When the iStore first started coming to the attention of mainstream gamer’s there was something of a deficit when it came to a quality RPG showing. SquareEnix was quick as every to place Final Fantasy I and II onto another system and Zenonia was getting a lot of attention as one of the first ‘made for mobile’ titles but things were sparse. Enter Chaos Rings, a quality title with a PSOne production value and a premium price point that would have the world asking the question ‘How much is too much for a mobile game?’
Without question, Chaos Rings is a quality title. I want to establish this right out of the gate because the argument of price point usually brings the game into shady areas instead of giving it the chance to stand up on its own merits. Even today it’s an expensive buy and a definite example of Square’s unforgiving nature when it comes to iStore policy, though overall it could be considered a fair price when you consider the money this title would have gone for on a console’s download service or at launch on the PSOne. It’s also not representative of a massive challenge for an established role player, but don’t let that put you off because the experience is quite unique and puts the platforms strength to good use.
Graphically Chaos Rings is an RPG from the tail-end of the original Playstation’s life cycle. This gives it a certain Final Fantasy VIII charm graphically where characters are designed to look as human as possible and for an overall Manga inspired aesthetic rather than a cartoon-like one that sees anime hair jutting out in full pixel glory. There are only a handful of characters in the game, allowing for each to have very distinct designs with the plot allowing for every ‘couple’ to have distinct cultural imagery. This does manifest itself as a traditional mixture of European fantasy knights, south African tribes, Chinese court and Conan-style barbarians that plays to several cliches of the genre but does so in a manner that doesn’t feel offensive. Monster designs are lazy but well executed, with giant apes that vanish at the torso being a particular example of this. These are repeated and re-skinned regularly. 2D artwork that accompanies conversations is top-notch and a great example of the genre. As of 2015 the game has no support for screens larger than those seen on the iPhone 3G and instead uses cropping bars to make up the difference in scale.
Sound effects can sometimes be a mixed bag with this game using some interesting choices for battles but falling pretty heavily on the button clicks when outside. Some story sequences miss out otherwise key sound effects (swords are drawn, a character falls to the ground, etc) altogether. An update to the original game brought Japanese voice acting to the table and it’s of a high standard, though it does increase the size of the download substantially. Musically it fairs better and some of the tunes are composed very well, though none of them stand out enough to stick in your memory.
The story of Chaos Rings is split between two teams of characters and you can play between them as you see fit in separate save files. The first pairing are the European inspired Escher, an all-round arsehole who works as a merc with little regard with the people he leaves behind and his partner Musiea who wants to kill him and seems to be a heroic young lass. Eluca and Zhamo are a second pairing who are made up of a middle-aged warrior woman and a younger than average boy that has great potential. These are based on African tribesmen in theme. Both pairs along with three other couples are brought against their will to the Arena where they are informed that they will compete for the prize of immortality by a sinister host. When one man argues he’s killed outright by what appears to be the grim reaper himself. Thus told that argument won’t be tolerated they are sent out to acquire several rings and prove their worth to enter the Arena before the first round of eliminations begins. It’s a story I’ve not seen done too many times, though partially inspired by movies such as Highlander, and the low character total allows for everyone to be put at the fore at one stage or another. Each story has additional quirks and lessons in self-discovery but the overriding theme of being alone with your partner against the rest does bubble through the entire experience. Ultimately this choice of simple but direct storytelling allows for a memorable experience that stays with you once you have completed it.
Gameplay is always a major factor with a mobile title because you’re going to be jumping in and out of the game as other things distract you. This is especially true of a premium price mobile game. Opting for exploration in s screen-to-screen style similar to early PSOne rpgs allows for high quality background artwork. Exploration reveals the usual chests and the game only features one evolving shop in the hub so its a little light on many of the more epic RPG conventions. In fact the dungeons themselves are quite short and lack many points of interest, opting for maps you can access at any time to help guide you through their paths and averting any labyrinth-style exploration. Many elements are recycled thematically between dungeons and this can become dull over longer play times. What makes them interesting are the puzzles which make use of the touch-features of the devices to solve ‘move the box’ and ‘open door’ style challenges with strict move counts. These are a little more original and help to break up the otherwise repetitive nature of the game, rewarding large quantities of in-game currency as well. Battles are turn-based and feature a system where the flow of combat switches favor between the party and their enemies, adding bonuses to each side along with it according to your performance. This needs to be watched as it can quickly get you killed if it slides the wrong way too quickly but usually can be easily controlled with basic planning. Characters can attack as individuals in a manner similar to other turn based RPGs or as a pair, increasing the results of their actions but also making them one target for damage. Special moves are learned through defeating monsters of specific body types and equipping their genes into one of three slots that allow for those moves to be added to your pool. This is a good excuse to encourage grinding and re-use large amounts of enemy data between levels. Overall it doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table when it comes to the genre but it does all feel very polished.
Overall the game is a fun romp that can get boring quickly over longer play sessions and requires the limited attention span of the mobile platform to work. The story is solid and the characters are engaging, but the battle system is too easy to exploit and the dungeons are repetitive. As an early mobile title it stands out from the crowd because of its polished delivery and backing by a large developer like SquareEnix, but its price point is exaggerated in comparison to the experience it delivers. Download it only if your looking to test out something a little different from the usual Kemco crowd.