Updated: Zenonia Review

Gamevil just released Zenonia Lite!. According to its App Store page, the sampler includes eight quests in and around the starting village of Alyes–that’s good for around 30 mins of gameplay, in our estimation.

If you’ve been leery of trying Zenonia out until now, this is an excellent way to give it a test-drive.

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.

Confused yet?

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.

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