Developer: XSEED JKS
Price: $1.99
Version: 1.0.1
App Reviewed on: iPhone 5
Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
User Interface Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

I find myself in the bizarre position of not really enjoying XSEED’s Ark of the Ages, yet being compulsively drawn back into it. Normally I can figure out why I feel the way I do about certain things but in this particular instance I’m totally stymied. I shouldn’t like this game. I actually don’t like this game. And yet I do like it and want to play more of it. This requires further introspection.

Ark of the Ages is a game about a young warrior and his quest to fight his way to the top of a magical tower. Navigating from one stairwell to another requires players to find their way through increasingly complex maze-like floors filled with treasures, traps, and monsters. Exploration is handled in third person with virtual movement and look sticks while the camera shifts to first person during combat. Each fight is a matter of keeping an eye on the enemy’s movements in order to know when to block (two fingers on the screen), then swipe the ever-loving crap out of the screen to cut them down while they’re open.

The enemies and environments in Ark of the Ages call to mind one of my favorite open world RPGs from the Playstation era; King’s Field. There’s plenty of repetition, sure, but the monster designs are still unique and impressive while the various deathtraps make charging through a fool’s tactic. In between perilous ascents it’s also possible to stop by the town to rest up, sell unwanted trinkets, acquire better gear, and even enlist the help of friends (in a manner of speaking).

And yet there’s so much about it that bugs me. Maybe it’s because I play a lot of games that require looking for enemy tells but the combat is super-easy for the most part. Blocking prevents damage entirely and using quick weapons allows anyone to deal a surprising amount of pain if their fingers are quick enough. Movement is also incredibly awkward and clunky, but enemies and traps are also surprisingly inept so avoiding or getting the drop on them is usually a snap. The Imp store is a morally dubious inclusion since it offers up some incredibly useful items that can only be purchased with real money. And the much-lauded social features are poorly implemented. Sure players can recruit friends to *kind of* help, but they can only recruit their GREE friends, not Game Center.

Like I said, I have no idea why I keep playing Ark of the Ages. It shouldn’t work. Heck, it sort of *doesn’t* work. But at the same time it does. And even without worthwhile loot grinding, interesting social elements, a plot that matters, music that isn’t obnoxious, or any real challenge it’s still oddly fun. I suppose that’s just the magic of XSEED.

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