack individually. Each battle will have you thinking about what is the better method and in fact you must think 2 or 3 turns in advance to avoid death by using either healing items or healing magic.
The skills that you pick up from your enemies can also be used to your advantage as you are allowed to assign elemental traits to your enemies making them weak and vulnerable to an attack of a different element. For instance assign the gale element to your enemy and attack them with the fire based elemental attack cremate for heavy damage.
And finally, after you earn the ability to turn off random encounters from an enemy, you can choose not to have random battles hinder your progress. While I prefer to naturally level up so upon reaching a boss I am at a suitable level to beat them, as well as earning the monetary unit to increase your weapons and armor, or even the rare dropped items and don’t forget the skills that you can learn, this feature comes in very handy when searching for the passage to the next area in either the indoor or outdoor environments unencumbered by the battles that await you. When you find the next area you can turn the battles back on to continue your growth.
Controls: This is no button masher. Battle commands have nice clean menus from which to choose your action. Movement through the dungeons is done via an analog stick that pops up where ever you touch the screen. The analog stick hot zone is very wide and I have found it quite easy to use and have never made a wrong move with it. I have also used it on both the left and right sides of the screen, in the middle or even on the top or bottom depending on where was comfortable for me at the moment. This is a very nice and top notch control system that trumps any of the customizable joysticks I have used in other games.
Access to the maps, manual save (the game saves automatically when you hit the home button but its very easy to save periodically, especially before entering a boss battle), random encounter button and your status button (in this game called “camp”) is quite easy as well.
Graphics: What is very nice is that Square Enix did not try to outdo the capability of the device and stuck with a combination of 2D and 3D environments. Depending on the area where you find yourself there might be 2D or 3D graphics. Characters are always 3D, as are enemies in battles. Death scenes of enemies are especially pleasing as each monster seems to fall in slow motion, accentuating the victory.
Replayability: With many worlds to explore, 4 different storylines to unravel, genes to collect and more, Chaos Rings has hours of play time at the waiting. When you finish each playthrough and the “To Be Continued” screen comes on, that is a big hint there is more to come. When you finish, save and reload then walk to the doors in the Arena and see what awaits. Is it the end? Or might there even be more?
Customization of character: The one gripe that I have would be to have the character appearance change when equipping new weapons and armor. I am a sucker for that sort of thing that, while not necessary, shows a certain level of polish.
Ultimately, Chaos Rings does not reinvent the wheel in the RPG genre, but what it does do is take pieces of successful J-RPG’s and pulls them together to fit the platform rather than forcing a square peg of a port into the round hole of the device. The story line is engrossing and emotional with surprising twists awaiting. The battles are always fun and challenging and with the choice of the level of dungeon you can enter makes it cordial and fun for all RPG players. The introduction of such a big title exclusively on the App Store shows Square Enix’s commitment to the platform and its success will show the developers a market hungry for quality original RPG titles. I hope that Square Enix will provide us with more great titles such as Chaos Rings.
I wholeheartedly recommend this title to everyone as there is definitely something for the new RPG player as well as the seasoned veteran. With the care and consideration that this game obviously had during development, it is for sure a must buy that shows off the capabilities of the platform. Do not let the price tag sway you, as this is for sure a bargain compared to the offerings of other platforms.