Following up a great game is always a difficult prospect, just like following up a great movie. In last year's Game of the Year awards, we named the first Zenonia our iPhone OS Game of the Year, praising its production values and its fast, fun gameplay. We didn't think it was entirely flawless, but we still thought it was worthy of the GotY title. A bit less than a year later, a sequel has been released, and I got the chance to review it and see if Zenonia 2 lives up to the standards set by its predecessor.
In the original, you played as Regret, a character who had lost his memories. As a side effect of his victory, though, everyone else in the world now shares that affliction (hence the sequel's subtitle). As Zenonia 2 begins, someone is working to release the demon king Ladon, who Regret sealed away at the end of the first game; and according to a priest's vision, the only way to defeat him completely is through collecting four gems, which will also restore the world's memories and apparently grant wishes. The people destined to collect those gems are four recently captured prisoners, all of whom find themselves in the dungeons for unrelated reasons.
Each of the four playable characters (the aforementioned prisoners) has their own backstory, but although I played the game to the ending as the Shooter and partway through as both the Magician and the Warrior (I did not try the Paladin), that backstory didn't seem to pay off in any significant way later on. In fact, the dialogue that I saw was nearly identical except for the characters' names, which was disappointing, especially given the fact that the developers specifically promise "individual epic storylines" in the game's description on iTunes.
In fact, I was disappointed in quite a bit of what I'd score under "story." The overall story and characters are cliché, and the writing is not good enough to save it. The game features a host of typos, misspellings, awkward line breaks, and grammatical errors from start to finish. For example, one speech included two sentences in a row that used "you're" in place of "your." The second sentence also included a correct use of "you're," which made things even more frustrating. And though this might not bother some players, given Zenonia 2's fantasy setting, the frequent use of LOL and OMG in dialogue bothered me quite a bit, especially when they were said by an old man who goes by the improbable name of Monica. Actually, Monica was referred to on some occasions as a man, and on others as a woman – yet another confusing and frustrating issue.
The gameplay in Zenonia 2 is nearly identical to the original, although I found the addition of two ranged classes, the Shooter and the Magician, to be an extremely welcome change. This game falls squarely into the Action RPG genre – enemies appear on screen, and there's nothing remotely turn-based in the combat. Enemies reappear a short time after being killed, which helps you accomplish all of the grinding you have to do, but can be incredibly frustrating in certain areas, especially if you haven't done as much grinding as the game wants you to do. I was also frequently frustrated by the "vision cone" of my enemies, who could sometimes see me from very far away, and by the fact that enemies with ranged attacks can fire them at a wide variety of angles. Add together required grinding, enemies that reappear relatively quickly, seem to wear binoculars, and can shoot wherever they want, and you've got a recipe for gaming hell. The game also includes item-crafting, which I made a valiant effort to try, but gave up on after running out of inventory space to carry the wide array of "things that just might make something someday" and after having a significant percentage of my crafting attempts fail, destroying my hard-to-find ingredients. There are a number of other annoying gameplay issues as well, but I believe that I've made my point.
That's not to say that Zenonia 2's gameplay has no redeeming characteristics. One really useful feature is carried over from the first Zenonia: when you attack, your character turns to face the closest enemy. This saves you from having to constantly reposition yourself to fight, and allows you some ability to fight while running away. On the other hand, if you've got an enemy on the ropes and are approached by someone else, that loss of focus on the nearly dead enemy can be a pain. Another nice gameplay element is that the game doesn't require your enemy to be directly in front of you to hit them (at least as the Shooter). One step to the left or the right won't save them from your wrath. I also felt like I had good skills to choose between when leveling up; I used a maxed out level 1 skill as well as a level 40 skill on the final boss. When things are going well, combat can be fairly enjoyable. The problem lies in how often things are not going well.
Another new addition in Zenonia 2 is online PVP multiplayer, but unless I've misunderstood something, it's not actually realtime multiplayer. When you enter, your character is saved to the online database, and you are matched up with another random player's stored character, fairly close to your own level. It's fun to take yourself up against other characters with the same skill options you have, but when I played and won, the game crashed, which is not so fun.
The graphics are a different story, in that there's more positive to them than negative. The environments are drawn well, as are the characters, and although there are a significant number of palette-swapped enemies, many of the designs are quite nice. Animations are smooth, and the graphical effects given to statuses like poison or confusion are clear and distinct. The equipment-based costume changes are fun as well. At one point, I looked like Wario (sans mustache) and at another, I was a pink pirate. Still, things aren't all perfect on the graphical front; for example, I noticed more than once when the game placed me in front of a background element that I should have been behind.
Zenonia 2 straddles the line between "meh" and "whatever" in terms of sound. The music is fine, but some of it will stick in your head in that "short theme looped too many times" kind of way, and no one likes that. There is no voice acting in the game and the sounds of combat are essentially restricted to standard weapon-y fare. Not bad, but some of it is out of sync with your attacks, which is yet another little annoyance in a game that already has too many little annoyances.
The developers clearly put a lot of effort into changing the control scheme from the original Zenonia, which some players may see as a negative, but which I appreciated. The main difference is in the way you interact with menu screens. In the original game, you used the d-pad and the action button for everything, which played into the game's overall Super Nintendo feel. In this game, the menus take advantage of the platform's touch screen capabilities in a lot of logical ways, which I liked. One of the menus even lets you change the size, transparency, and location of the d-pad, attack button, and the special skills and item use buttons (up to 4 of each). This is a great option to have, and I played with it several times over the course of the game. Unfortunately, when I did so, it was because I found myself missing the d-pad or pressing the wrong direction too frequently, and was trying to see if I could fiddle with the controls to help solve the problem. In the end, I was able to find a scheme I could work with, but I feel like it took longer than it should have.
There's no question that Zenonia 2 has its merits. In a few ways, it tries to step beyond the original game, and it even succeeds in those attempts. But what stops me from being able to recommend this game are the many ways, small and large, in which it fails. I purchased it for $5, and while I believe that I got my money's worth out of it, it is likely that if I hadn't been reviewing this game for the site, I would not have finished playing it.