Square Enix has a reputation for excelence in the RPG genre of gaming, and in one of their more recent efforts, Chaos Rings for the iPhone platform, they hit that mark yet again. With quite a long history of making some of the best RPG’s out there, on just about every system, it’s no surprise that their latest iPhone endeavor would capture a die-hard RPG fan’s attention. With superior graphics, excellent excecution of game play, and a story that is rather epic, this promises to be a defining moment for iPhone gaming platform and it’s fans. Time for that short list I keep talking about.
In Chaos Rings we are treated to some of the richest 3-D environments to date on this platform. With a wonderful color palette, imaginative use of space, and brilliant landscapes, the world (or maybe worlds) of Chaos Rings is a beautifully well done piece of art. Taking from what they learned about the limitations of hand helds that they learned from making their previous RPG “Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core”, Square Enix has been able to make a smooth and rich visual world for us to explore, with well drawn characters that resemble the best that Square Enix has to offer. Although some of the rendering on the user side does have some jagged outlining, and after about two minutes you’ll not really ever care about it, most of the fmv’s, and battle scenes are breath taking when one stops to consider this thought: “Wow, this is my iPhone I’m playing this on”. I myself own a 16GB 3GS and can say that even with environmental effects turned on, which it was spiffy that they included the option to turn those off if you want, that the game ran smoothly without a sign of crashing in sight. I was pleased with how smoothly the game played on such a limited hand held when compared to the likes of my previously owned PSP.
The game play in this game is smooth, and intuitive. I have only a few nit-picks to make, but over all, I am very impressed with how easy and fun this game was. When the game begins the pair of characters that you pick to play as wakes up in a strange place called the Ark Arena. You are given a very basic idea of the plot, more on this later, and are introduced to the other characters in the game. Using the touch screen in a splendid manner, you quickly learn to navigate through the game rather quickly. One thing in particular that makes this games interface stand out, is how easy it is to play it with only one hand. For starters, the virtual analog stick will appear and function anywhere on the screen that you choose – provided there isn’t a buttons already occupying that spot. This makes the game very user friendly, and would lend itself very well to the iPad. To talk with other characters, you simply touch the icon above their heads. To navigate through menus, you simply touch where you wish to go, what you wish to do, or what you wish to buy/sell. It really couldn’t be any smoother. Battles work rather well in this manner as well. You simply select with your finger the actions for each character you wish them to take, then select the appropriate enemy from the pop up list, and then the magic happens. There are three main views in this game that affect the game play. World view; where you run around in a board finding random battles, and treasure chests. Battle sequences; where you are treated to the Final fantasy style of turn based combat. And finally, puzzle view. In this last viewpoint, you are still using the basic world view engine, but with different puzzles for your fingers to explore. The puzzles are basic and simply serve as a welcome break from the mindless level building that unfortunately plagues almost all RPG’s. Another thing that is included in the UI, which should be a part of ALL iPhone games, is the ability to see battery level and the time in the pause menus. A welcome addition for all I’m sure. Saving will take place anywhere you wish to save, though it will always just put you back into the “waiting room” area in front of the door to the actual arena. Dying here is actually not all that bad. As long as you’re not in a boss battle, you will simply be revived in front of the only store/salesman in the game. As you play through the game and the story unfolds, you will reach certain conclusions about the plot, but after each of the battles that you would conclude to be the final battle, you are afforded the option to play the game again from right about where you left off, but this will change the ending, and therefore the story. And as the story gets deeper, and the plot thickens, the replay value of this game just keeps going up and up and up.
The story here itslf is wonderfully done. It’s both deep and interesting enough to make you want to keep going and come back for more. In fact the game is designed with that in mind. Fore, if you wish to know how the story really ends, you have to do more than just beat the final boss. In the interest of keeping this review as spoiler free as possible, I will simply say this; after beating the game, you can reload your last save and play on to get another ending. Once you’ve played through both endings for each set of playable characters, there is a separate ending that requires all four stories to be finished. I myself have yet to do finish that ending, so don’t go giving that away. The story begins mostly the same for every pair of characters, so I will give you the general overview. The two main characters, whichever two you pick, along with four other pairs all wake up in a strange place. Once they all exchange their viewpoints of how it looked before the abduction, you are told that everyone is present in order to take place in the Ark Area Tournament, and to the pair that survives to the end will be granted immortality. Then you are told before the actual tourney begins you must prove worthy. Enter the mindless level building. You are given the option to enter a doorway to another world. Once there you battle for your life, for glory, and for answers to the puzzle. Each world is unique and different. The monsters that you face are genetic mash-ups of animals that you may have seen before. As you fight on, you collect gene plates that enable the bearer to use certain magics or passive skills that help increase your ability to survive. The unique twist here is that you are stuck with a partner system. This allows both the game play and story to develop in interesting ways. Using separate or group attacks, can affect the outcome of a battle. One minor complaint I could lobby here is that in some fights you may wish to do the same actions for each of the opponents you face, so perhaps a repeat button would have been an nice extra. As the plot becomes more and more clear, and your pair become more of a couple, the game opens up giving you more opportunities to advance your level. I found this to be mostly unessacary. Mostly due to the fact that you are able to select your level of difficulty per time you enter a doorway, you can progress at a natural pace. Or if you’re really hard core, you can go back for more and more. One good addition here is, if you end up repeating a level you won’t have to repeat the puzzles. Those rooms appear as blank hallways with no encounters. The story itself, I can tell you without too much spoiling, draws heavily from the stories in the bible. This is contrasted by the names of different creatures in the game possessing names of deities from other world cultures and religions. Instead of giving away the whole story I will close this portion of my review with this thought; I was impressed by the story, and I was moved in different parts, and further more, it got me thinking.
In the end I have to give this game a high rating, and would recommend that anyone who wants to experience a truly excellent game – that they pick up Chaos Rings. It is well worth the $12.99 that you’ll pay here in the US, and it is worth your time as well. I have spent quite some time playing this game and have enjoyed it very much. With some minor tweaking I would imagine that this game would be an awesome port for the iPad. It also gives me a hope to see future releases of Final Fantasy games on either the iPad, iPhone, or at the very least the Mac. Considering the great style, the fantastic gameplay, and a story that is so fascinating, I give this game a rare and possibly unrepeatable perfect score; a 10 of 10. If these becomes a universal app for iPhone and iPad I might even give it extra credit then. Give Chaos Rings a try and I promise you’ll not regret it.
Game rated on a ten point system.