Tag Archives: Zenonia

Zenonia 3 Review: A great game that no one should play

As its name would imply, Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story is the third itineration of Gamevil’s smash-hit Zenonia franchise, and successor to one of the app store’s most prominent role-playing games.

The first Zenonia cemented itself into the hearts and minds of mobile gamers early on as one of the first iOS games to offer a complete RPG experience. The game was deeply flawed, but managed to rise above its many shortcomings. For one thing, it had virtually no competition within its genre; also, it was as close as iOS had to console classics such as The Legend of Zelda and Secret of Mana, though it fails to live up to either.

Zenonia’s second outing made welcome improvements. The graphics were little better — still smudgy and out-of-focus looking, having been upscaled from mobile phones — but the redesigned interface, improved controls and sound design, new character classes and other refinements resulted in a vastly superior game.

In many ways, Zenonia 3 is more of the same; it doesn’t rewrite the rules, but it does adhere to the second game’s precedent of refining the formula. But given the app store’s present RPG landscape — in which we see Zenonia now completing with ports of Final Fantasy I, II and III, and Secret of Mana, original role-playing games such as Chaos Rings, Eternal Legacy, Aralon and Across Age, and a slew of KRPGs including three Inotia titles, Queen’s Crown, and the utterly brilliant Wild Frontier — does more of the same old Zenonia stand up to expectations?

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Zenonia 3 follows the adventures of Chael and his fairy companion, Runa. Chael is the son of Regret, protagonist of the first Zenonia. The game’s overarching story is that of a conflict between Good and Evil — the Divine and the Damned — and humanity caught in between. The opening scenes depict a battle between the knights of divinity and the invading demonic forces, and … I’m already bored. It’s only the same scene I’ve seen opening nearly every Korean RPG I’ve ever played. But then, Zenonia has never been a narrative powerhouse. Fortunately, the game fairs better in other areas.

The most notable improvement is the graphical presentation. Gone are the blurry sprites of Zenonias past, which were awful even on pre-retina displays. Zenonia 3 is the first pretty Zenonia, crisp and colorful even on the iPhone 4 retina display, and a very welcome visual treat.

The game’s interface is also much improved over previous games, no longer the cumbersome beast it once was. The on-screen controls are responsive and as unobtrusive as might be hoped for, while the in-game menu — from which stats, skills, equipment, inventory and quests are monitored and managed — is slick, intuitive and easy to use. In addition to being functional, the interface enjoys quite a bit of visual flair, and the controls may be repositioned and the opacity adjusted to the user’s preference.

Gameplay-wise, Zenonia 3 remains a KRPG with the usual trappings: grinding and fetch quests. However, as far as I have played, the game has been much more judicious in its handling of these aspects than previous entries. You will still be required to revisit old territory maybe a little too often, but things are not as bad as they once were, and all of the other gameplay improvements make the backtracking more tolerable than before. Beginning a new game, players complete a brief tutorial quest and are then warped into a mysterious dungeon for some real adventuring. I was grateful not to have to complete a slew of menial chores before being allowed to venture forth.

Combat is similar to past entries — an attack button to mash, and various attack skills available at an MP cost — but feels better on account of more responsive controls and better combo animations.

The supremely annoying weight and hunger systems of past entries have been dropped in Zenonia 3, which is for the best. They were a buzzkill and will not be missed.

There are four character classes from which to choose: the strength-based, melee fighting Sword Knight; the agile Shadow Hunter, relying on criticals to deal heavy damage; the Mechanic Launcher, a gun-toting ranged battler; and the Nature Shaman, a magical ranged class.

Chael’s character sprite looks fantastic to begin with, with variations for each chosen class. And as you play through the game and don various new armaments, his appearance will evolve to reflect his gear.

Overall, Zenonia 3’s enemies are also a step up from previous efforts. The tribesmen faced early on are awesome looking, and boss battle are also more impressive than in previous games.

Zenonia 3 sports a number of social features, including Game Center support and achievements with Facebook and Twitter posting. There are two types of network play, asynchronous PvP and co-op play in the Execution Rooms, both accessible from towns. Also, messages and items may be exchanged with other players via the Network Gal in each town.

A number of smaller flourishes round out the experience, such as quest markers now appearing on doorways when important NPCs lurk inside of buildings, some Game Center achievements manifesting themselves as equipable “titles” in-game which grant bonuses to the player, and the ability to level-up and customize your fairy companion to realize advantages in combat.

Zenonia 3 is not without it’s shortcomings, however. There’s a bug to keeps the game clock running even when the game is inactive during multitasking; at time of writing my game clock shows 18 hours on account of my not killing the app overnight. While the narrative has its moments, the overall tale is dreadfully dull, having been done to death by so many games before. The script is also rife with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, typical of games translated from Korean. Gameplay-wise, Zenonia 3 offers nothing we haven’t already seen in the previous two games; it’s the same old song and dance, but delivered in a more palatable package, making the game more of an upgrade than a new experience. Level grinding and fetch quests make their triumphant return to artificially extend gameplay, but I expected no less; I’ve long begrudged KRPGs for their stubborn adherence to what is essentially junk gameplay. And combat does become repetitive, as there is really little to the mechanic beyond standing in place, mashing the attack button …

My final gripe is the in-app purchases (IAP), and this is a BIG GRIPE. The game will give you a handful of Examine scrolls, Origin of Life items, and other “Paid” items in the course of play, but insofar as I have seen, the only way to get more of these items is to pay out-of-pocket for IAP. Considering that such items were available for purchase from item merchants in previous games — using the in-game currency, rather than real-world currency — it’s bullshit they are only available as IAP this time around. Especially considering that Origin of Life items are nearly essential to completing the game, as you will otherwise be penalized with experience and equipment durability reductions for dying — and die you will a lot later into the game, and usually unfairly. Considering the game costs $4.99 to begin with, Gamevil is seriously screwing players with IAP and Zenonia fans should be outraged. I sincerely hope players will make themselves heard on the matter. Furthermore, many of the restorative items and equipment available via IAP could potentially give players an unfair advantage in network play, essentially making the IAP a major disincentive to engage in network play for those unwilling or unable to afford IAP. Much as I like Zenonia 3 otherwise, Gamevil ought to be changing their company name to GamEVIL for this one. I cry foul.

While I’ve felt that past Zenonias were mostly overhyped and under-realized, Zenonia 3 is the first game of the series I feel truly deserves whatever praise it may find. It looks great, plays well and holds a lengthy adventure in store for those willing to see it through. Removal of the weight and hunger systems from previous games has really helped to streamline the experience, leaving the kernel intact without the chaff, and the interface and control overhaul make playing the game better than ever.

Despite app store crowding, there’s always room for another RPG if it’s a good one, and Zenonia 3 is just that. Mind you, it’s still a Korean RPG with all that implies — the grinding, the fetch quests and the grandiose, hackney storytelling that may turn off some players — but fans of the genre should know by now to expect such things, that they’re just a part of the deal. Accepting that, I would gladly give Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story an effortless recommendation. And yet, I cannot effortlessly recommend Zenonia 3, because much as I feel the game has going for it, there is one major bugbear that derails every good thing I have to say about the game. And that’s the IAP.

It is ABSURD that a game costing $4.99 should be so bogged down by in-app purchase, and all but require you to spend yet more of your money on expendible items. I would expect this from a freemium title — it is the very nature of freemium games to nickel-and-dime gamers into poverty — but not from a premium RPG in a longstanding, well-regarded franchise. I am fully in favor of IAP being available for players wanting to enhance their gaming experience, but IAP is plain evil when a game all but requires that you spend real-world money to see it through to completion.

I genuinely like Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story, but cannot in good conscious recommend it to gamers. 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.

You have been warned.

If you really want a good KRPG and one that doesn’t attempt to fleece you, play Wild Frontier.

Zenonia 3 [$4.99 + bullshit IAP] is developed and published by Gamevil. Reviewed on an iPhone 4.

Axion Review: Popular Korean RPG Comes West

Korean developer ZIO Interactive has released Axion for the iPhone. Axion is a port of the popular Korean mobile Action RPG Axion 2. Compared to its mobile counterpart, Axion has received a number of significant improvements for the iPhone, including updated graphics and interface, and gameplay adaptations to better suit Western RPG paradigms. The game is a top-down, two-dimensional hack’n slash Action RPG in the vein of the Zenonia franchise, with a heavy emphasis on combat. But the burning question most gamers will ask is, how does Axion stack up against the RPG fan-favorite Zenonia?

Zenonia and its sequel were ripped from mobile devices and slammed onto the iPhone screen, resulting in up-scaled graphics that appeared soft and stretched out on the iPhone’s larger, crisper display. In the case of Zenonia 2, GameVil made great effort to improve the game’s interface, and yet left the graphics untouched. By comparison, Axion is one of the best looking Action RPGs on the iPhone, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Chronicles of Inotia: The Wanderer of Luone. Like Zenonia, Axion and Inotia share roots on Korean mobile phones. Unlike Zenonia, these games received graphical overhauls for their iPhone release, allowing them to become games of astounding beauty.

I’m going to say it again: Axion is one of the best looking Action RPGs on the iPhone. The game’s hand-drawn sprites and environments are beautifully rendered in fine detail and vibrant color. Grassy areas come to life with butterflies, flowers, mushrooms and tufts of grass. In town, birds scatter and take flight at your approach. As Com2Us did with Chronicles of Inotia: The Wanderer of Luone, Axion’s developers took the time to redraw the graphics for the iPhone, taking full advantage of the device’s display to create a game of exceptional beauty. It’s the sort of treatment Zenonia 2 should have received, but did not; GameVil ought to take notice, because their game visually pales by comparison. Axion shines.

Player’s take control of the game’s titular hero, Axion, and are given a great deal of flexibility in developing him as protagonist. To begin with, players select Axion’s job from Attacker, Defender, Adventurer and Ranger. The Attacker specializes in melee and critical attacks, the Defender in high defense and HP, the Ranger in ranged attacks and accuracy, and the Adventure receives monetary bonuses to increase his earning potential. Having chosen a job, players are then allowed to select three skills for their character; there are 12 skills to choose from, bestowing benefits such as improved attack or defense, experience bonuses, increased recovery and more. When you character levels-up, he receives skill points that can be spent to improve his chosen skills. Using this system of character creation, players may customize Axion as a powerful warrior, archer or magic user, or spread out their points to produce a well-rounded character.

Once in-game, players have yet more customization features. By accessing the A.C.S section of the character menu, players may customize Axion’s combo strings for both his sword and crossbow, choosing to utilize fast, light attacks or slower, heavy attacks in any order they choose. Sword options include quick stabs, various slashes, a jump attack and a 360-degree swing. Crossbow combos may be constructed of single shots, double shots and leaping attacks. From the skills menu, Axion can also equip a number of special abilities. Special abilities consume MP when used, but grant a number of combat benefits including character buffs and powerful special attacks.

Supplementing the robust system of character customization are several underlying systems, allowing you to forge weapons and weapon-enhancing crystals, create items, and grow pets to aid you in combat. Axion can equip a sword and crossbow, armor, boots and a number of buffing accessories, allowing characters to further define and constantly redefine his strengths and weaknesses during the game. Clearly, a great deal of thought has gone into allowing players to mold Axion in any manner they choose.

Unfortunately, Axion also suffers many of the pitfalls common to Korean mobile ports. These include unresponsive controls, shoddy translation work, a storyline of retread cliches, an inordinate number of fetch quests, lots of character grinding, and a musical score comprised of very short melodic loops that become very irritating, very quickly. Of course, anyone that’s ever played and enjoyed a Korean RPG in the past should be accustomed to such shortcomings, and may be able to overlook them … again.

Axion takes place in a land where the gods walk among men and take direct interest in their day-to-day lives. According to the story, the demon Balinor terrorized the lands 500 years ago. To bring an end to his reign of terror, the gods created Axion — a demigod and living weapon — as their champion. In their struggle, both Balinor and Axion passed through the Door of Abyss and became trapped. With Balinor imprisoned in the abyss, Middle-Earth enjoyed 500 years of peace. But now Balinor’s followers have freed him, and he once more seeks to wipe gods and humans from the world, creating a paradise for evil. Monsters have begun to roam the lands again, and fear and worry have shattered the longstanding peace. Needed once more, the gods have recalled Axion from the abyss to fight Balinor. But he too is weakened from his long imprisonment and must regain his strength. Commence experience grinding, fetch quests, etc.

Likes:

Visual Presentation: As previously mentioned, Axion is stunning to behold. The hand-drawn sprites and environments are teeming with life and color, and exploring the world, encountering its inhabitants is a reward unto itself. Anyone who appreciates the intricacies of pixel-based artwork will go nuts over this game. While I’m not immensely fond of the art direction for the character portraits, everything else in the game — from forests and deserts, to snow-capped peaks — is simply gorgeous.

Interface: Axion’s interface, while imperfect, is well-designed and easy to use. Item and skill quick-slots are arrayed around the edges of the screen, and Axion can easily switch between sword and crossbow by swiping right-to-left over the attack buttons. I love that you can switch attacks without having to access the equipment menu. The on-screen buttons and indicators are attractive and complement the game’s excellent art direction. Accessing the inventory brings up a Secret of Mana-style radial menu allowing quick and easy access to all of your menu screens. A quick save button makes it easy to save your game regularly without having to dig through menus. The menus themselves are also very attractive and easy to take in.

My only gripes against the interface are that the radial menu is somewhat slow to deploy, and the movement and attack controls sometimes obscure important map locations. It’s sometimes difficult to identify entrances and exits because the controls sit atop them.

Map: The in-game map is very well designed, easy to read and extremely helpful. Tapping the map icon once brings up a view of your immediate surroundings. Tapping it again brings up the overworld map, which clearly shows the game’s many locations and the pathways to each. With this map in-hand, getting around the world is extremely easy to do.

Character Customization: Players are able to customize Axion in essentially any way they choose, creating a character well suited to the way in which they prefer to play. Whether you favor brute attacks or heavy magic use, you can do it. The game’s creators boast that while different character types may approach situations differently, there is no one right way to play the game.

Forging, Creation and Pet Rearing: The systems in place for creating weapons and items, and raising pets are very well implemented. There are two types of shops in the game — the General Goods Shop and the Compounding Shop — each containing separate merchants for arms, items and pets. Base equipment, items and components can be purchased in the goods shop or collected from slain opponents. In the Compounding Shop, weapons may be strengthened, enchanted or fitted with empowering orbs, materials may be combined to create new items, or pets may be hatched and reared. Players are not required to remember complex recipes, or even to track such things in their inventory. It’s all in the shop and easy to access and use.

Dislikes:

Controls and Pacing: Axion’s greatest flaws show its mobile roots. The virtual d-pad used for movement feels restricting and unresponsive, and to a lesser extent so do the attack buttons. Coming from mobile phone platforms, the controls lack the fluidity of older Action RPGs on the SNES and Gameboy. The input feels as if it were designed for a keypad, which is exactly the case. The other half of the problem is the lugubrious pacing of the game, which is in part due to the nature of the controls. The game’s action feels as if it were taking place in slow-motion or underwater, another limitation imposed by the game’s mobile origins. Updates could probably improve the situation, though I doubt the likelihood of a 100% solution.

Character Grinding and Fetch Quests: Character Grinding and Fetch Quests are the hallmarks of the Korean RPG, mechanisms to artificially extend the life of your game by distracting you from the primary story and preventing your moving forward too quickly, and the greatest reason that I usually tire of these games long before reaching the end. While the amount of grinding required has been reduced to cater more to Western gamers, it has not been reduced enough. The game’s weapons all have experience level prerequisites, and so barriers will always exist to cap you character strength until you reach the necessary level to advance. Meanwhile, townsfolk will send you on exciting missions to gather grass in the forest, start a bug collection and kill things they find icky. Grinding and fetch quests also largely contribute to all of these K-RPGs feeling exactly the same. There’s only so much of this crap that I can take — revisiting the same areas to kill the same monsters over and over and over and over again, making only the most miniscule amounts of progress at a time — before I get utterly sick of a game and want to quit playing altogether. Tedium = Fun, really?!

Narrative: I adore Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, counting it among the best pieces of literature ever written. The tale told of the return of the dark lord Sauron and the small band of heroes whose quest it was to defeat him. But if I have to play through this story in just one more Korean RPG, I’m going to travel back through time and bludgeon Tolkien in his sleep before he’s ever able to pen his magnificent works. I only hope that were I to do so, RPG developers might finally decide there are other stories to be told …

Of course, the story is only of minor importance to the game, taking backseat to the fetch quests and day-to-date travails of the towns’ helpless peasants. Being on a quest to save the entire world from complete and utter destruction, you’d think the villagers might understand that I have more important things to do than to round up their escaped chickens, or to fetch them berries from the forest so they can bake a cake. As is common in Korean RPGs, however, you’ll find the yourself so distracted by these endless, tedious requests that the only reason you’ll remember the story even exists is that the game will constantly remind you by interspersing your adventures with pointless cut-scenes to show you the intolerable evil of Balinor. Even the very gods who summon you to defeat Balinor seem more concerned with you bringing them cookies than with you completing your quest …

Music: So repetitive, it makes me want to jam chopsticks into my eardrums. It’s only saving grace is that it’s not as tinny or grating as the music in Zenonia.

Vibrate: The phone vibrates every time you swing your sword, which is actually pretty annoying. The developers need to include an option to disable this effect. Really.

The finest Action RPG I’ve ever played is Seiken Densetsu on the origial pea-soup screened Gameboy, released in Europe as Mystic Quest and in the Unites States as Final Fantasy Adventure. The translation was poor, but those were the times. Otherwise, the game featured incredible pacing, an excellent story, and some of the finest Zelda-inspired combat ever to grace a video game. The music was rife with memorable and epic melodies, and the graphics were just perfect. That was 1991 … It is now 2010, and I am constantly and utterly at a loss to explain why iPhone game developers have not yet managed to produce an Action RPG as good as Seiken Densetsu: a game nearly 20 years old, entirely rendered in four shades of gray pixels and designed to play on a vastly inferior device.

But where does that leave our stance on Axion? And that brings me full circle to the very first paragraph of this review, in which I explained that Axion is an iPhone port of a Korean RPG originally developed for mobile phones. And honestly, once you’ve played one of those, you’ve played them all. If you’ve played and enjoyed Zenonia, then you will also enjoy playing Axion. Just be prepared to overlook many of the same flaws that plagued that earlier title. If you didn’t care for Zenonia, or tired of it before completing it, then Axion will offer you little.

Sitting the two side-by-side, Axion is by far the prettier game and offers greater possibilities for character customization. Despite the game’s heavy emphasis on combat and action, however, the action plays out more sluggishly than in Zenonia. I’d be hard pressed to tell you that one game is better overall than the other, so there are really two ways of approaching Axion. Either you love Zenonia and you’re going to be completely amped that there’s another good Korean RPG in the app store, or you’ve played Zenonia and will find Axion to be something of a “been there, done that” experience. It sure is pretty, though, and loads better than SEED.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the iPhone Action RPG of my dreams, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be ported from a mobile phone …

ZIO Interactive‘s Axion is currently available at the introductory price of $2.99. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 3G.

New Batch of Screenshots for ‘SEED’ from Chillingo

SEED is a new RPG from Chillingo that is near completion, and Chillingo was kind enough to send us some new screenshots, showing the gameplay areas and different environments that will be available at launch.  Personally, I don’t think the graphics are as good as they should be, but we can only judge when we actually play the game.

SEED is made by the same people who made Dungeon & Hero, one of the first epic RPGs on the iPhone.  It did suffer from many control issues, but it was still one of the first attempted RPG.  We can only hope SEED greatly improves on the controls, and from the screenshots, it looks as if the game is totally different from Dungeon & Hero.

We’ll have more information once they are available, but check out these new screenshots courtesy of Chillingo.  It looks to be coming along well, and fans of Zelda or even Zenonia may want to check this title out.

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Guardian Soul Review: A Brief, But Solid Action RPG

South Korean developer NATE Games quietly released Guardian Soul to the App Store recently. Given the fanfare that surrounded the release of GameVil’s Zenonia, I am surprised Guardian Soul has received so little attention. The titles are very similar, though different enough that each should be able to stand on its own. But because comparisons between the games are, I think, inevitable, much of this review will be spent comparing the two.

Zenonia veterans should feel instantly at home with Guardian Soul, and the game interface is nearly identical. So much so, I would bet the games were built using the same engine. The interface consists of a semi-transparent d-pad and one main action button. Other buttons for utilizing abilities, items and transformations, and for accessing the inventory and menus are scattered around the fringes of the screen. In game, menus are navigated using the d-pad and action button, just as in Zenonia; the inventory and menu screens are not touch responsive, as one might expect from an iPhone game. Only the game’s main menu utilizes touch control.

Guardian Soul’s story is basically what we have come to expect from an action RPG. The evil King Largo seeks an ancient artifact called ‘Agnesia’ and is ransacking the kingdom searching for it. Your heroine, Leica, appears in the midst of this chaos and resolves to set things right. Leica is a Guardian Master, a special type of warrior capable of adopting guardian forms in combat. In her human form, Leica is incapable of attack, and therefore relies entirely upon her transformations to do battle. Throughout the game, Leica will take on the forms and abilities of her enemies in order to combat them. Two transformations can be equipped at a time, and each has an elemental affinity — fire, ice or wind. In Fire areas, a Fire guardian form will be necessary to advance, as other forms will be nearly incapable of damaging opponents. When entering an area, the game always tells you the location’s affinity, so there is never any guesswork in choosing forms.

Each form has a standard attack, plus two magical abilities. Typically, one ability acts as a ranged attack and the other as an area attack. Early in the game, Leica has enough MP usually to launch 2-3 magic attacks from a full MP gauge; spent MP recovers over time. Choosing which elemental affinity to use and when to dole out magical attacks is the crux of Guardian Soul’s combat.

Leica’s overall strength is based on three components: Level, Class and Guardian. Leica levels up by earning experience points in combat; for each level, her HP and MP increase, and she receives a number of points that can be assigned to improve HP, defense or attack. Level is also used to determine which armors Leica can equip.

Class increases through the completion of quests, and determines which alchemical processes and arena battles are available to Leica. Quests are obtained in towns from the Quest Provider, and task you to slay a quota of a particular monster. When all quests for a particular Class level are completed, Leica graduates to the next Class.

In addition to an elemental affinity, Guardians have attack and defense ratings of their own. Naturally, Leica will be more effective when using more powerful forms within the same elemental affinity. She acquires Guardians by visiting the towns’ alchemists. During combat, monsters will drop alchemical components that Leica uses for this purpose. Depending on Leica’s Class, she can access more complications alchemical processes, resulting in more powerful transformations. Alchemical results are random, however, and sometimes fail altogether. Alchemy is never a sure thing. Each process has a completion percentage that increases whenever the process creates something new, so you will always know when you’ve gained all you stand to gain from a process. Alchemy may produce guardians, armors and items.

Between the quests, gathering alchemical components and earning experience points, there’s always some incentive to fight. Thus, the game does a fairly good job of covering up your grinding, so that it never actually feels like you’re grinding. In addition to battling as you explore, you can also access the Arena in towns. The Arena battles available are dependent upon Leica’s Class and it costs money to fight. But the battles are often more interesting and profitable than fighting in the wilderness. Arena battles pit you against monsters of different elemental affinities, requiring that you strategically isolate your opponents to deal with them in the appropriate form. Getting cornered by two opponents of differing affinity can go badly for you. In the Arena, monsters drop alchemical components more frequently and you also gain experience points toward your Level, making Arena battles very worthwhile if you have the money to spend.

Combat in Guardian Soul suffers somewhat from control issues (see below), but otherwise works pretty well. There is not much action to be had in fights. Your paths don’t leave a great deal of room to move, and enemies are packed densely into the space. Fleeing an enemy, or trying to reposition for an attack will often get you noticed by other nearby monsters. Then you have even more baddies pounding on you at once. It’s just as well; the controls discourage movement during combat anyway. Encounters often boil down to standing toe-to-toe against your opponent(s) smashing the attack button until either you or it falls down dead. Often, enemies will crowd your path so completely that you will have no choice but to cut your way through; this can spell disaster when your HP has already been worn down, and you’re struggling your way back to town for healing. While you could often navigate around enemies in Zenonia when necessary, in Guardian Soul there is often no way to elude combat or avoid taking damage. Mostly, you just have to pray you can absorb the hits. It pays to isolate enemies when possible, picking them off one-by-one. Choosing an appropriate guardian form improves your chances, and wielding magic against swarms is essential when overwhelmed. In general, combat is less about maneuverability and reflex than in Zenonia; it is more about planning and caution, ensuring that you don’t get in over your head. And when you’ve made kills, you need to press forward to maintain the advantage; enemies respawn quickly.

Likes:

Graphics: Guardian Soul is developed by South Koreans and it shows. In appearance, game resembles many other Korean-made RPGs, such as Ragnarok and Maple Story. I count that a good thing, btw. The pixel-based artwork is reminiscent of 16-bit era classics, and is equal parts beautiful, adorable and charming. Guardian Soul is no graphical slouch, and I think the overall art direction here is superior to Zenonia.

RPG Systems: The game’s systems — guardian transformations, quests, alchemy, levels, etc. as described above — tie together nicely and succinctly, supporting and promoting the gameplay. None of the systems seem frivolous or tacked on; they’re all relevant to the adventure, separate threads meeting at a single nexus without fraying or loose ends. Few RPGs are so tidy in their endeavors.

Direction: Some gamers may view this as hand-holding, but Guardian Soul does an excellent job pushing the player in the right direction. It’s never unclear where to go next, which I think is very important for games on a mobile device, as they often get set aside for periods of time. It’s not always easy to come back to an RPG, having not played for a while, without being disoriented and having forgotten your next set of goals, or where to find them. Guardian Soul keeps a Scenario summary in your inventory screens to remind you of the tasks at hand. And when townsfolk give you new story-related goals, Leica will often run to the appropriate village exit, indicating in which direction your next task lies. I wish Zenonia were as kind; I stepped away from it for a while, came back and I’ve been lost for months.

The Map: Guardian Soul does a fantastic job with the map. The mini-map shows you the layout of the location you are presently exploring. Tapping the mini-map brings up a larger grid map of the surrounding area, showing the locations of towns, Leica’s position, and denoting explored and unexplored areas of the wilderness.

Dislikes:

Controls: Guardian Soul adopts many of the same control perks and problems seen in Zenonia’s 1.0 release. Leica automatically navigates around obstacles in her path, and targets nearby enemies when attacking. These are both welcome features first seen in Zenonia, and do much to improve the game’s playability. Unfortunately, the d-pad feels stiff and unresponsive, and the buttons don’t always trigger when pressed. I often needed to mash the spell buttons two or three times to launch spells, and the Leica doesn’t always move when I tell her to. Just as Zenonia made vast control improvements in its 1.1 update, I am hoping that Guardian Soul will do the same.

Music: Zenonia has very repetitive music, so much so that I prefer to play the game with the music turned off. Guardian Soul fairs somewhat better; the loops are longer and the melodies more complex. In fact, I like the music. The game contains a sound glitch, though, that causes the music to cut out whenever another sound effect is triggered. Attacking, picking up an item, accessing your menu and any other action causing sound will cause the music to abruptly stop, and then restart a moment later. This gets irritating very quickly. Acerbating the problem, music and sound effects are tied to a single volume control in the options menu, so it is impossible to keep sound effects while turning the music off; you either get both or neither. Again, something I very much hope to see fixed in an update.

Alchemical Failure: Higher level alchemical processes fail too frequently. Then, when they succeed, they often result in duplicate items. It’s at this point in the game that grinding begins to really feel like grinding, when you’re going out to gather alchemy materials, only to have your efforts constantly fizzle. Success at this point really becomes a matter of random chance and good luck, and forward progress is halted at points as you realize that higher level transformations are required to advance further in the story. Because of the high rate of alchemical failure, however, those transformations never seem to be forthcoming.

Short: The entirety of Guardian Soul occurs within the woods surrounding the Agnes Holy Place. While most action RPGs will take you through varying locales — lava caves, icy slopes, dank dungeons, etc. — Guardian Soul does not. You will play in the forest for the full length of the game. Overall the game is fairly short for an action RPG, though still packs in more gameplay than most iPhone offerings. I would even say that it runs longer than it should, as gameplay seems to be artificially lengthened by constant alchemical failures towards the end of the game, making it much harder to gain the powerful guardians necessary to complete your quest.

I don’t want to count it among my dislikes, but the translation deserves special mention. Overall, Guardian Soul’s translation is fairly good. As did Zenonia before it, though, it does read in Konglish at times. ‘Konglish’ is a form of Korean-influenced English that often results when native Korean speakers attempt to translate Korean into English. Up until about a year ago, I was living in South Korea, working as an English teacher. I spent five years there and loved it; I’m far from fluent in the Korean language, but I can read and write, and I understand Korean grammar. Konglish typically manifests itself in Korean grammatical rules being applied to English, and so some sentences will be missing articles (Korean has no articles) and you will sometimes encounter incorrect verb tenses. Also, some letters are interchangeable. For example, one Korean character phonetically falls somewhere between the English sounds for ‘L’ and ‘R’. And so the game consistently refers to the character as Leica; but the map represents her as ‘Reika’ and marks her position using an ‘R’ icon. Also, given that so much of the game hinges on elemental affinity, I’m fairly certain that many instances of the word ‘frame’ are supposed to be ‘flame’. The most grievous error I have found is that the game sometimes mixes up the directions East and West in dialogue, but this hasn’t really been a problem, being that the game will often show you, rather than tell, you which direction to head in next.

And that’s Guardian Soul in a rather lengthy nutshell. While it lacks the globetrotting of most RPGs, Guardian Soul offers up a healthy dose of adventure and a lot of good ideas, though not all of them realized to their full potential. I think the game will appeal to fans of Zenonia, looking for a new RPG to supplement their gaming diet. Where Zenonia relies mainly upon inventory management and character skill trees, Guardian Soul places lesser emphasis on items and inventory, instead hinging on guardian transformations, elemental affinity and alchemy. While gameplay remains similar between the two, the underlying systems are wildly different. I think Guardian Soul trumps Zenonia in presentation, but Zenonia beats Guardian Soul in polish. With a 1.1 update that fixes controls and sound, though, the issue of polish would be highly debatable. That leaves gameplay, and Zenonia has more of it; Guardian Soul is no slouch, though. While short for an RPG, a short RPG still packs in more than games in most other genres.

If you’re a fan of Zenonia, or just looking for a good action RPG, I think Guardian Soul warrants your attention.

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Guardian Soul is developed by NATE Games and costs $3.99.

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First Screens of Chronicles of Inotia 2

Com2us has been one of my more favorable developers bringing games like Homerun Battle 3D and the original Chronicles of Inotia.  Well great news folks, CoI 2 has been in development, and Com2us has released the first screenshots for the game.

CoI 2 promises to provide some sort of party play and network gameplay, which makes the game sound very similar to an MMORPG.  Of course, we’ll have to just wait and see what the game is all about and what the release version actually does.  If Com2us follows through with their idea(s), I can totally see this game as on of my top anticipated games of the year.  It seems like the party will be controlled by one player, but there will be an online battle mode for all your online needs.

Chronicles of Inotia 2 is expected to be released Winter 2009, and I cannot wait to get my hands on this upcoming RPG.

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