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KRPG Cage Fight: Wild Frontier vs. Zenonia 3

I have said before and will say again, Wild Frontier is the best Korean role-playing game (KRPG) in the app store. Wild Frontier may not have the same name recognition as the Zenonia franchise, but it trumps those games in every conceivable way.

The recently released Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story has more of a buzz at the moment, standing upon the hype and legacy of two previous games, the release of the third having been drummed up pretty heavily, and the fact that Gamevil is very active in developing games for the iOS market. Meanwhile, Wild Frontier developer KTH has only one game in the app store — Wild Frontier — and little clout on which to gain footing.

Nonetheless, Wild Frontier is incredible. In this article, I pit Wild Frontier head-to-head against Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story in a number of important categories to prove once and for all which is the better game. Let’s rumble!

Graphics:

Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story

Zenonia 3 is the first Zenonia to support the iPhone 4 retina display, and it’s about damned time. The first two Zenonias were blurry, smudgy looking affairs that never lived up to the visual capabilities of even the pre-retina iPhones. No doubt, Zenonia 3 looks great. But the sprites and animations don’t do anything they didn’t do in previous Zenonias; there have been no refinements to the artistic presentation other than to ensure the game is of proper resolution for the device on which it runs. Enemies still poke around the environments in stilted fashion, and characters in story sections just don’t animate properly at all. Zenonia 3 is pretty, but it’s also pretty pedestrian.

Wild Frontier

Wild Frontier was the first KRPG to embrace retina quality graphics, and the sprites, backgrounds and animations are superb. Everything is full of color and of life, and animates smoothly. Enemies blink and twitch and look alive; your character actually moves his legs when he runs. In general, Wild Frontier’s sprites include more frames of animation than Zenonia’s sprites, and it really makes a difference. Add to this weather effects such as rain and lightning, and daylight cycles including dawn, day, dusk and night and Wild Frontier is one fantastic looking game.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Sound Design:

Zenonia 3 offers up some of the best music the series has yet seen, but its loops are still short and repetitive, and the sound design is overall fairly generic. None of the tunes really stick with you, and that’s actually a good thing — they’re so repetitive, it would become annoying if they did. In terms of instrumentation, the soundtrack is also comprised of pretty harsh sounding synthesizers.

Wild Frontier’s soundtrack is more subtle and emotive, often relaxing and more melodic than anything Zenonia has ever known. The game also makes more of an effort to simulate real instruments. The music is obviously synthesized, but strings sound plucked, string arrangements are epic, and the compositions are layered in thoughtful, compelling ways. Further, the musical sections are much longer than in Zenonia, making them much less repetitive over time. Wild Frontier is a melodic treat.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Story:

Zenonia’s story is one that we’ve played a million times, Divine forces battle Demonic forces, the Heavenly realm having fallen from grace, and humanity caught somewhere in between. Mixed in are the personal issues of our protagonist, which mostly amount to boy likes girls, but refuses to admit to liking girl, meanwhile being teased by his fairy companion: grade school romance and teasing, framed in a cliche struggle between good and evil.

Wild Frontier tells the story of a group of travelers having landed upon a new continent. The protagonist Chris is not an adventurer, having tagged along on the journey to follow after his girlfriend, Lamia, adventurer extraordinaire. Much as it pains her to do so, for his own protection and safety Lamia leaves Chris to pursue her adventures. With encouragement from some of his fellow travelers, Chris realizes that to win Lamia back he must become an adventurer himself, capable of surviving in this new land, and with the help of his friends and the Mokar natives he sets out to do just that. There are no demons, and the fate of the world does not hang in the balance. Wild Frontier plays out on a smaller, but altogether more compelling stage; it tells a story of relationships, self-realization, perseverance and personal growth. There is no other KRPG that tells a tale quite like it, nor as effectively. It’s a rare thing in KRPGs, but Wild Frontier’s story is actually worth experiencing.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Characters & NPCs:

Zenonia’s characters are occasionally endearing, but more often juvenile and irritating. They interact with each other not as adults, but as grade school students. NPCs in towns often approach Chael with their problems, most of which are trivial or stupid, and often refuse to offer information for reasons that are simply childish. By and large, Zenonia’s characters are one-dimensional and annoying.

Wild Frontier puts a greater emphasis on characterization. Characters have personalities and real-life problems. They also have real and adult motivations for their actions. Lamia cares about Chris, and that’s why she has to leave him; she doesn’t want him to get hurt chasing after her on adventures. Ben is a crotchety academic, and teaches the Mokars to mix potions and draw maps; he’s also older and requires more rest, and all of this factors into conversations he has with Chris throughout the game. Meanwhile, Roman sees the brighter side of life, and constantly offers Chris advice, assistance and encouragement. He’s an immensely helpful character, and serves to guide Chris on his path to become a self-sufficient adventurer. Greg is aloof and anti-social, and not because he’s an agent for evil, but simply because he can’t be bothered by other people. Meanwhile, the Mokars are consumed with local concerns — monsters threatening the village, missing persons, the need for supplies — but are generally friendly to the outsiders, just as you might expect people to be in a small, foreign town. The characters in Wild Frontier are fueled by their personalities, and are much more than simple mouthpieces intended to push players onward; they feel as if they really live in this world.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Character Classes:

Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story offers four character classes. The Sword Knight is a strength-based melee fighter, favoring heavy weapons and armor. The Shadow Hunter is an agile melee fighter, favoring lighter armaments and putting a greater emphasis on dealing damage through critical hits. The Mechanic Launcher is a long-range class favoring weapons, and the Nature Shaman is a long-range class favoring magic and totems.

Wild Frontier offers three variations of melee classes. The Warrior wields two-handed weapons for high damage, the Tanker is a defensive character favoring heavy armors, and the Scout is an agile fighter capable of dual-wielding small weapons and inflicting criticals. There are no ranged classes, and while there are class differences, Wild Frontiers classes generally approach combat in a similar fashion.

Clearly, Zenonia 3 offers a greater variety of character classes and approaches to combat.

Winner: Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story

Interface:

Over the course of three games, the Zenonia franchise has made leaps and bounds in interface design. Zenonia 3 has one of the best in-game menu systems I’ve seen in any iOS role-playing game. The controls are easy to use and their positions and opacity may be customized to user preference, and the in-game menus used to manage your character, inventory, quests, etc. are slick, intuitive and easy to use. They also fully embrace the iPhone’s touch interface. Zenonia 3 is a big win for interface design.

Wild Frontier has pretty solid controls; the d-pad could be a touch more sensitive to input, but I really have no gripes against the game for control during play. The in-game menu for managing your character, however, relies on the d-pad and confirm/cancel buttons for navigation and manipulation, and ends up feeling pretty clunky. It’s a lot better than the menus in the first Zenonia, but not nearly so good as the menus in Zenonia 3.

Winner: Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story

Questing:

Zenonia is well-known for its assinine fetch quests: kill 10 bats in the forest, collect 15 frog horns, find a document and bring it back, etc. While some of these quests serve to progress the storyline, many of them serve only to keep you in one place far longer than you should have to be there. I managed to reach level 15 in and around the first town in Zenonia 3, but found myself constantly being sent back into the Akun Temple area to battle level 3-5 enemies for fetch quests. When you’re level 15 sword knight is battling level 5 frog-people, you’ve been in one place too long. And yet the game kept giving me pointless things to do, liking buying a steak for a hungry child, or collecting flowers for another … Zenonia makes a habit of providing pointless quests as a method to artificially extend the completion time of the game. Further, it’s not always clear which quests are important to advancing the story, and which are filler, and so you just sort of do them all until you’re given permission to move on.

Wild Frontier categorizes quests as Main, Sub or Free. Main quests are those pertaining to the story, while Sub are side-quests you may perform to assist the NPCs you meet in towns. Free quests may be picked up daily from the job board in each town, and are short, repeatable and entirely optional quests that you may undertake for extra experience, when you’re headed that way anyway, or just when you’re bored and looking for something to do. The quests often make sense within the context of the setting, which makes them feel more worthwhile to undertake, and the game does a pretty good job of telling you exactly where you need to go and what you need to do, kill or collect to fulfill the quest requirements. More importantly, you always know which quests are important and which are extra, which allows you to more easily gauge and plot your progress through the game.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Grinding:

Zenonia is a grind-fest. It’s not uncommon to spend 30 minutes or an hour grinding to survive in one area, only to move to the next area — a transition of only a single screen — and to then be obliterated by new, significantly higher-level opponents. And so you spend yet another 30 minutes to an hour grinding to survive this area before moving on. And God forbid you skip through an area without grinding, because enemies two areas on from where you belong will flatten you. Zenonia forces players to grind for experience points constantly throughout the game (and then keeps you in one place too long with questing before forcing you to grind again?!), and the grind-fest eventually becomes a snooze-fest.

Wild Frontier encourages you to press on through the game, and discourages you from dallying too long in any one area. On first entering a new area, enemies will yield significant experience points. Level-up a few times, however, and enemies will give you only 1 experience point per kill — and that’s the game telling you it’s time to move on. Further, enemies are more powerful during the night than during the day, and will yield greater experience bounties. Grinding at night, you can quickly harvest an area and move on to the next. While Zenonia strives to keep you in one place far too long, Wild Frontier is constantly pressing you onward into new, unexplorered territory.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Looting:

Enemies in Zenonia occasionally drop items. Some of them are useful, but I often find my inventory swelling with garbage that I never use, which I either cart around until the end game or sell off in the nearest town. When I’m actually seeking items, item drops occur only infrequently. No matter which way you cut it, it’s frustrating. Then there’s the mining: you need to carry a special pickax, which will eventually break on you. The act of mining is a constant tap-tap-tap of the action button to beat on rocks, and you have to tap it again every time you pick up an ore. Looting in Zenonia is tedious, time consuming and frustrating. It’s a chore to harvest or mine or items, and then it’s a chore to manage them in your inventory. Further, there is neither rhyme nor reason for most of what you find enemies carrying; to get flowers, you have to kill weird forest spiders?!

Wild Frontier does neat things with it’s looting mechanic. Downed enemies may be harvested for materials, and those materials are generally relevant to the enemy from which you take them — plant-based enemies yield leaves, wood and thorns; crabs yield shells and claws; mammals yield bones, leather and fur; etc. And these are not random item drops; every slain enemy lingers as a body on the field, and every body may be harvested for materials. These materials can then be used in rest areas to craft weapons and armaments, or to cook food, or may be sold off in the Mokar shops for coin. Mining ores from stones or foraging for items in the forest works just the same as looting bodies: you hold the button while Chris harvests materials — a process both simple and well animated — while the message display lists out your findings as they happen. Looting in Wild Frontier makes sense, serves a purchase, and is far less tedious than in Zenonia.

Winner: Wild Frontier

In-App Purchase:

Zenonia 3′s system of in-app purchase is one of the more draconian examples currently to be found in the app store. As anyone can tell you who has played either of the first two games, Origin of Life items are essential to successfully completing the game. When you die, the Origin of Life item allows you to resurrect in place without suffering the usual penalty for dying; resurrecting without an Origin of Life, you lose experience points and item durability, which ultimate leaves you nearer to death’s door than before you died the last time. In the first two Zenonias, the Origin of Life was pricey, but could be purchased using in-game currency. In Zenonia 3, the Origin of Life is only available for real-world currency via in-app purchase. And the game will flat-out steal them from you, such as in the Midgard Bridge quest where you have to raid the demon camp: your character should be roughly level 15-17 at this point in the game, and you’re without warning thrown up against level 47 demons who make short work of you. You’re supposed to find another way around, but the only way to realize you can’t win this fight is to walk into it and get killed, then being given the choice to use an Origin of Life or to resurrect at a penalty.

The Origin of Life is not the only item you can only get via in-app purchase in Zenonia 3. Examine scrolls, two-way portals and other important items must also be purchased with real money. So you pay for an Examine scroll, use it on an item only to find that the item is worthless to you — of lesser value than your current equipment — and … you’ve wasted your actual money.

As I said in my full review of Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story, “the IAP is a textbook perfect example of how to ruin an otherwise good game, and clear indication that Gamevil doesn’t really value its fans and supporters.”

Meanwhile, Wild Frontier also includes items for in-app purchase, but those items are entirely optional. By consulting the Item Shop in each town, you can use real-world money to expand your inventory, add extra ability sockets to items, purchase scrolls to reset your stat and skill points, purchase extra runes or equipment sets, or an unlimited use taming kit. You can also purchase first-aid kits, similar in purpose to Zenonia’s Origin of Life.

Dying in Wild Frontier, however, does not incur the same penalties as in Zenonia. If killed in the field, you may opt to use a first-aid kit if you have one, or you can wake up in town with a deduction in gold. The game does not penalize your experience points or equipment durability, though, so does nothing to cripple your character in the way that Zenonia does.

The bottom line on IAP in Wild Frontier is that it is entirely optional, and not necessary to complete the game. A well-prepared adventurer can survive the game’s challenges, and an unprepared adventurer will wake up in town, where they can easily embark once more, better prepared for the opposition after a visit to the accessory shop (sells potions and other support items, based on in-game currency).

Zenonia is full of cheap deaths, encouraging and all but requiring that you use the in-app purchase system to by restorative items; Wild Frontier offers in-app purchases to enhance the game, but does not require them of them player.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Price:

At the time of this writing, Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story retails for $4.99 and carries with it the potential of spending a fortune via in-app purchase.

When I originally reviewed Wild Frontier, the game retailed for $0.99; at present, the game is FREE. In-app purchase is available, but entirely optional.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Conclusion:

Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story definitely has some things going for it. My final impression is that it’s a highly entertaining game, derailed by a draconian system of in-app purchase and taken with a grain of salt. For better or worse, it is a Zenonia game, with all of the traditional Zenonia flaws. It does nothing to reinvigorate either the genre or the franchise. For all the good to be found in the game, flat storytelling and characterization, and an over dependence on experience grinding and assinine fetch quests are trademarks of the Zenonia name.

Meanwhile, Wild Frontier does so much right that it’s hard not to love it. The game offers a great story with a wonderful cast characters, a beautiful world to explore with flourishes such as weather and daylight cycles, fantastic art direction in both stills and animations, an enjoyable soundtrack and solid gameplay. It also takes many of the KRPG conventions which often prove problematic in other games, and turns them on their heads, making them all a part of the fun. What’s more, Wild Frontier is an incredible bargain.

There is no question in my mind that Wild Frontier is the better game, and by a long shot. Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story can be enjoyable and takes many steps in the right direction, but Gamevil still hasn’t done enough to improve the game over previous entries, and they really drag the game down with one of the worst in-app purchase systems since SEED 1.

See my original reviews for Wild Frontier and Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story.



  1. Alfred on Sunday 1, 2011

    Well said Matt! I have finished then both and all I can say is that Wild Frontier wins by a mile. Is there any news that they are going to release a sequel to this?

  2. Matt on Sunday 1, 2011

    None that I have heard, though I am not in contact with the developer. I should hope 1) that a sequel or spiritual successor may be in the pipeline, and 2) that they don’t look at Zenonia’s success and pick up on Gamevil’s bad habits.

    I do know that KTH has another RPG, The Chronicles of Chroiser, but I have seen nothing to indicate they intend to release the game for iOS.

  3. Ryan on Sunday 1, 2011

    Thanks for the write up Matt, I’ll definitely be checking out wild frontier after reading this. I have a bit of a love/hate thing going on with the third Zenonia game. Its a great game ruined by in-app purchases and poor balancing. I’ve found the a few areas particularly frustrating, mostly the bosses and some of the spike traps towards the end. I’ve hit the level cap and now I’m forced to grind for better gear as the final few screens and boss kill me in an instance. The quality of IOS games have really risen since the original Zenonia appeared, and I think gameville really dropped the ball.

  4. Chungyen Chang on Sunday 1, 2011

    One wonderful (and unique) part of Wild Frontier which you forgot to mention is the pets! Although it can be a bit tedious when you fail an “evolution roll” and have to release/recapture/re-level up, the monsters are so cute and full of personality that I really don’t mind trying out new ones. It’s also fantastic when a pet does the looting for you or fights alongside (although admittedly, some of them are a bit flimsy). They make you feel less like you’re grinding alone and more like you’re interacting with the environment.

  5. Dan on Sunday 1, 2011

    They have D-Pads :/

  6. Happy Down on Sunday 1, 2011

    The new iOS ARPG from KTH is out !
    They name is ‘Chroisen’ Check it out !

  7. Timothy Ashton on Sunday 1, 2011

    I do not have a Zenonia guide, but I have a Wild Frontier guide. http://wildfrontierguidecomplete.blogspot.com/ – still updating (Oct 13)

  8. Izaya on Sunday 1, 2011

    Actually in wild frontier you do have ranged weapons. Guns. You just have ti reach lvl 20 to put a skill point towards your first gun skill and I believe you’ll have to get a recipe for it. Which I might get as I go back to Roman and the scientist cause they were building some kind of weapon and they said to come back at lvl20(remember that time u can put a skill point to a gun skill) so yeah that’s where you’ll get it or so. I also saw it in a video so tonight I’ll fully now! Looks like Another win for WF!

  9. rolex ??????? on Sunday 1, 2011

    paul smith black

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