Gamevil’s Zenonia has been the subject of fan lust for a few months now, ever since we first got our hands on it at GDC 2009.
Though the final product isn’t perfect, Zenonia knows its audience and treats it to an adventure of epic proportions. This game blows the iPhone’s other action RPGs away with obsessively detailed gameplay and a monumentally huge game world that will keep many exploring for weeks on end.
Bring the pain!
All is not well in the land of Zenonia. The forces of light, led by the Holy Knights, are locked in conflict with the dark side, represented by the Dragon Clan… and the game’s mysterious young hero, Regret, is stuck in the middle.
No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that Zenonia’s story runs through many classic RPG themes. The countryside’s infested with monsters, the magic seals that keep chaos at bay are weakening, and Regret isn’t even sure who he is, let alone which side he’s on.
It’s boilerplate stuff, but it’s artfully written and there’s a nice touch of humor behind it. There’s a lot of dialog in this game, to be sure, but it doesn’t feel like a chore to read it (although we did notice an unusually high number of typos and grammar errors). The characters banter and swear at each other. They seem aware of how goofy some of the plot twists are, and they occasionally even joke about being stuck in a game. Many of these RPGs take themselves far too seriously, but Zenonia isn’t one of them.
You also have some control over where the story goes. The game is peppered with moral choices that steer Regret towards the light or dark sides. These affect your selection of quests over the course of the game, adding to replay value.
Zenonia’s story is woven around a solid core of exploration, item collection, and combat. Superficially, Zenonia plays a lot like Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past–you walk around a landscape from on overhead perspective, whacking enemies with your weapon. The game’s virtual d-pad works fairly well for movement, although we wish the dash move had its own button instead of requiring a double-tap.
But Zenonia combines this basic gameplay with much more complex RPG mechanics. For instance, you have your choice of three character classes, which each have their own items and skills. You have a full inventory, and you can equip multiple pieces of armor and magic talismans. There’s a full skill tree to work through, for adding special attacks and passive abilities to your character. You can upgrade your magic items by combining them, and run up to five quests at once. Some quests are only available at certain times of day. Basically, Zenonia has the feature set of a full PC or console action RPG, not an iPhone game.
This insane level of depth is great for those who want to really get lost in a game, but it may turn off more casual players. In fact, some of it just seems like overkill–it’s a pain to keep your equipment in good repair, and you even have to eat from time to time to keep up your strength. Detail is one thing, but is all this stuff really necessary?
Plus, not everyone will have the patience to deal with the high level of difficulty. Like many Korean RPGs, Zenonia requires a good deal of grinding. You’ll run into several points where you simply won’t be strong enough to beat a boss, or make it through a certain area. That means you’ll have to pull back and run through some sidequests until you’ve leveled up enough to punch through. Luckily, you can save the game at any time (and it saves automatically on call interrupt), so you can hop in and out whenever it’s convenient.
Zenonia’s anime-style graphics are vibrant, colorful, and full of artistic flourishes. The animation deserves special praise. Characters display emotion bubbles during dialog that add weight to the conversation, and motion-line effects during combat sell the action. The music’s a mostly forgettable collection of short loops, but at least there’s a lot of them.
At the moment, the App Store is tilted heavily towards casual, throw-away games that are good for a few minutes of entertainment here and there. Zenonia is the exact opposite. This is a real video game that demands serious levels of time and attention.
But for those eager to make that kind of commitment, there’s no better buy than Zenonia. You’ll be playing it for weeks, if not months.
Korean mobile publisher Gamevil has done extremely well with Baseball Superstars 2009, and it will soon brings its second game to the App Store: an action-RPG called Zenonia.
Zenonia has been wildly popular in the Korean mobile market, selling 600,000 copies so far, and we can see why. The game looks like a souped-up version of Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past for the SNES, with more animation, brighter colors, and more complex gameplay.
You play from the same overhead perspective, using a virtual d-pad and buttons to move your character, mount attacks, and use skills. A double-tap in a direction executes a dash attack, and touching slots at the bottom of the screen pulls off special magical techniques.
But Zenonia also has the gameplay guts of a full RPG. You talk to townsfolk to get quests, which take you all over the map and earn you experience points. There are literally thousands of weapons and items to collect and a full Diablo-like skill tree.
Gamevil digs down all the way to the little details. For instance, if you’re carrying too much stuff, you’ll be unable to move quickly. The game has a 24-hour clock, day/night cycle, and realistic weather. This clearly isn’t a casual offering; Gamevil claims that the full adventure clocks in at around 40 hours of gameplay. The company intends to add special micropayment-driven content like magic weapons when iPhone OS 3.0 rolls around, too.
The game was still in Korean when we played it, so we didn’t get a real clear idea of the story, other than the fact that it revolves standard good vs. evil themes. The moral dichotomy that seems tio be all the rage in game design these days is present in Zenonia as well, so your character can turn towards the dark side if you make the wrong choices.
Zenonia should be out sometime in May. The pricepoint is still under discussion, but Gamevil is looking at $5.99 or above, which seems reasonable to us for a game of this scope. We’ll have screens and video up later today.