2010 was a banner year for RPGs on the iOS platform. The diminutive touchscreen devices went from an afterthought in the RPG space to a legitimate platform thanks to high-quality releases throughout the year. And no 2010 iOS release was of higher quality than Chaos Rings – at least according to RPGFan’s Game of the Year 2010 voting. This past week, Square Enix released a prequel to Chaos Rings, titled Chaos Rings Omega. Does it stand up the legacy of its predecessor, considered by some to be the first great iOS title? Or is it too similar to the original Chaos Rings to be considered anything special?
The answer to both of these questions is a resounding “Yes.”
First things first: Chaos Rings Omega is identical to its predecessor (successor?) in almost every way. That’s about as clear as I can put it. If you played and enjoyed the original Chaos Rings, then you will probably enjoy the prequel. Everything from dungeon maps to gameplay to enemy sprites is almost exactly the same. Only minor differences exist between the two games.
Some of the dungeon maps have been touched up, and there are a few new gene plates and abilities to acquire, but in terms of gameplay, that’s about it. Move along, there’s nothing to see here. If you’re interested in a more detailed breakdown of Chaos Rings Omega’s turn-based battles and the Solo / Pair system of combat, I’d like to refer you to John Tucker’s review of the original Chaos Rings, or my review of the iPad version. You can basically swap out that text with any text about Omega’s gameplay with no problem. Go on ahead to those reviews. I’ll wait here.
Alright! Welcome back! Now that you’re up to speed on Chaos Rings Omega’s gameplay, you know what you’re in for: a turn-based combat style requiring a little bit of strategy and careful use of the gene system. It’s fun, and though it can get a little repetitive at times, it’s a solid combat system offering a good mix of abilities and skills. Also, there’s enough strategy to keep combat from becoming too dull. Gameplay is strong, but no different at all from the first Chaos Rings.
Where Chaos Rings Omega dares to diverge from the blueprint set forth by the original is in story and characters. Before any detail, I should share a brief warning: if you have not played the original Chaos Rings, and you are invested in the overall Chaos Rings narrative, go ahead and play the original game before playing Chaos Rings Omega. Though Omega is a prequel, it contains a few spoilers for Chaos Rings.
With that in mind, Chaos Rings Omega has the same central conceit as the first Chaos Rings: four couples are magically transported to a mysterious Ark Arena and told to fight until only one pair remains. That pair will be gifted with immortality. Yet, in Omega, instead of being able to play as any couple, the player is confined to one narrative, centered on Vieg. Vieg was transported to the Arena with his pregnant fianceé as his partner, but also with one of the other couples being his fianceé’s mother and father. This tighter focus brings with it a shorter, simpler story that gives the player a little more investment in the characters compared to the original game. Though the plot may have a hole or two and stray into saccharine territory, it provides a solid structure for the rest of the gameplay and at no point embarrasses itself.
Beyond the basic narrative advantage of having just a single scenario, the gameplay benefits because the player isn’t forced to traverse the same maps and fight the same enemies over and over again in order to get the whole story. While there’s an option to play a New Game+, and a bonus scenario after a first playthrough, the player can get the whole Chaos Rings Omega experience in about five or six hours, without rushing. The bonus scenario after the game is a bit of a treat, as well. Though it has no bearing on the “real” story of Chaos Rings and is deemed a parody scenario, it plays more like a loot-grabbing dungeon crawler than a Chaos Rings game. The Piu-Piu focus and humor gives the post-game a bit of a different feel. The humor is probably meant to be laugh-out-loud funny, but it isn’t, instead simply inducing a few quick chuckles and smiles.
I have to say, though – for a top-tier iOS game from such a decorated company as Square Enix, I find the localization unacceptable. In the first few lines of dialogue once the player controls Vieg, there’s a blatant grammar mistake that a third-grader might’ve caught, and there are other points in the game where dialogue seems hastily translated and a bit unnatural. Yes, it is an iOS game, but if a publisher is going to charge $15 for any game in this day and age, the player deserves a clean, accurate localization. I don’t want repeated dialogue of “*pant* *pant*” instead of real dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, the localization isn’t nearly as bad as the original Final Fantasy Tactics (“This is the way!”) or some of the worst offenders of the past. There are just a few niggling errors and a lack of overall polish that doesn’t fit an otherwise neatly polished game, which makes these mistakes all the more obvious.
Just like the original Chaos Rings, Omega is a fearsome visual and audio spectacle, unlike nearly any other mobile game. The graphics are vintage Square Enix, with eye-popping color and terrific attention to detail. Monsters are appropriately fearsome, characters are designed well, and there’s just a hint of unnaturally spiky-hair to be found. Audio is remarkable as well, matching the tone of the game at all times, with several stirring pieces. In particular, the voiced opening music would not feel out of place in any top-tier Final Fantasy title.
Chaos Rings Omega is what Chaos Rings was: a beautiful, easy-to-play iOS game that’s just a bit too expensive for what it is. Despite all that, it is the class of RPGs on the iOS. Playing Omega for iPad gives the player as good of a visual RPG experience as one could imagine on the device, and is certainly worth a purchase if you enjoyed the original. In my opinion, the story and characters of the game are just a bit better than the previous title in the series, so if that is a major factor for you, then I can see how Omega could be construed as a better overall game.
All in all, this game serves its purpose: to build excitement for Chaos Rings II while deepening the Chaos Rings universe (and emptying the pockets of RPG fans who own iOS devices). Square Enix and Media.Vision could’ve done better on this release, perhaps by involving new gameplay mechanics, greatly expanding abilities, or providing different types of areas to explore. But, Omega is better than almost every other RPG for the iPad, and despite being a near-clone of the original game, I see it as an early contender for iOS Game of the Year for 2011.
This review was based on the 1.0.3 version of the game, and was played on a first-generation iPad.