Before the launch of the App Store and the subsequent smartphone revolution, mobile gamers in South Korea had a head start on US audiences. Gamevil’s Zenonia is an action-RPG series that started off on high-end flip phones in Korea, but it eventually came stateside in 2009 on the iPhone. Over the years, we’ve watched the Zenonia series add numerous features, such as online multiplayer and overly-complicated plotlines. Read our feature below to follow the history of this impressive series.
The original Zenonia bore a striking resemblance to the classic top-down action-RPG Zelda: A Link to the Past. Its main hero, Regret, is a spiky-haired adventurer who enters a battle between The Holy Knights and the Dragon Clan. You’ll start off in towns filled with NPCs, quests, and merchants to provide you with new gear. Then, you can set out into the wild, where adorable and deadly creatures stuffed with experience points are waiting to attack. The game’s deep skill tree and character options were impressive, and once we’d played it, we knew this was the future of mobile gaming.
Key Quote: “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.”
The highly-anticipated sequel to Zenonia included four playable characters, each with unique abilities and a slightly different storyline– you could play as a paladin, sharpshooter, mage, or fighter. The gameplay in Zenonia 2 was also optimized with a gentler difficulty curve, and the menus received a much-needed upgrade since they were designed specifically to work on a touchscreen. This also marked the appearance of multiplayer in the series, where you could fight another player to the death in online arenas.
Key Quote: “We can see ourselves coming back to Zenonia 2 for some time. It likely won’t get people who disliked the original to become fans, but otherwise this is a must-have title on your iPhone.”
By the time the third Zenonia game had launched in 2011, the formula was starting to wear a little thin. Epic RPGs like Chaos Rings were proving what was possible on iOS beyond just mobile ports, so our expectations were higher for the third game in the Zenonia series. The confusing plotline became a burden instead of an asset, and the hack-and-slash gameplay hadn’t evolved much since the first game. Still, Zenonia 3 had excellent graphics, deep customization, and a few new online modes to enjoy.
Key Quote: “Don’t get us wrong: Zeononia 3 is a very ambitious and polished game. It’s just that we’ve seen this game twice before, and many of the major downsides still haven’t been fixed (the fetch quests, the translation, the repetitiveness).”
With the fourth Zenonia, Gamevil experimented with a free-to-play model that was mostly unobtrusive. The graphics and animation that defined the series for so many years were still high-quality as well. But beyond the price point, we found that there was little new about Zenonia 4. The plot was still nearly incomprehensible, and the quests were of the same “kill x number of monsters” variety that we’d played over and over.
Key Quote: “The Zenonia series is known for its excellent retro-inspired graphics, its deep RPG elements, its button-mashy fighting, and it’s fetch quest-filled gameplay. For better and for worse, all of those features are back in Zenonia 4.”
Zenonia 5 offered some enhanced fundamentals, like gorgeous character art and responsive onscreen controls, but by this point the story and gameplay had become too predictable. Even worse than the lack of innovation was the game’s freemium model, which seemed designed to make the gameplay excessively difficult if you didn’t spend a little real-world cash. Overall, though, we still feel this is a decent download if you don’t mind a bit of repetition.
Key Quote: “For absolutely stunning artwork, a quest that begs you to come back for more, and excellent controls, Zenonia 5 is the RPG of choice– that is, if the freemium model doesn’t turn you off.”
Tomorrow, we’ll add Gameloft’s Diablo-esque Dungeon Hunter series to our 50 Best list.
This article is part of a series about the best games on iOS, 2008-2013. You can read the rest here.