A Thrilling RPG for the iTouch/iPhone
Generally, this iPod Touch/iPhone OS isn't really touched by video game developers. Square-Enix has quite a few titles on the App Store already, such as Final Fantasy I and II. However, this new title greatly impresses, and is no mini-game: It takes well over twenty hours to complete (which means that you often are going to run to your computer and charge your iPhone/Touch just to get more).
Square-Enix has a very different approach to this game, something that I haven't seen before in the App Store, or in Square-Enix's vast fantasy RPG game library. But let's take this one at a time.
Chaos Rings ($12.99 on the App Store, takes a LONG time to download) features 4 couples who have been taken to a far-off realm known as the "Ark Arena," and are bid by a mysterious adversary known as "The Agent" to fight for their lives. Of course, their plight doesn't go unrewarded - upon winning the tournament, the victorious couple gains eternal life and youth.
Seems slightly shallow on the surface, but the thing is that if I tell you more, I'll be ultimately ruining the overarching story.
When I said "couples," I literally mean a couple, man and woman, love, so on, so forth. You first play from the perspective of two couples, and then, you can play as the other two. Each has a pretty different story. To use a somewhat small example, in one story, the characters Olgar and Vahti are antagonists, and you really end up disliking them. However, in another story (their own), Olgar and Vahti are the characters you are most likely to sympathize with.
What I'm trying to say here is that the characters are very different from story-to-story, allowing for great character development.
Of course, since we're dealing with Square-Enix, it would be almost a given that this new game is an RPG, and of course, it is. To initiate a battle, simply walk around for a random encounter. The battle system is completely turn-based, with simple commands. You control two characters (one couple) at once, and can attack one at a time, or as a pair. The problem with Pair attacks is that whenever an enemy attacks in that same turn, they hit BOTH of the characters, compromising your defenses (unless you decide that they both Defend, which isn't too smart an option). Then again, you can wipe out enemies very easily with Pair attacks, so a good deal of strategy is introduced when choosing between Solo commands and Pair commands.
Each couple consists of a "Human Warrior" (a character who prefers physical attacks) and a "Human Mage" (a character who focuses on magical offense). Each character can be developed completely differently in what is called the "Gene" system. Whenever you defeat an enemy, you have a chance of obtaining their "Genes," which are recorded on "Plates." When these Plates are equipped, your character can learn the abilities of enemy monsters. There are 6 abilities in each plate, with many different plates to collect. It offers a high-level of customization for each character, and since you can equip up to 3 plates at a time, the possibilities are endless.
Even if the game was made up of the cute chibi Final Fantasy sprites of old, it would be enjoyable. But it's not. The graphics are vividly presented, and each character is brought to life. After seeing 2D games in the App Store, seeing this great 3D is refreshing.
That's not the only amazing thing about Chaos Rings. The control scheme is magnificent. When you touch the screen, an analog stick appears. By sliding your finger across the screen, you move the character with the same precision you would have to move Mario in Super Mario 64. When near an object of interest, press a little exclamation point in the corner. The menu can be accessed any time in the field, and is easy to operate.
The soundtrack is amazing. I would love to go in-depth, but it cannot be expressed in words. Simply marvelous.
Of course, even Chaos Rings does not come without its faults. Those great graphics I mentioned? Well, that makes the game lag. Very, very, often. More often than Final Fantasy XIII on the XBox 360. The game is still great, but it tends to get annoying. In addition, while the soundtrack is strong, many tracks are ruined by very unnecessary vocals. Most of the time, it's just random scratching! Very disappointing.
A very annoying aspect is the huge variables in random battles. That may seem like an oxymoron, but when you traverse through 4 rooms in a dungeon without an encounter, there's a problem, especially in the later points in the game where it becomes very important to level-grind. The aggravating thing is that you gain a Gene skill that TURNS OFF YOUR ENCOUNTERS. When you have such a skill, you would expect the battles to become more... periodic.
Regardless, Chaos Rings is a very strong game, not just on the iPhone/iPod Touch, but for handheld gaming in general. I wouldn't be surprised if it got ported to the Nintendo DS/3DS or the PSP. But in the meantime, as an App Store exclusive, it fares strongly and should be considered if you happen to have a hankering for an RPG. It contains all of the Square-Enix trademarks, and is a must-buy for any Square-Enix lover or RPG lover.