I’ve been a fan of Japanese roleplaying games since I was a young child, when I first played Dragon Warrior (originally, Dragon Quest, in Japan) and Final Fantasy on the NES. That love did not fade throughout the years, and I still love to play a good, old-fashioned melodrama now and then. The Final Fantasy series is probably the most famous RPG in the Americas, so it’s no surprise that they hold an extra special place in my heart.
About a year-and-a-half ago, I finished playing Chaos Rings (also for iPad), the first in a new RPG series published by Square-Enix but developed by Media.Vision exclusively for the iPhone and iPod touch. Soon, it was released for the iPad and even recently was made available for Android. I loved the game and had many glowing praises to sing of it to friends and family. Unfortunately, despite how much fun it was, it still didn’t feel as epic or robust as many other RPGs available for consoles. There was a definite level of polish to the graphics and animation, sound effects and music, and combat system that was missing from other RPGs available for iOS, but it certainly wasn’t up to the same level as a Final Fantasy title.
When I finished Chaos Rings, I took a break from the series for a while. Even though I had Chaos Rings Ω (also for iPad) already installed on my iPhone, the game felt more like an expansion than a new game. It used the same tile sets, enemy models, skills, and even music of the first game. The story was the biggest change, however. The game follows the lives of two characters from the original Chaos Rings. As a prequel, it dealt with how those two characters won the previous Ark Arena combat. What really made the story stand out was how instead of simply playing through the same game concept as before, several serious issues occurred that completely derailed the traditional Ark Arena tournament. Unfortunately, after having spent hours and hours grinding my characters in the original Chaos Rings to max level, I couldn’t bring myself to play Omega right away.
Thankfully, after taking some time off, playing Omega started to feel more like a whole new game. I recently finished it and felt that it was a better game than the original and that the story was a lot better, as well. I still feel that the overall plot of the original is a much better tale, but the storytelling in that game is not as good as in Omega. That may have something to do with the original being 4 different stories, each told by a different protagonist couple. The best feature of the original Chaos Rings was the quantum nature of the story. Each time you played as a different couple, various elements of the story were significantly different. This was most notable when playing as Olgar and Ayuta. In fact, Ayuta’s story was my favorite of them all, because it reveals so much about the Ark and how it came to be. Olgar’s story is also better than the others because of the way the Ayuta in his timeline has become twisted and evil.
Omega, instead of having multiple scenarios to play through, has an Extra mode that can be entered after finishing the primary story. In this mode, there is an entirely new story that is a parody of the series as a whole. Everyone lives and is happy, despite the original storyline. Plus, it marks the return of two characters that get killed at the beginning of Chaos Rings (in every scenario you get to watch them die before they even have personalities). They’re actually quite charming in that cluelessly insane way that so many foils are in Japanese RPGs.
Now that I’ve finished Omega, I’ve begun to play Chaos Rings II (also for iPad). Simply put, the game is beautiful. I purchased this one on the iPad because I wanted to see what kind of difference it made. The visuals are incredible, despite the fact that they aren’t Retina-display quality. This is a true sequel, in every sense of the word. New characters, new conflicts, an entirely new story to unfold. One of the biggest changes to the game is the skill system. In Chaos Rings and Omega characters unlocked Gene Plates that they could equip to use new skills. These Plates would fill up with new skills as they fought enemies, eventually giving them a whole bevy of skills to use that would heavily influence combat. In Chaos Rings II, characters can now equip Sopia (or souls) of the monsters that they defeat. They fill up in the same way as before, except once a specific Sopia is equipped on a character, it must be removed before being equipped by another. Further, the protagonist of the story can equip the Sopia of fallen comrades to get their unique skills and summon them into battle, similar to the Eidolons of Final Fantasy IV and the Espers of Final Fantasy VI.
Every character also starts combat with a specific element already attached to them, making them strong or weak against specific elemental attacks. This results in a lot more strategy to the combat, as it can sometimes be impossible to damage an enemy at all without Pairing attacks (both party members attack—and take hits—together) or changing your element. As Sopia skills are unlocked, characters can equip Sopia to change their starting element. This can be a life saver if you are traveling through an area filled with Blaze (fire) monsters and you start every fight with the Gale (wind) element.
The story certainly has a similar tone to the rest of the series. There’s a very fatalistic feeling to every Chaos Rings game. The world is at an end and your characters must kill innocent people to prevent a more tragic event. However, Chaos Rings II provides you with some incredible characters to lead you through this story. I will definitely play the game more than once to make different choices to see how the story plays out.
Another significant change to the game is the way you are no longer tied to a single party throughout the game. While Omega did have you switching between two supporting characters throughout the story, it was scripted and your primary hero always remained in the party. In Chaos Rings II, you can often leave different characters behind to go grind some monsters with whichever characters you choose (so long as they’re still alive, of course). While I haven’t finished the game yet, I am greatly impressed by the improvements and consider it to be a console quality combat system and storyline. I look forward to seeing the series continue for many years, as I think it’s a solid hit for Square-Enix and Media.Vision.