I must be a glutton for punishment, the way I keep coming back to Korean RPGs. They constantly infuriate me with their level grinding and fetch quests, cliché stories and juvenile characters, clumsy interfaces and unresponsive controls. So why do I do it?
Well, because now and then a ray of light shines through cloudy, gray skies. Once in a while, rain falls even in the desert. And every so often, along comes a KRPG that really knocks your socks off.
Wild Frontier is that KRPG.
Wild Frontier offers a refreshing change of pace from the standard, tiresome KRPG norm. For once, your character is not the prophesied savior of the realm. The kingdom is not facing imminent peril at the hands of demons, awakened from centuries of slumber. The fate of the world does not hang in the balance.
You are Chris Noah, one of a party of shipwreck survivors washed ashore on a strange, new continent after tagging along with your girlfriend, Lamia, on one of her adventurers.
Yes, you heard that right. Lamia — not Chris — is the adventurer. As the game begins, Chris has never so much as touched a sword. But adventure does indeed await Chris in this uncharted territory. When Lamia leaves to explore the island in search of a dragon, Chris has little choice but to take up arms to find her, and to prove to her his worth.
During the course of his adventure, Chris is helped by his fellow shipwreck survivors Roman Whisker and Ben Krize, the mysteriously aloof Greg Wolfe, and the island natives who provide quests and services.
Players are given the choice of three characters classes, focusing in attack, defense or speed, and each featuring unique skill trees. On gaining experience levels, three points may be distributed amongst character attributes, and one point spent to learn or improve a skill.
Visual Presentation: Wild Frontier is fantastically pretty. While most KRPGs are ported from cell phones with smeared-looking visuals, Wild Frontier’s sprite-based graphics are crisp, clear and colorful, even on the iPhone 4. Characters and monsters are beautifully animated; camp fires flicker, fireflies flit about at night, water laps at the shore, and other visual details abound. The game even features day and night cycles, and weather effects such as rain and lighting. The character portraits look great too.
Without compromise, Wild Frontier is one of the prettiest sprite-based RPGs on the app store.
Weather & Day-Night System: The sun sets, day becomes night; the sun rises, night becomes day. Time passes in real-time, with transitions occurring while you explore your environment, and not while transitioning to a new screen. It’s impressive to behold, but the change is not merely cosmetic: monsters become more powerful at night. As you wander, rain, lightning and other weather effects also add to the game’s sense of immersion.
Chain Attacks & Skill Use: Unlike most KRPGs which simply allow you to activate your special attacks by pressing a button, Wild Frontier emphasizes combo attacks. To unleash your skill attacks, you often must chain them together in sequence with regular attacks. This system of attack combinations helps to keep the player engaged in combat, rather than just mashing the attack button.
Looting Bodies: Slain enemies fall to the ground and must be searched to reveal loot, usually including items, crafting components and/or currency. Searching bodies takes time, with larger enemies requiring more time to search than smaller enemies, and the longer Chris searches a body, the more items he is likely to turn up. Chris is unable to attack or defend himself while searching bodies, however, so it is often best to fend off other monsters before looting. It’s a cool game mechanic.
Story: The game’s story is light-hearted and fun; a welcome departure from the heavy themes (often poorly rendered) of similar titles. The characters are likable, and the fetch quests are often couched nicely into the tale. For example, an early quest sends you into the forest to collect medicinal ingredients for Ben. Ben is an elderly, wizened, Einstein-looking fellow; at this point in the game, he has tripped and wounded his ankle. Once you bring him the necessary ingredients, he is able to craft a potion to mend his wounds, then teaches the potion recipe to the villagers. Thereafter, Chris is able to purchase healing potions from the village’s item merchant.
Translation: Sadly, Wild Frontier suffers a number of Koreanisms. For example, the word “leaf” sometimes appears in the game as “reaf”. Also, the developer missed some text in their translation, and you will occasionally see Hangul (Korean characters) appearing in messages. So far, this has not proven to be a problem; all of the important text does seem to have been translated to English. As far as I’ve seen, only some incidental text — “?” instead of “Hm”, for example — has been missed in translation. There’s nothing game-breaking here. It’s just a spot unpolished that really stands out in a game that is otherwise polished to perfection.
Without question, Wild Frontier is my new favorite Korean RPG. The game looks great and breaks the KRPG mold in a number of significant ways. It includes items for in-app purchase, but these items are entirely optional and intended to enhance the game; they are not necessary to complete it.
Wild Frontier is a steal at only $0.99, and any fan of the genre should definitely pick it up. Popular KRPG developers Gamevil and Com2Us should wake up and take notice; KTH is new to the fray, but putting the veterans to shame. If all KRPGs were as good as this, I’d play them until the day I die and never speak ill of them again!
Wild Fronter [$0.99] is developed by KTH. Reviewed at version 1.0.1 on an iPhone 4.