After an abysmal first instalment and a sequel that tried hard but failed to better the likes of ‘Zenonia’ on the early iStore, Com2uS returns with a third stab at the KRPG genre and proves that sometimes ‘third time lucky’ really is true.
The Chronicles of Inotia series must have been one of the fastest growing franchises on the iPhone back when mobile gaming was young, quickly evolving past the original into its third entry in a matter of just a few years and making massive leaps in competency each time. Its compatriots in the RPG market around it were looking at their first sequel while Inotia ploughed on ahead. Sadly, Inotia 3 sets a benchmark for the series that’s yet to be surpassed, with a lacklustre sequel that chose to play things a little too safe and ended up recycling many of this title’s systems rather than build new ones.
Visually this title uses high-end 2D sprites that could have been handled by the SNES but make better use of the extended colour palette that modern systems can draw upon. As such the game looks very pretty indeed. Character designs are neat and different members of the team have different builds to represent them on-screen. 2D manga-style illustrations represent the player party in more detail and replace the more WRPG looking character art with a less serious style. The eyes on these illustrations are a little over-sized, even for manga, but the effect is immediate, this game feels more fun for including them. Menus use a paper and book effect that fits the world setting perfectly and clearly demonstrates what you need to know at any given time. Monsters are repeated less often than in the original two games, and redrawing them in new colours adds small details to help keep them visually separate from their lower-levelled cousins. Better, all equipment given to characters is displayed visually on their person, allowing for a great deal of visual customization.
Music is nice to listen to but unobtrusive, able to keep the player interested without drawing their attention away from the matters at hand or ruining the mood of a scene. It’s mild stuff and you won’t find a strong score or single piece that sums up the whole experience (The Crystal Theme for example with the ‘Final Fantasy’ series) but nothing stands out as bad or boring. Sound effects are repetitive over the course of multiple battles, but the game keeps them clear and each has been well recorded in its own right. Com2uS appear to be aware with this game that people tend to play mobile titles on mute or whilst listening to their own music, and the player can mute different elements to allow for this.
The story of Inotia 3 follows lead protagonist Lucio, a young man living in the village of Carnia who is accompanied by the love of his life and childhood friend Ameli. The pair of them have a natural chemistry on screen and it’s nice to see this established and not the traditional love triangle that stopped being original after ‘Final Fantasy VII’ (perhaps even ‘Final Fantasy IV’). The pair go from Lucio’s coming of age ceremony to saving the world from a primordial god after a series of events that sees them escorting a holy item entrusted to them by a dying Orc sends them on the run from a powerful dark group. To add to the narrative complexity there are 10 additional plot based characters who all join the group, and though some receive more plot time than others each feels fun to use. Lucio also experiences flashbacks to background plot on a semi-regular basis, and it’s a significant way into the story before the connection between these two stories becomes clear. All these elements add up to a strong plot hook for a game that’s primarily intended as a time-killer. There are however some localisation issues that require players to be forgiving of a few strange sentences in an otherwise entertaining script.
Gameplay holds things together extremely well. The option to tap the screen for movement in emulation of a mouse-led game is gone and in its place the virtual pad has been honed to near-perfection. Response is rapid and immediate, and whilst the combat system inspired by MMORPGs remains in place it’s better handled here than in Inotia 2. The HUD can be altered to be transparent, and elements can be shifted around, making for an experience that best serves how you want to hold the device it’s on, and icons still trigger skills then use a cool down system in addition to costing MP. Controlling a party of 3 characters at any single time, the game revolves around quests of various kinds. Fetch quests and monster hunts are common, and item synthesis is present to a degree that can be touched on lightly of have considerable time spent on the get the most out of it. Lucio can be given one of 6 classes at the start of the game, with Barbarian, Templar, Rogue, Shadow Hunter, Arc Mage and Priest all having different skills and items to equip. Sadly this means that many items are junk until a character is recruited or created who can wield them, with the early game littered with false-loot like this. This coupled with the quest based items and synthesis plays into the games only drawback. Inventory management is extremely cramped and characters have only so much space on their person to carry items. You can buy smaller bags to place inside your inventory that contains additional space, but the game really wants you to use its cash shop to purchase a massive bag of holding for more money than it’s worth. Whilst some of the items in the shop are overpriced, others feel like a bargain for what you get. The title uses a system where mercenary characters can be created to fill roles otherwise not in use, this is done using a rare drop item and it varies in quality and class. With such a big player character rosta already you might never use this at all, but in the early game it pays to have a third member backing you up and two of these can be held in the rosta in addition to all of the story characters (having more means one must be let go once you hit the cap in the later game segments). The cash shop takes the randomness out of the system and sells you a premium (all skills and passive bonuses available to be learned rather than having a number of them drawn randomly based on item type) item that creates exactly the class you choose. These mercenaries often combine the better characteristics of multiple story characters, being prime examples of a class type and as such having one around is helpful but not essential. The game is bug free and handles multi-tasking better than most RPGs of its time, remaining paused ready for your return when the phone rings or while you check out a web page.
Overall, Inotia 3 is perhaps the perfect KRPG for touchscreens. It’s fast, stable and has characters who are both likable and interesting. The gameplay is perfect for dropping in and out of at a moment’s notice and you’re rarely unable to drop everything and do something else should the need arise. The game is balanced exceedingly well and players can seek out challenges or keep to what they think they’re capable of and progress either way. It’s a shame that Inotia 4 doesn’t hit such a high standard, that’s not to say it’s a bad game (it’s not, just not as good as this one) but a lack of interest seems to have killed our chances of a meatier 5th instalment for the time being. Though Inotia 3 is available as a freemium game, do yourself a favour and buy the ad-free version for a small amount of cash and enjoy getting lost in it for days to come.