… But that’s not saying much.
For better or worse, South Korean mobile phone Action RPGs continue to elbow their way into the iPhone marketplace, with NATE Games‘ Itarus being one of the latest arrivals. The game comes packed with genre cliches, and suffers many of its peers’ pitfalls, showing us that NATE Games has learned relatively little from its previous app store outings. Despite being a lousy port of a game that was vanilla to begin with, however, Itarus does manage to get a few things right. And while that’s not enough to vault the game into the highest echelon of app store fame, it does give the game a leg up on many of its rivals.
Before going further, I should inform you that I intend to break format in this review. Rather than the usual section of Likes and Dislikes we tend to use here at NoDpad, I’m just going to lay it out. And here it goes:
Itarus follows the exploits of Ruehl, a small-town boy caring for his sick brother and aspiring to greater things. Upon beginning a new game, players may choose to groom Ruehl as either a warrior or magician. It’s also nice to see Ruehl’s concern for his brother being a motivation for early quests. Itarus certainly isn’t a narrative powerhouse, but the sentiment is sweet and greatly appreciated; definitely an improvement on the intolerable brat that is SEED’s protagonist.
As things progress, Ruehl takes on quests from various NPCs, becomes an adventurer of note, and eventually saves the world or some such thing. Typical. There are 60 main story quests, and 100 side-quests to take on. Along the way, players will gain experience levels and amass equipment, empowering Ruehl to take on ever greater foes. With levels come skill points to be spent on any of 72 skills in four categories: Melee, Spell, Magic and Protection. Your choice of two classes, 72 skills and equipment are the extent of character customization. Chosen equipment changes your character’s appearance, which is a nice touch.
Of note are Itarus’ controls. While most ports of Korean mobile phone Action RPGs come part and parcel with controls something akin to driving snails in quicksand, Itarus’ controls actually don’t suck. While Ruehl is capable of moving in only four directions, he moves at a reasonable pace and attacks without lag. The controls may not be as tight as they could be, but they are responsive and some of the best feeling controls of any Korean Action RPG on the app store.
… Incidentally, I will not be writing “Korean Action RPG” any more in this review. “KARPG” is what we’re going with …
In combat, players have several control options. Players may opt to take manual control of Ruehl, steering him into attack range using the virtual d-pad and pounding on the attack button Zenonia-style. Alternatively, players may enable the Auto Attack option in the Config menu; tapping a monster will set it as the target, and tapping the attack button will send Ruehl chasing after the beast until he pummels it to death. The targeting and auto attack features make it dead simple to fight monsters, rather than having to fight the game’s controls; and for players who don’t mind the d-pad, they have the option of playing that way. I would just as soon let the computer do my button mashing for me, so I’m all about the auto attack.
Unfortunately, Itarus fails to innovate in all areas. In fact, it’s a lazy port and it shows. Most irritating is that the game has only a single sound channel. And so, when any sound effect is triggered — such as attacks, spells being cast, what have you — the music cuts out, then starts up from the beginning again when the sound effect has cleared the channel. The constant start-stop, start-stop of the music is just plain awful, and you will soon find yourself wading through the config menu to disable the music altogether. This is something that really should have been fixed in porting the game to the iPhone, and it stands as a MASSIVE disappointment. This is not the first game to have this problem, nor is it NATE Games’ first offense.
Also lazy is the menu by which your character is managed. If you’ve played Zenonia, Axion or any other KARPGs, you should be well familiar with the inelegant d-pad navigated menu system. NATE Games seems not to have noticed it, but we have a touch-screen to work with here; this sort of menu just needs to disappear forever. At this point in the lifespan of the app store, there is no excuse to subject players to this sort of clunkiness …
And finally, the graphics are low-resolution and soft, probably upscaled from the mobile phone version of the game. While most developers are now busy updating their games with high-resolution graphics for playing on the iPad and the iPhone 4’s Retina Display, NATE Games is instead delivering a game that fails even to live up to the graphical standards of Apple’s first generation device. The artwork looks like a pixelated smear; the sprites are out-of-focus, and the colors just feel washed out, like a renaissance painting caked in grime and needing restoration.
In conclusion, Itarus is a new entry into the field of KARPGs, a sub-genre that has really outlived its welcome. A year and a half ago, Itarus might have been the bee’s buzz; today, it’s the bee’s stinger stuck in your ass after you’ve sat on him, crushed him, and flicked his crushed carapace off of your jeans. The game is not as pretty as Axion, not as well-produced as Zenonia 2, nor as fun to play as Chronicles of Inotia: Wanderer of Luone. The port is freakin’ lazy — the sound issues are inexcusable, while the artwork and menu system are just sad.
While I do appreciate the responsiveness of the d-pad and attack button, the nifty auto attack features in combat, and that the narrative isn’t as assinine, nor the protagonist as painfully grating as in SEED, these things do little to redeem the game overall. Unless you simply must own every KARPG that comes along, you will probably be forgiven for giving this one a pass. On the other hand, it’s better than NATE Games’ previous KARPG, the stinker Chronicle of ZIC.
Seriously, Korean RPG developers need to step up their game, like … yesterday. I’m rating this one Worth a Look, but it’s a weak Worth a Look.