CHAOS RINGS II

from SQUARE ENIX INC, originally released 15th March, 2012

★☆★
Following in the footsteps of App Store Hall of Fame inductees CHAOS RINGS and CHAOS RINGS Ω, we are proud to announce that CHAOS RINGS II for iPad has been selected as a Best of 2012 app! To celebrate, we're dropping the prices on all titles from the CHAOS RINGS series!
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Chaos Rings II Review

While Chaos Rings II is unmistakably a sequel to the games to bear the name prior, it is in such a way as other role-playing game sequels– such as Final Fantasy— before it. That is, it takes a lot of familiar elements from its forebears, but applies them to a new situation and characters while adding some new wrinkles of its own to the formula.

As noted in our first impressions, the game starts off in a rather chaotic and jarring fashion as you are placed face-to-face with a fiery beast who looks like he could easily be the final boss of the game. Fortunately, you don’t look so bad yourself– you may not know who you are or who your opponent is, but you have a sword, a nice stack of Hit and Magic Points, and more options for what to do than you’ll even know what to do with (though if you’ve played the first Chaos Rings, you’ll likely have a good idea).

When you’re inevitably struck down, the game flashes back a few days, and you’re caught almost equally off-guard in a lush green forest, where a hero who looks very much like the one who just bought it at the hands of ultimate evil. Named Darwin, he meets with brother and fellow mercenary Orlando, whose blond hair and colorful attire seems rather vibrant next to much of the cast, but still cool all the same. Together, they are just in time to witness some strange monsters finish off the last of their group in a rather gruesome fashion.

Orange you happy to see me?

Together, the brothers unite to take out these monsters and swear to make sure the other makes it out alive, all for the sake of the third member of their family, Marie. As they near the exit to the forest, though, something strange happens, and they find themselves in a place that looks at once both high-tech and mystical– like a cross between a temple and a spaceship.

There, you take control of Orlando as he looks around and things only begin to get weirder. He returns to Darwin, who is behind a barrier, and in a bizarre twist of fate, the two switch places. Unable to control himself, Darwin raises his sword before delivering a deadly blow to his longtime colleague.

Four other people appear– Marie among them– and the whole lot are called together by a mysterious gentleman who calls himself Bachs, who just put the entire world on hold with his stopwatch to take care of some rather urgent business. With a large, formidable bodyguard by his side, he explains the news: the other four must die in order to preserve a seal which will keep the Destroyer locked away.

At this point, the bunch of them are shacking up together in a giant mansion-esque space-temple while they group together and investigate happenings down on the planet below. There is an interesting dynamic among the group; as you control different characters, you learn that they all share a common bond. And on top of that, there is the ongoing question of whether or not Darwin will be able to pull the proverbial trigger when the time comes to make with the whole ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ bit.

In addition to ‘home,’ which is where characters rest, refill their magic, research, buy items, and more, they go down into the world. If we didn’t know better, we would say that much of the world is presented in the form of paintings, which provides an interesting look at things. Seeing drops of liquid splashed from a waterfall hanging in mid-air seems surreal– one might even think ‘lazy’ as a knee-jerk reaction– until you remember that the world is now frozen in time.

Don’t do it, you have so much to live for.

A neat bit which makes good use of the iPhone’s touchscreen are different moves each character has to help navigate these cyberworld-like shortcuts which appear on the other side of portals. Marie, for example, can move floating platforms around to create bridges by touching, while Araki can slice through some ribbon-like barriers with his sword by swiping your finger, and Li Hua can pummel walls to pieces.

Unfortunately, monsters on the world’s surface didn’t get the memo about being frozen, and still move around freely to attack you. Even more unfortunate is that this is where the developers dug into ‘The Big Book of RPG Gameplay Tropes,’ and confront you with random encounters. Fortunately, these don’t seem quite as frequent as in the first game, but with various dead-end routes scattered about, you’re more likely to run into random battles than you might like.

In addition, the battles also tend to present some of the problems we hate, such as being unable to run away from a battle when you really need to, or enemies being able to essentially swat one of your party down with a single blow. As a result, you’ll find yourself making liberal use of the Save option, which you can do from anywhere.

That isn’t to say that the battles are always bad, though. For one thing, your Hit Points are refilled after each encounter, so long as one of you remains standing. With that, you don’t have to worry about running back to refill between battles, making moving around a lot easier. Magic Points are another thing, however, as you must either use items or return to home base in order to refill those.

A battle cry is the same in any language.

The turn-based battle system is very much like the first Chaos Rings, which in itself wasn’t terribly different from the RPG norm, but presented a few neat ideas just the same. Attack, Defend, Escape, and Items are all present and accounted for, while the Pair system from Chaos Rings remains intact. For those unfamiliar, this is where you have two combatants on the field, and have both of them perform an action in-tandem. This can range from dual-striking a formidable foe to break through their defenses, casting spells, or using items. Likewise, you can have each member go Solo, and perform their actions independently.

A new type of secondary ability emerges in Chaos Rings II; where the first game had ‘genes’ as the basic magic use, it has now been replaced by ‘Sopia,’ a sort of ‘crystalized soul’ which grants different skills to each party member, and can be increased by gathering SP in battle. These Sopia come from both the monsters you slay, as well as those you chooses to be sacrificed as Pillars, allowing you to gain skills and attributes from them.

The Break Gauge makes its return from the first game, allowing you to turn things in your favor by doing well in battle. When it’s filled, you’ll be able to do added damage to an enemy. It is now joined by the Charge Gauge, which fills as you attack and are attacked. As it reaches certain points, you’ll be able to perform powerful attacks known as ‘Awakenings’ and ‘Advents,’ which drain the meter according to how powerful they are. However, Awakenings only work for Solo attacks, while Advents– which are basically Summons– work for Pairs.

Success in battle can yield rewards, such as precious life-restoring Chocolate, or Ohnz, the currency seen in the first game. And to spend those, you’ll want to go see a character named Piu-Piu. Piu-Piu is something of a series mainstay, and perhaps the strongest link between the different games. For those who don’t know, he is a bizarre little salesman who seems to have the good sense to not only set up shop wherever there is a doomsday scenario nearing, but to lurk close behind our heroes to save them when they fall (in exchange for a handful of Ohnz, of course).

Escape is, quite literally, not an option.

At first, his appearance in Chaos Rings II feels slightly more jarring and out-of-place than in the first game, what with his cartooniness amongst all the somber happenings (even Escher had a bit of a smile going on), but he soon feels right at home, despite wearing a bra on his head and traveling with cut-outs of women (he’s since added a third to his group).

He’s also worth seeking out and talking to whenever you get the chance for a dose of levity. Unfortunately, as with most RPG dialogue, if you miss something he said the first time, he won’t come back to it. But at least he changes it up depending on who he’s talking to or which pairings he sees, and rather frequently, at that.

Overall, Chaos Rings II presents a very solid RPG experience for the iPhone. It has its flaws, but they are mostly forgivable. Aside from what was mentioned before, we have to wonder how such a pricey game only features Japanese voice acting. It’s not bad or anything, and you can turn it down if you wish, but without being able to understand the characters anyway, we found ourselves just tapping through the text to read faster than they were talking.

We also found that the touchscreen sensitivity wasn’t quite as good as it could have been. Thankfully, this game type doesn’t really call for fast reflexes, so it just comes down to having the patience to touch the screen again until you get it to register. Likewise, you have to reinitiate the thumbstick with every screen transition– a minor nuisance.

Chaos Rings II is a very good representation of the genre, though it doesn’t really do anything so outstanding as to elevate it to a new level or rise above. But its story and characters stand tall among the best, and we recommend it to anyone who is a fan of this type of game– and perhaps even some who aren’t.

Chaos Rings II First Impressions

Chaos Rings II is an extraordinarily long game, and an expensive one, too. While we work through the full game for our review, we wanted to give you our impressions of the first few hours. Read on to find out if this Square Enix RPG is worth buying at full price, and check back soon for our full review.

Though Chaos Rings II bears the mark of a sequel, it seems to follow in the footsteps of a certain other famed RPG series from Square Enix, in that it seems to have little to do with the games which preceded it. At least, that’s what appears to be the case so far.

The beginning of the game is a bit confusing to figure out at first– in medias res in action. You are immediately thrown into what appears to be a final boss fight, facing down an enormous creature who has a bone to pick with you. Meanwhile you seem to have a significant number of Health and Magic Points, to say nothing of more attacks than you know what to do with– not that it matters, as it appears you are doomed to fail in this encounter.

All of this, and you don’t even know who is who yet.

The funny part of this encounter is that you aren’t really instructed in how anything works– they just let you have at it. But after you flash back a few days and take control of a familiar-looking swordsman named Darwin, you begin to receive instructions– a lot of instructions. It seems the game’s default assumption is that you have never played an RPG before in your life, and if there is a way to change that tutorial, we haven’t seen it.

In the first hour, there is a lot of story– perhaps more story than gameplay. Without going into too much detail, an evil presence is threatening the world, and you have been chosen (by accident, in a way) to be the person to slay five ‘pillars’– innocent people, two of whom are close to you– to ensure the world’s survival. Oh, and you get to go questing with each one beforehand, alone in a world frozen in time (mostly). Awkward…

But as it happens, the process of setting off for adventure with the guys and gals you’re going to eventually shank facilitates a series of team maneuvers between the two, such as having both attack at once, or having them move individually. The game implies that knowing when to have the two work together and apart is key to your success, though having an early boss take out our partner in one hit seemed to send a different message.

Incidentally, during the medias res moment mentioned above? There was only one guy fighting the big bad, so maybe it’s a good idea not to rely too much on teamwork.

The story in Chaos Rings II also reveals some interesting hooks when you venture into the library, where you discover that this is far from the first time the ritual has had to take place. Looking back at past instances sheds light on fascinating incidents which took place before: In one case, those to be sacrificed were leaders from the same country, and accepted their fate without protest. In another similar case, members from another country did protest their fate, which fell on deaf ears when it came time for a slave from that country to do his part for the sacrifices.

Overall, Chaos Rings II feels very solid, if not exactly outstanding. There are a few interesting mechanics, like a charging meter for some attacks and ‘Sopia,’ which are basically the game’s equivalent of magic, obtainable from allies and foes alike. The artwork is a little drab– not bad, but colors rarely tend to be vivid, which suits the somber theme. However, the same can’t be said for the bizarre mascot-ish shopkeeper.

Those are our immediate thoughts as we wait for our iPod to recharge. Stay tuned for the whole review.