Version Reviewed: 1.0.1
Device Reviewed On: iPad
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Game Controls Rating:
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Chaos Rings on the iPhone is an excellent balance of RPG elements and pocket device sensibilities. Because of its small size and more casual nature, Chaos Rings had to strike a balance, and it did so very well. For the most part, that holds true on the iPad, where Chaos Rings continues to be a spectacular effort by a major developer to bring console-quality RPG play to the iOS. However, this upscaled effort is not without its blemishes.
It’s Adventure Time!
In Chaos Rings, you begin by taking control of either Escher and Musiea or Eluca and Zhano, each a pair that has been kidnapped by the mysterious Agent and forced to fight in the Ark Arena. There are two other playable couples, but those can only be played after beating the game. The prize for the victors is eternal life; the losers get only death.
Most of the game is spent fighting through maze-like dungeon worlds with names like “Ancient Path of Doom,” where you are set upon by random wandering monsters as you seek out giant boss battles. It all sounds a little contrived, but it works as a vehicle to limit the scope of the game – which is actually a pretty good way to approach such a game on the more casual iOS devices. Besides, Square Enix knows RPGs inside and out, and they bring all of their carefully honed sensibilities into making this an enjoyable dungeon crawl.
Part of what makes Chaos Rings work so well is the way they’ve balanced the combat. As you battle, you can choose to have each member of your pair attack separately, which offers more strategic options and is almost mandatory in boss battles; or have them strike as a pair, which is more straightforward, more damaging, and better suited to most wandering monster challenges. As you play on, you will get to know your enemies, and you will get to decide how complex you want to make each challenge. By the late stages of the game, I preferred strategic play to paired-up power attack, but that’s the whole point – you get to play the style you like. Character customization via “genes” – powers that you win from monsters and equip to confer special abilities – add to this variability.
I won’t deny that by the end of the game the story had hooked me as well. Even for its simple, well-tread premise, Square Enix builds all sorts of little subtleties into things, such that by the end you will certainly be invested in these characters. And their personal story arcs are different enough that playing through a second time keeps the game interesting.
The other thing I loved about this game is something small, but spectacular: the moving joystick. We’ve seen static joysticks before, and adjustable joysticks, and moveable joysticks; but Chaos Rings lets the joystick appear wherever you place your thumb.
It’s such an intuitively good idea that I’m surprised no one came up with it earlier. It’s a feature that actually works better on the iPad, since there’s more screen to touch and grips are going to vary across individuals more.
There are minor quibbles I have with the game. The monsters could use more variety, for one; there’s about a dozen monster types, and they vary from dungeon to dungeon only by the skins applied to them. The same holds true for the dungeons: all the interior dungeon walls look exactly the same, on every level, distinguishable from one another only by the outside locations. Could they not have even varied the interior wall color to provide some flavor? Another annoyance are the puzzle challenges – rooms in the dungeon that you must defeat via moving blocks and flipping switches. I can see how these were intended to add some variety, but they feel lazy. They’re never challenging, and are definitely the weakest point in the play experience.
These are just quibbles, however. On the whole, Chaos Rings is a great game.
The iPad Experience
As much as I love Chaos Rings, I have to admit to being a little underwhelmed by the way they handled the iPad upscaling.
When the original Chaos Rings released, I played through the Escher and Musiea character arc on the iPad, and at the time I remember being impressed at how well the iPhone version upscaled. So I had high hopes for a fully rendered HD version. And some of it looks great – the character models are nice, the line artwork is stunning, and monsters look fierce.
But other elements, such as the backgrounds, still look as pixilated as they did when I upscaled the iPhone version. This is especially noticeable in the cinematic scenes, where these
HD rendered characters sometimes look completely out of place against the blocky, pixilated stage(check out the image of the Agent, left, for a prime example). I don't know if this was a conscious decision on the part of the developers, an oversight, or a moment of laziness, but it's very noticeable.
Also, the scaling of some interface elements could have been adjusted a bit more for the iPad. One major example here is the combat buttons. On the iPhone, these needed to be big and sitting high. With the iPad, these could easily have been scaled down so that they appeared under the thumb. Instead, they’re placed as high on the screen as they were on the iPhone, where they’re less convenient for the standard iPad grip. It's minor, but annoying.
Chaos Rings was a singular achievement on the iPhone, and it continues to impress on the iPad, even with its upscaling blemishes. At $15.99 you are paying a premium price for it, so if you have already played out the game on the IPhone, I don't see this as necessarily worth the hefty price tag. But if you're experiencing it for the first time, then the iPad is certainly a great platform to do it on.