iPhone Game Review: Chaos Rings Omega Reviewed by Tim Harvey
When Square Enix delivered the Original Chaos Rings to the app store last year, it was a watershed moment for iOS gaming in more ways than one. First of all, it signaled a change in attitude from one of the world's most well-respected video game companies towards the potential of the Apple app store, as before Chaos Rings, Square Enix's most notable titles on the app store were ports of the DS versions of the first two Final Fantasy games. iPhone and iPod Touch-owning RPG fans were salivating over the idea of an iPhone exclusive title from the developer, and when they delivered it seemed to go a long way towards validating the devices as legit gaming consoles.
Secondly, and more readily apparent, it was significant because the game was awesome. While a bit pared down and with some significant gameplay tweaks that made it a lot more mobile-friendly compared to some of the juggernaut-sized games Square Enix had released in the past on other systems, Chaos Rings seemed to deliver on all its promises?and then some. From the brilliant graphics and story to the nuanced and creative combat system, it was easily the most impressive iOS RPG available at the time.
So with the release of this sequel, or rather, prequel, fan expectations were bound to be sky high. The fact that Chaos Rings Omega doesn?t really appear to have been conceived as a true sequel means that some of those expectations will be let down, but it doesn?t mean that the game isn?t excellent. It is, however, worth warning you that Omega doesn?t tread any new ground or do anything better than the original title did. It?s simple, really: if you loved the first Chaos Rings and wished the game had lasted longer, then you?ll probably love Omega just as well. If on the other hand, you didn?t like the first game then this one won?t do anything to change your mind. Conversely, if you haven?t played the first Chaos Rings yet, I?d recommend that title as a starter before getting this one simply because it has a running time that?s probably at least twice as long as this game?s, (although there is some replayability to be had here even after finishing the game), and it does deliver better dialogue, which is one of my own personal hang-ups about Omega. Far too many characters speak in a very stilted way, with way too many conversations ?bein? delivered like they?re talkin? while tryin? not ta use the letter ?g.?? Yeah, seriously, it really annoys and distracts me from the otherwise excellent story. The writing does still earn high marks, however, and it?s a signature strength for a turn-based RPG to have, and will ensure you?re enthralled until the credits roll.
I don't want to spoil the story for the uninitiated, but the gameplay basically consists of your 2-person team of characters navigating an arena in search of the titular rings so as to prove their worth. Lending itself well to the mobile format, you won't find the need to grind in this game more than you want to, as you can choose the levels of monsters you'll face in each area and the bosses will be powered according to your level. Likewise fit for the small screen, the navigation is not exploration-heavy, which is a good thing because the maps that you will try to use to find your way around are woefully confusing. I had forgotten how frustrating this aspect of the original Chaos Rings was, and it's something you'd perhaps have hoped Square Enix would improve this time out. No such luck, as the maps will sometimes seem to make sense and sometimes serve to make you shake your head in confusion. You'll be better off instead using a wall-following approach, nevermind that the mazes don't appear to have walls much of the time. In any case, if you always move to the left or always move to the right in the arena then you'll have little trouble traversing the levels without the use of the maps.
Along the way you'll find yourself up against oddly familiar animal/monster hybrids, which you'll engage in turn-based combat. What's great about the combat in this series is that there is a good deal of strategy and variety in it, which starts when you choose to attack either using each character individually or as a tandem. There are benefits and drawbacks to each, but the most important comes down to your hit rate versus the ability of the enemy to target each character individually or collectively. There is also a very original magic system in which you use "genes" that you gather by defeating monsters. By defeating more of those same monsters you will level the genes up and gain more abilities. You can only recharge your magical abilities by using very scant items or by leaving an arena, so take care not to find yourself facing a boss without enough mana to use magic. There are plenty of familiar genre tropes in the combat system also, such as certain creatures' connection to a certain element making them more or less vulnerable to specific kinds of magic.
I'd like to tell you about what I think the game's greatest strength is as a pure experience, but alas, it would be hard to do without those pesky spoilers. Let's just say that the game is punctuated just as much by boss battles as it is the engaging cut scenes and the two often mingle, creating a very cinematic and immersive experience, but for some of those annoying dialogue affectations. Really though, if this game does do anything differently than the original Chaos Rings, it's that it delivers a more straightforward story, which some people will certainly appreciate.
The graphics are pretty much unchanged from the original Chaos Rings save some more extreme weather effects, and for the most part they hold up very well. The backgrounds are all pre-rendered and often hand drawn, which means they are static but look great, save some occasionally noticeable blurriness despite the usually consistent retina display quality of resolution. Characters have a high poly-count and look better than the characters from all but a very choice few iPhone games such as Infinity Blade and Dead Space. What really sets the visuals in Chaos Rings Omega apart from some of the excellent graphics that you see in, for example, Gameloft's titles is the incredibly stylish art direction. The attention to detail in landscapes, hallways and machinery is breathtaking. It also contributes to the overall atmosphere of the game and makes the story more grounded in believability. Sadly, the fact that the game is consistently remarkable-looking only serves to accentuate the few times when backgrounds are badly blurred. Perhaps because the game looks so good so often, you get used to the fact pretty quickly and the flaws only stand out that much more, which might lead some observers to think the game isn't as optimized as it could be. I am hopeful that with all the plans Square Enix has apparently made to update the game in the coming months that they will smooth out these rough edges as well, which would go a long way towards improving the overall graphical presentation.
The other minor complaint I have is with how many assets have been reused from Chaos Rings--enemies and environments sometimes don't even appear to have been given a color palette swap. It's understandable, in a sense. The Ark Arena's homeowners don't seem like they'd care a great deal for renovation and it's only natural that the same sorts of creatures would be living in the same place. It would have been nice to see some effort put into adding variety to the Chaos Rings universe though, and if something along those lines hasn't been done for the upcoming Chaos Rings II then I know that I for one will be pretty unhappy about it. Chaos Rings Omega may work as a sort of expansion to the original, but for a full-blown sequel the onus will be on Square Enix to come up with something that provides a bit more variety.
Much like the graphics, the sound is excellent, but mostly cribbed from the earlier game. The title theme does add vocals to the mix, but other than that you're in for a lot of repetition if you've already spent 20 hours with the first game. It doesn't bother me too much, since it's all at a quality beyond what we see in the great majority of other iPhone titles, but I can certainly understand people wanting something fresh. You can listen to your own music with or without sound effects, at least.
Chaos Rings Omega is one of the best RPGs available on iOS, but considering it borrows so much from Chaos Rings it's narrowly a game of its own. As I mentioned before, I'd recommend getting the first game before this one, mostly because it's a lot longer, but if you really want to save yourself the dollar you can start here if you'd like. Taken entirely on its own (borrowed) merits, it is an excellent RPG. If you enjoyed the first Chaos Rings then you'll hardly need my recommendation to pick this up, unless you feel you'd require an evolution of the game to enjoy playing it again. If you're looking for something entirely different after the first game, give this a miss, but if you simply want to make one more run through the Ark Arena while deepening the Chaos Rings story then you won't be disappointed.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4.5 - Some very blurry background textures will occasionally stand out amongst an otherwise beautifully-presented game, complete with all the JRPG flair and gorgeous attention to detail that Square Enix is known for. Sound: - 4 - Excellent sound that has been almost entirely appropriated from the first Chaos Rings may have you taking advantage of the in-game iPod library support. If you're hearing it for the first time though, you're bound to be impressed. Controls: - 4.5 - The game uses a touch anywhere virtual joystick for movement that takes a few minutes to get used to, but otherwise the menus are all navigated deftly with simple tap-to-select controls. Being turn-based, this is not a title that requires quick reflexes or twitch-based skills to play, so the controls simply do what they ought to--blend into the background while you play. Gameplay: - 4.5 - If you dislike turn-based RPGs then this game probably won't be the one to change your mind, but if you're looking for something that has depth and strategic elements in its combat and magic systems, as well as a great story, look no further. Overall: - 4.5 - I think originality is important in game development, and as it completely piggy-backs off a game that came out last year, Chaos Rings: Omega leaves a lot to be desired. However, in every other area I can find little fault with it. If I were someone approaching this game without having any idea about what came before it, I?d probably think it was one of the best games available for Apple devices, and in fact, it is. It?s just not as original or content-laden as its successor.
Playing Hints and Tips:
-If you fail a puzzle three times you can simply choose to skip it, but in doing so you'll be missing out on an item that may help you in a boss battle or allow you to sell it to do less grinding for OZ (the game world's currency). Basically, skipping is no big deal at all, if you simply want to spend a little extra time in combat.
-Remember that if an enemy is weak to a certain element you can cast an attack spell that will not only damage them greatly, but which also makes your regular attacks stronger as you retain the element's properties. On the other hand, remember that if the enemy attacks you with a spell that uses an element you are then more vulnerable to it will do greater damage to you.
-You can use an emergency exit item to escape a dungeon and recharge your magic abilities at any time, which can save you from spending OZ to be revived if you're in a sticky situation.