RPGs on the iPhone tend to come in two varieties: the grind-heavy Korean RPG (ala Zenonia) and the archaic NES RPG that we don't have fun playing anymore but buy compulsively anyway (Final Fantasy).
However, Chaos Rings is breaking the mold and offering a console-style RPG to the iPhone gamer. Chaos Rings is an RPG that can be judged on its own merits, rather than as a comparison to the gimped ports that have composed most of the iPhone’s RPG release schedule over the past two years. This is a full-fledged JRPG experience that is so far beyond its platform competitors that it's more appropriate to compare it to its big brothers on the consoles.
The recipe for Chaos Rings' success starts with its surprisingly engrossing story. Pairs of people from around the globe have been unexpectedly summoned to a mysterious place and told by a giant creature known as 'The Agent' that they're being forced to undertake challenging tasks, and eventually they'll have to fight each other for the right to survive.
Even compared to big-budget console RPG releases, this minimalist story setup works fairly well. You're given such little information that you're left to come up with your own questions about what's happening, whereas most RPGs will throw those questions in your face via a whiny emo soliloquy from the main character.
The fact that they are summoned in pairs (some that don't make much sense) becomes important as the combat system is revealed. The turn-based battles are fought with your two-person party. At the beginning of each turn you're asked whether you want to conduct the next turn as a pair or individually. If you work as a pair your spells and attacks will do more damage than if you'd attacked singly, but you'll also both take damage from every attack. It's a unique system that adds an additional layer of depth to an otherwise standard JRPG combat system.
What seals the deal for this game, though, are the production values. Square Enix has clearly put a lot of effort behind this game. Not only is this a well thought-out and well-executed RPG experience, but it's also graphically on par with some early PS2 RPGs.
It's one of the most expensive games yet released on iTunes, but if you like JRPGs then this is well worth the cost. The game itself is pretty lengthy, though certainly not comparable to console offerings (though who would expect it to be?) and even offers two separate pairs of characters to complete the game as, which doesn't alter the overall story, but you see it from a different point of view.
Even when judged with the standard of epic console RPGs, Chaos Rings holds its own. This is a great RPG no matter what it’s judged next to. Square Enix has been ramping up their support for the iPhone for quite a while, and if this is a sign of the kind of products they'll be releasing then we're very excited for their future games.
May 6, 2010