Chaos Rings II Review
The Chaos Rings franchise underlines Square Enix’s fundamental understanding that iOS can be a viable platform for dense, plot-driven role-playing sagas.
Strip its idiosyncrasies and hoary components down to the core – dispensing with labyrinth level design, bloated length and open-world landscapes – and you have the potential for an epic as pure to the original spirit of pre-CD RPGs as you can get.
Chaos Rings II doesn’t stray far from the template laid down by its two preceding instalments (there’s a prequel wedged between the original and its sequel), making slight tweaks to the established formula.
The most noticeable of the bunch is the addition of a new Charge Gauge that builds towards powerful Awakening attacks, while elsewhere there’s some inconsequential shuffling of magical and elemental abilities.
Turn-based combat excels in its short, punchy bursts. Exquisitely balanced and featuring a wealth of different combat approaches, there’s a depth here that seems unprecedented on the platform.
Random enemy encounters are scattered across environments, crucial in levelling-up before the boss battle that punctuates the end of each chapter.
However, as sublime as strategising the next duel is, there’s both a noticeable difficulty spike early in the main story and a disappointing lack of inventiveness to creature design.
The story is typical JRPG fare.
The latter point is a noticeable blip in an otherwise seamless presentation. Static backgrounds resemble intricate paintings; from a desolate Japanese cityscape to a sumptuous oriental garden, no two environments ever feel the same.
You arrive in these distinct regions of the game’s fantasy world purely at random, the game sending you on various missions as Darwin – the focal point of the narrative – sets about saving the world.
Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, as you might expect, but to get lost within the nonsensical melancholic goings-on with the plot would only dilute the experience: it’s complete tosh.
Nevertheless, it is unavoidable, the game spending far too much time in dialogue windows, featuring trite word exchanges from stock JRPG archetypes that are long since outdated.
It also further complicates matters as early on it constantly alternates your two-man party before enabling customisation. Upgrading stats of secondary characters is a nightmare of guesswork and spiky hair micromanagement, never quite knowing who you’re going to be paired with before bounding off on the next mission. The lack of subtlety and gentle transitioning is alienating for the most part.
Nevertheless, combat simplicity and bite-sized level design makes it a uniquely engaging experience on a portable device and one that, despite its shortcomings, remains deep and complex enough to appeal to genre enthusiasts.