A funny thing happened to me while preparing to review Heroes Lore III. I fell in with a dethroned princess and the Grim Reaper, and found myself swept along on a most excellent adventure!
The kingdom of Scarbehold has fallen on tumultuous times. Dark forces have toppled the castle and slain the king. The kingdom’s knights are dead or scattered. The princess, Ann, has gone missing and is presumed killed in the attack on the castle. An ancient evil is on the rise.
Thus does Queen’s Crown begin, the latest Action RPG from Korean developer Com2Us. It was around this time last year the developer impressed us with The Chronicles of Inotia II: A Wanderer of Luone, and I truly hope this becomes an annual event, because Queen’s Crown is quite possibly the most brilliant Korean Action RPG of the year.
But that statement necessitates additional qualification as, given the sad state of KARPGs this year, it might not mean much. Zenonia 2 was much anticipated, but recycled far too much content from the first game to be of much interest when the game finally landed. Axion was beautiful, but played horribly. Itarus played better, but was utterly mediocre. SEED 2 was better than its predecessor, but that’s really not saying much. Maple Story was completely meh, and Chronicle of ZIC was flat-out horrible in every conceivable way. The cumulative result of so much disappointment was the condemnation of all my hopes and expectations for Korean Action RPGs, and their consignment to the darkest depths of the blackest abyss.
Imagine my surprise then in discovering Queen’s Crown, a game that not only rises above its recent peers, but which puts most other KARPGs to shame.
Players step into the role of princess Ann, having escaped the castle slaughter at the behest of her father, while he lived. Through a secret passage, in the guise of an attendant, Ann flees the carnage and takes up arms to reclaim her throne and to deliver her people from darkness. Shortly after escaping the castle, the Grim Reaper appears to offer guidance and promises to keep watch over her travels.
Story & Characters: Of all the KARPGs I’ve played, Ann is by far my favorite protagonist. Her motivations for embarking upon her quest are sound, and she herself is quite endearing, rather than insufferable as are most KARPG heroes. The translation has some grammatical errors, but the story is well written overall, and the premise is one of the best I’ve seen in the genre. Ann is not the chosen one, and she’s not some foolish village child with grandiose aspirations to glory; she is a princess with duties to her kingdom and a great deal at stake.
Visual Presentation: The art direction for Queen’s Crown is reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, favoring a cartoonish presentation with colorful backdrops and adorable sprites. I’m a big fan, and my only gripe is the game’s lack of support for the iPhone 4 Retina display.
Responsive Controls: Queen’s Crown enjoys one of the most responsive d-pads of any Action RPG I’ve played. Ann maneuvers easily and deliberately, and despite movement being limited to four directions, I’ve never felt the controls interfering with my enjoying the game. The action buttons are equally responsive. In short, Ann controls splendidly!
Combat: Ann has four weapons at her disposal at all times — sword, mace, spear and crossbow — and collects several magical spells through the course of the game. Each of the weapons has a special attack, utilized by charging the attack button. The sword may be swung full circle to attack enemies on all sides, the mace can be used in a devastating whirlwind attack, and the crossbow can rapid fire its remaining ammunition (Ann has unlimited bolts for her crossbow, but must occasionally reload). The spear’s special attack is a dash maneuver executed by double-tapping the d-pad.
Ann’s magic gauge replenishes slowly over time, requiring that spells be used strategically, but never putting the player at risk of running altogether dry of magic mid-dungeon. Magic is handled in a very balanced manner, without punishing the player for using their spells.
Gems discovered during the course of the game may be melded with items in various combinations to bestow additional bonuses and traits to attacks, and provide plenty of customization options.
Interface: Weapons and spells are easily swapped mid-combat by tapping icons in the screen’s upper corners, and without having to access the menu. The menus are thankfully touch-sensitive, and not dependent upon the d-pad for navigation as are so many KARPGs. While inventory icons are uncomfortably small, the menus are otherwise easy to manage and take full advantage of the iPhone’s input methods.
Quest System: The quest system is essentially the same as in any other KARPG — an NPC provides you a quest with a specific requirement, you complete that quest and return for reward. Most KARPGs use this system to artificially extend the length of the game by sending you out on pointless fetch or monster-slaying quests to level grind. It’s a practice I find despicable. In Queen’s Crown, however, my experience has been that quests are generally issued to move the story forward, with side-quests that don’t necessarily halt your progress (at least, not for long). I sincerely hope this trend holds true deeper into the game, but my initial impression is that quests are being handled properly, and not as a way of inflating the game length.
Little Details: Leave Ann standing around long enough and she’s whip out a flute to play or throw a blanket down on the ground for a moment’s repose. If you need time to finish reading the tips on the loading screen before they disappear, just tap the screen to put a hold on the load; tap the screen again to resume play.
One of my greatest gripes against Korean role-playing games ported from mobile phones is that the music and sound effects share a single sound channel, the music cutting out and restarting every time another sound — a sword swing, an impact, a spell casting — interrupts the channel. Queen’s Crown actually has separate sound channels, and provides separate volume controls for both the BGM and SFX.
It’s little details like these that show Com2Us’ dedication to quality game design, and with Korean developers having published so many lazy, horrid cell phone ports to the app store, it’s refreshing to receive a KARPG wish such attention to detail.
Respawn Rates: Monsters respawn very quickly after being killed; this is both a blessing and a curse. With monsters constantly respawning, the completion of slaying quests is breezy, and level grinding is quick and easy. It does become difficult to clear a room, though, as those monsters first to fall will often have returned by the time to kill the last. There’s no time to dally, so you’d best move forward. And exploring the nooks and crannies of the maps practically guarantees that you will not only have to fight your way in, but then fight your way out again.
Old Tech.: Queen’s Crown does enjoy Game Center support, but otherwise seems stuck in the era of the iPhone 3GS, lacking newer features such as Retina display support, fast app switching, etc. The game does allow you to resume progress from where you left off if you tap the Home button or take a call, but it’s not quite as nicely handled as iOS 4 multitasking. I can only hope Com2Us will address these issues via update.
We’re only three days into December, and already the month is shaping up to be an incredible month for RPGs — Heroes Lore III is released, Aralon: Sword and Shadow has been submitted for approval, and Square Enix’s Action RPG masterpiece Secret of Mana is expected to release later in the month. Puzzle Quest 2 is currently unavailable in the app store, but has appeared in AppShopper listings which implies an impending release.
With so many balls on the field, Queen’s Crown I didn’t see coming. It blindsided me from left field, and I’m still in a daze. And now I am going to make a very bold statement, one that will surely incite controversy:
It is my considered opinion that Queen’s Crown is the best Korean RPG in the App Store. Zenonia is misguidedly considered an App Store classic, not because it’s all that great, but because it was the first game of its kind to grace the iPhone, and because it released at a time when iPhone gaming was still in its infancy, when titles were simply unpolished as a rule and developers were still attempting to find some footing with the device. Zenonia was a good game, but not stellar; it was and after many updates is still rather lacking in refinement, and frustrating to play.
Queen’s Crown is responsive and polished, attractive and fun, with a good story, endearing characters, and a really excellent combat system. By distributing attribute points on level up, mastering weapons and spells through prolonged use, and enhancing attacks via the gem grid, Ann can be customized in any number of ways — to be light on her feet, to be a hard hitter, with a focus in magic, as a ranged attacker, or as a jack-of-all-trades — allowing players to approach the game however they choose. There’s nothing here you wouldn’t have seen in other KARPGs, but no other KARPG has delivered the goods in such an enjoyable way. Yes — a resounding YES!! — Queen’s Crown is better than Zenonia.
Queen’s Crown is one of the year’s best surprises, one of the year’s best role-playing games, and one of the best Action RPGs yet released for iPhone. And despite the presence of Death himself, it is most definitely not a bogus journey. It will probably be buried this holiday season beneath a deluge of higher profile titles, but all precious gems must be unearthed before they can be cherished. I dearly hope that gamers will manage to dig this one up at some point.
If you’re looking for an RPG to tide you over until Aralon or Secret of Mana hit, Queen’s Crown is highly recommended.