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Our Review by Bonnie Eisenman on May 25th, 2009
Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: EXCEPTIONAL RPG
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Zenonia showcases what iPhone RPGs should look like. Sure, it has its flaws; the generic plot doesn't do it any favors. But beautiful graphics and amazing depth make this a must-have for most RPG fans.

Developer: Gamevil
Price: $5.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0

Graphics / Sound [rating:5/5]
Game Controls [rating:4/5]
Gameplay [rating:4.5/5]
User Interface [rating:2.5/5]
Re-use / Replay Value [rating:4/5]

Overall Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar

When people label an iPhone game "great," there's usually an unspoken acknowledgment behind that title that says, "Oh, sure, this is a great game...for the iPhone."

Well, as far as I can tell, Zenonia is the first significant RPG in the App Store that tries to be just a great game, period. Did it succeed? Well, not quite; it's not DS quality...yet. But it's certainly on the level of something from the GBA days, and it's superior to other App Store offerings. Its execution makes it amazing, especially on this platform, but don't expect much originality. Quests, monster slaying, an epic (epicly typical!) storyline—love it or hate it, Zenonia has all of those classic elements. Personally, I love the little title and found it to be a great value; its popular reception remains to be seen, but I can confidently claim that this is currently the best RPG in the App Store.

The Plot

To quote from the developer's site, "A boy with an unknown past decides to go on a journey to figure out the mysterious death of his father. He needs to make decisions which lead to good or evil."

Sounds pretty typical, right? That boy's name is Regret. As a baby, he was found by a Holy Knight on a battlefield after a Knights' victory, and the man adopted him out of "regret." Fifteen years later, he gets caught up in an epic battle between two polarized forces—good and evil, represented by the Holy Knights and the Dragon Clan.

Despite the somewhat cliched storyline, there's a lot to be said for Zenonia's plot, mostly thanks to the attention to detail evident in each character's dialogue. The background villagers—most of whom serve only to send you on senseless quests—flesh out the history of Zenonia in little snippets of speech. Oh, and the dialogue is pretty great on its own; I don't know how the folks at Gamevil did it, but they managed to sneak some...ah...nice language past the App Store reviewers, but parents: expect some mild profanity. Also, the main character occasionally breaks the fourth wall with comments like, "I just started playing this game, you know!"

So, that's the plot in a nutshell. You get to pick your alignment (good or evil) based on your actions in the game, and there's an alternate ending for each choice. Generic it might be, but it's good—for an iPhone game, anyway.

The Game Itself
Zenonia features many classic standbys of RPGs: questing, item improvement, battles, leveling (with some grinding), and so on. Let me begin by saying that there is a ton of meat in this title. It's got more depth than any other game that I own on my iPod. With extensive character customization, fun combat, realistic elements like weight and hunger, and more, Zenonia nails the gameplay aspect.

In terms of customizing your character, there are a lot of options. There are three different classes to chose from (Paladin, Warrior, or Assassin), each with its own unique traits. There's also a skill tree with both Active and Passive traits, and you'll get to invest skill points in these as you level up. Think of Active traits as your special attacks: super-charged hits with bonus effects that can me mapped to "quick slots" on the main screen. Passive traits, meanwhile, quietly boost certain characteristics. You can either spread out your Skill Points or invest heavily in a single option. You'll also get 3 points to raise your attributes per level, which allows you to customize your character's strengths even further. It's incredibly easy to understand, but creating the "perfect build" will require careful thought and planning.

A lot of the game is spent running around on different errands. There's always a main quest item to keep you focused, but you can also accept multiple side quests. Unfortunately, many of these rely on typical monster-slaying counts—it is a Korean RPG, after all. Still, I didn't mind, because combat is pretty fun. Enemies rove around the map, attacking when you get too close. Personally, I prefer real-time encounters of this type over turn-based battles or battles that take you to a separate screen, but it all depends on your RPG preference.

In terms of items, they've got a good amount of depth themselves. Besides ordinary bonuses (armor give you extra defense, duh), they can grant things like fire resistance, and they have qualities such as durability, weight, and rarity. You can combine them, too, to produce special items, and...oh, let's just say that Zenonia has a good-sized arsenal of items, shall we?

There is honestly too much regarding gameplay for me to cover it all here in detail. Let me know if you have specific questions. Zenonia's gameplay is fantastic. That's it. QED.

Controls are always, always a worry for iPhone games, but Gamevil has produced a polished product in this respect, too. Zenonia uses a virtual D-pad, located on the bottom-right of the screen. It's pretty good, though dashing (which requires a double-tap) is sometimes difficult. I adjusted to it quickly, and I really think that it's one of the better D-pad simulations on the platform; some users have reported having problems with it, but not me. There's also an all-purpose "action button" in the bottom right, which is used for everything from attacking to talking to villagers. You'd think that this would be limiting, but Zenonia operates just fine with this simplistic control scheme.

There are also four "quick slots" on the bottom of the screen that can be used for four skills and four items (when you tap a small button to the right of the slots, the skills slots switch to items slots, or vice-versa.) This is where you store your special attacks. It effectively eliminates the need for a "B" button.

Graphics and Presentation
Graphically, Zenonia is excellent. The spirtes are well-animated and perky, and the landscapes are cheery and well-done. Everything has a sort of cutesified anime-esque look, from the backgrounds to the monsters; the art style won't appeal to everyone. The brightness of your surroundings even changes in sync with the world's day-night cycle. In terms of sound quality, it could be a bit more dramatic or involved, but for this sort of game the background music is fine. The sound effects, on the other hand, are decidedly good.

While the main graphics are great, the interface shows a baffling lack of attention. Scrolling through text doesn't work, often, and you're forced to rely on the D-pad even in instances where ordinary touch controls would be more intuitive . The text is sometimes too small and doesn't match the game's smooth environments, and the translation from Korean (Zenonia's original language) to English resulted in some linguistic quirks. Hopefully, this will all be patched up in an update. Scratch that. The sometimes-idiotic interface, which won't even let you touch things that scream "I'm a button!", needs an update.

Kind of related to the odd decisions in the interface is another odd decision: there's no auto-save. If you're interrupted, too bad. (I don't own an iPhone; I'm speaking of when I hit the "home" button on my iPod Touch 2G.) Instead, Zenonia uses a menu-based save system, accessible whenever you're not, say, battling a boss. But...auto-save? Isn't that kind of basic?

Developer Walkthrough:

Overall Impression
Zenonia is the best RPG that I've seen on the App Store—maybe even the best game period. Unfortunately, by today's standards, it wouldn't overwhelm you on any other platform. But the dialogue flows well, and Gamevil has taken care to superbly execute what might have been just another mediocre RPG; the result is a glimpse at what "serious" iPhone games should look like. If you don't like RPGs in general, or if you're infuriated by genre cliches, look elsewhere, or wait for a lite version (if it ever comes). But me? I'll be pumping the advertised 40 hours of gameplay out of this little gem.

Here's to hoping that the devs continue to rectify its few problems—no auto save, ocassionally spotty translations, and a clunky interface—and manage to keep their price point high. Zenonia is worth every one of those five hundred and ninety-nine pennies. You know what would make me pay even more? Multiplayer of some kind. I'd even pay for it as an add-on when OS 3.0 comes out. Now that would be true RPG crack.

iPhone Screenshots

(click to enlarge)

ZENONIA® screenshot 1 ZENONIA® screenshot 2 ZENONIA® screenshot 3 ZENONIA® screenshot 4 ZENONIA® screenshot 5
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