When Apple announced the App Store and iPhone/iPod touch SDK last year, it was clear the platform had a great deal of potential for several types of applications. Sega's demonstration of Super Monkey Ball in particular proved that the iPhone and iPod touch could also handle games more akin to the Nintendo DS or PSP rather than typical mobile phone games. Several quality games have seen release, many from high-profile developers. What's a bit lacking though is the amount of quality RPGs available. While the surprise port of Vay helped, GAMEVIL's upcoming Zenonia is a title iDevice-owning RPG fans should keep an eye out for.
Originally developed for mobile phones in Korea, it has become the #1 selling mobile RPG in its home country. In short, what Zenonia sets out to be is - as mentioned in the game's recent trailer - a return of the classic action RPG. You can see a Zelda/Alundra/Ys influence from the beginning of the game: the beautiful and highly detailed sprite-based graphics are refreshing to see in 2009 and are further enhanced by anime-styled character portraits (common now, not so much in the 8- and 16-bit days). The music fits with the look and feel of the game as well and features its share of whimsical overworld tunes and creepy dungeon music.
Considering we're dealing with a device that uses touch screen controls exclusively, one of the first questions that comes to mind is "how awkward are the controls?" Whether you play games on a console or a PC, you normally control a game with anywhere from ten to 100+ buttons or keys, so the notion of having none is a little weird, and if you've ever played a DS game that needlessly forces you to use touch controls over buttons, you know it's easy to go wrong when developers take this route.
Zenonia addresses this by placing a virtual directional pad in the lower left corner of the screen and an action button in the lower right. The top corners allow access to the game's map and menu, to be discussed further later. While I needed to adjust a little to an on-screen d-pad, it works surprisingly well and feels better than being forced into a 'touch-where-you-want-to-move' mechanic. Menu screens are navigated with the d-pad and action buttons as well, rather than direct touch controls. On one hand, it may be nice to have both options, but many of the menu buttons are on the small side and may have been difficult to use by touching directly, so this was probably a good decision.
So now we've covered the technical side of the controls, but what are you doing with them? In the most basic terms, gameplay in Zenonia is a top-down action-based RPG in the vein of Zelda, Ys or Alundra, with a huge MMO influence. You'll find traditional RPG staples here: navigating an expansive world map while battling foes, with your usual towns full of people, shops and the occasional talking dog. It's the towns where you'll do your shopping and get the majority of your quests. This is where part of the MMO-inspired features come into play: certain NPCs (who naturally have a floating yellow question mark over their heads) will have quests that involve accomplishing various tasks, be it defeating a certain number of monsters, or bringing back a specific item. Accepted quests are placed in your quest log where you can track the objectives of up to five quests at a time and upon completion, reward you with experience, gold and sometimes more.
As I touched on earlier, the upper right corner of the screen displays a small bag icon; touching this brings up the menu screen. In it, you can see your character's various stats, from the basics such as HP and SP to more detailed ones like strength, agility and elemental defenses. Upon leveling up, you're granted points to allocate to some of the stats, so you have control over which way to strengthen your character. Each level also grants you 1 skill point that can be used on an MMO-like skill tree to learn and then strengthen two kinds of abilities: Active (special attacks and spells that you choose when to use) and Passive (innate aspects such as increased evade or power). On the Equip screen, you're able to gear up with ten different objects at once: a weapon, chest, hand, head and foot armor, plus several kinds of accessories such as capes, rings and more. As you'd imagine, the main pieces of armor usually augment your defense, while the more auxiliary slots affect things such as your max SP, evade, or other stats. Now, while you technically have several dozen inventory slots in your bag, one very inventive feature GAMEVIL implemented was a 'weight limit.' What this means is that the amount of items you can easily carry is limited to a certain weight. Each individual item has its own weight, and if you exceed your limit, you move around the game at a fraction of your normal speed. As you increase your strength, the weight limit also increases, allowing you to carry yet another stack of potions or equipment.
There are three main on-screen bars you'll be watching while playing. The first, the HP bar, represents your life and running out of it means you're dead. The second, the SP bar, allows you to use special abilities and spells and slowly refills over time. This bar, however, is tied to the last important bar: your hunger level. As time passes, your hunger bar will slowly drain. If it decreases too much, your max SP drops (and will refill slower) until you sate your character's hunger with some food. While this sounds like a feature that's both interesting but annoying, the hunger bar moves very slowly, so you're not forced to eat very often. Plus, food items are plentiful. The combat in Zenonia is - to an extent - button-mashing, but it's both fun and satisfying. While somewhat akin to Zelda, the fact that you can attack multiple targets side-by-side and that the force of your attacks are amplified by both knockback and vibration effects really add some impact to your attacks. Think Zelda or Ys with a bit of 2D Devil May Cry Lite.
Story-wise, Zenonia opens during a war between the Dragon Clan and Holy Knights. On the battlefield, Commander Wolfred of the Holy Knights comes across a mysterious child who appears to carry some importance with the Dragon Clan. He takes the boy and, feeling responsible, decides to raise him as his own. And to name him Regret. Fast forward fifteen years, and we learn that after their defeat, the Dragon Clan has regrouped, and has plans to come back for the boy they lost. It's here that the player assumes control of Regret, and his story begins with the classic RPG tradition of killing slimes, among other starter quests. I'm actually not going to get too in-depth here, not only for spoiler purposes, but because of the unfinished nature of the localization (much of the text was still in Korean in my build), it's difficult to get into much detail.
As you may have read already, GAMEVIL plans to submit Zenonia to Apple around May 15th. Due to the somewhat obscure approval process, they expect the game to be available to the public 5-10 days after submission. While no specific price has been revealed, it's expected to be in the $4.99 ~ $9.99 range - and if the amount of content is as vast as it seems, this could be a bargain price compared to a traditional $29.99 - $39.99 handheld title.
Look for more coverage on Zenonia as the game is released, and in the meantime, don't miss our new gallery on the title.
* Keep in mind this write-up is based on a pre-release version of the game and details are subject to change.