From the creators of Final Fantasy and Wild Arms comes Chaos Rings, a 3D iPhone role-playing game that can't possibly live up to its pedigree, can it?
With Wild Arms studio Media Vision handling development, art designs by Final Fantasy VII art director Yusuke Naora, music by anime and video game composer Noriyasu Agematsu, and a story by acclaimed Japanese writer Yukinori Kitajima, Square Enix's reveal of Chaos Rings for the iPhone got RPG fanatic's blood pumping. Between this massive gathering of talent and the first glorious screens of the game in action, role-playing fans' expectations soon rose beyond rational levels.
Media Vision couldn't possibly live up to such lofty expectations. How close do they get?
iPhone Meets PlayStation: Chaos Rings looks like no other role-playing game I've played on the iPhone. What it does look like is any number of 3D role-playing games that appeared on the original PlayStation. Games like Final Fantasy VIII might not stand the test of time on your giant widescreen television, but similar graphics on the tiny iPhone screen look crisp and stunning. Especially impressive are some of the game's larger enemies, filling the entire screen and dwarfing your team of characters in comparison.
Extreme Couples Counselling: I'd seen screen shots of Chaos Rings before the game released, so I expected pretty. What I didn't expect was the compelling narrative woven into the game. Five teams of two combatants each are brought to the mysterious Ark Arena to fight for the prize of eternal youth and immortality. The couples are each a relatively mismatched pair, who over the course of the game have to learn to work together in order to survive. The characters are interesting enough, but the ending... well, one of the endings, was impressive as hell. This is a far meatier plot than I ever expected to find in an iPhone game, and I've not even finished all four scenarios or moved on to New Game Plus mode yet.
Two Fighters Are Sometimes Better Than One: Chaos Rings' combat system sets itself apart from other popular role-playing franchises through the use of its Solo/Pair mechanic. Emphasising the importance of couples in the game, fighting monsters can be done as either a pair or as one combined unit. Choosing the Solo option lets both players act independently, which makes for weaker attacks overall, but more survivability. The Pair options lets both players perform the same action - attacking, activating a gene ability (magic), using a healing item - with enhanced efficiency. You'll cause more damage in Pair mode, but it also allows enemies a chance to hit both characters at once with their attacks. The system adds a neat element of strategy to the game, forcing players to decide between big damage to their characters and big damage to the enemy.
You Can Turn Off Random Encounters: I nearly cried with joy when I unlocked the ability to turn off random encounters. You don't need some potion, or a timed spell, or to sacrifice your cats to foreign gods. It's an option that pops up in the menu. Click, no more random encounters. It's the most beautiful, exploration-friendly, option I've ever seen. Time to explore!
Play At Your Own Pace: Chaos Rings' dungeons may be long and winding, but when you can hop in and out of them as you please, that's hardly an issue. In fact, it's pretty damn convenient, just like the option to turn off the random encounters, or the ability to choose higher difficulty levels in the dungeons for more of a challenge, or the game auto-saving whenever you get a phone call or text. The game knows it's an iPhone title, and goes great lengths to make sure it provides phone players every possible convenience.
The one stumbling block you might run into in acquiring Chaos Rings is the entry fee. $15.99 is a hefty price to pay for an iPhone title. iPhone and iPod touch gamers generally expect smaller, shorter games on the platform, games that you'd expect to find for $4 to $12. Chaos Rings might not fall into the iPhone gaming sweet spot price-wise, but then Chaos Rings isn't your typical short and sloppy iPhone game. It's a well-polished role playing game that would have been just as much at home on Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network as it is on my iPhone. If you're worried about getting your money's worth, consider this: I've played the game for nearly sixteen hours, and I've only completed it with two of the four sets of characters you eventually unlock. That, and I still have New Game Plus available should I want to further enhance my characters. That's forty-five hours of game play, easy.
So don't let the slightly higher than average price scare you away; Chaos Rings is an amazing iPhone role-playing game that's well worth every penny.
Chaos Rings was developed by Media Vision and published by Square Enix for the iPhone on April 20. Retails for $15.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Finished the game as both Eluca and Escher, and plan on completing the rest at my leisure.
Confused by our reviews? Read our review FAQ.