Part of me is stunned that Inotia 3: Children of Carnia even exists. Think about it. The iOS hasn’t been around as a platform for a terribly long time. And yet here we are, reviewing the third game in a series. Inotia 3: Children of Carnia is the third offering in the Chronicles of Inotia series from Korean developer Com2uS, and their hard work has resulted in a fine action-RPG that is sure to suck up your free time.
Inotia 3’s lead protagonist is Lucio, a young man and one of the titular children from the small village of Carnia. He is accompanied by the love of his life, a young Charmer named Ameli, and the two of them go quickly from Lucio’s adulthood ceremony to saving the world from a primordial God of Darkness. Along the way, Lucio has flashbacks of a powerful warrior who loses his sister to a Dark Elf invasion and attempts to make sense of these strange visions. Of course, in true RPG fashion, Lucio and Ameli run across a host of colorful characters who join the party and help to save the day from this world-threatening menace.
While this story is not as robust as the best console games, it is complex enough to draw the player in. In larger-scale iOS games such as this, there are often situations where plot twists make little sense or leave gaping holes in the narrative. Fortunately, Children of Carnia avoids these larger pitfalls and keeps the narrative moving even through a fairly complex story and a couple of sub-plots. Unfortunately, plot is the driving force of the game, rather than character or themes. The best RPGs have strong over-arching ideas that provide context and depth to the plot, and Inotia 3 simply doesn’t. The characters in Inotia 3 are one-dimensional, and aside from Lucio, no one has a convincing story arc. But all of this adds up to a serviceable vehicle for gameplay, which was obviously the developers’ focus.
Gameplay is critical to any action RPG, and Inotia 3 is no exception to this rule. At a glance, this game is very reminiscent of the SNES classic Secret of Mana. There’s an angled top-down view of the screen, and the player has control over a party of three characters that engage enemies and NPCs in a seamless interface. While the player only directly controls one character at a time, party members can be switched on the fly by tapping on their portraits. In fact, the controls for battle are extremely touch-friendly, and in my opinion, some of the best for an iOS device. Other action RPGs could use Inotia 3 as a model for how to do battle correctly on a touchscreen. Touch an enemy, and your party will attack it until it is dead, no button-mashing required. However, there are six hotkeys at the bottom of the screen, and the player can assign these hotkeys to character abilities, spells, and items. These hotkeys have a cooldown time, so much of battle revolves around setting the characters to attack an enemy or set of enemies, and then instigating special abilities at the right time to maximize damage and effectiveness. In all, the battle system is simple, elegant, and easy to pick up, making control one of the game’s true strengths.
But Inotia is very different from SNES-styled action RPGs in one area: customization. Lucio is the player’s point-of-view character, and at the beginning of the game, the player is given the option to choose his class. There are six classes of characters in Inotia 3: Barbarian, Templar, Rogue, Shadow Hunter, Arc Mage, and Priest. Each class has unique equipment allowances, as well as specialized abilities, and the player can allow Lucio to be any one of the six. I really enjoyed the ability to pick Lucio’s class, and it certainly adds something to replay value, allowing a player to try a different build for another time through the game.
In addition to Lucio and Ameli, there are perhaps ten other story characters who join the party throughout the game. These characters come and go during the narrative, and have their own personalities and agendas helping to drive the plot. But these characters are not the only options for party members. There are also mercenaries that can be “hired,” and mercenaries stick with you through thick and thin. The catch is that mercenaries can only be acquired through a rare item drop, where an enemy leaves behind an emblem that can be used to create a certain class of mercenary. This mercenary appears at Lucio’s current level, with random skills and abilities. Your party can only consist of twelve people outside of Lucio, and this includes story characters, so you may have to release a mercenary if you hit the cap. These mercenaries are randomly selected, and this can be a bit of a pain if you feel like your party needs balance. Since I played through the game as an Arc Mage, my party tended to be light on physical attackers, and through whatever dumb luck, I never got a mercenary who was either a Barbarian or a Templar, leaving me at times without these physical classes. But I did get plenty of Arc Mage mercenaries, who were of little to no use for me.
The six classes apply to all other player characters in the game as well. Each party member has up to sixteen abilities (all native to their class) that the player can assign points to upon leveling up. Some of the abilities are passive, and increase stats and percentages, while others are active and used in battle to buff, heal, or attack. Lucio is the only character who immediately has access to all sixteen of his class abilities – other characters merely have some subset of the sixteen possible for their class. Mercenary characters can learn new abilities from a special amulet that is occasionally dropped, but story characters appear to be limited to abilities that they have from the start. For this reason, it seems like the story characters are actually inferior to the personality-free mercenaries; a serious design flaw. After all, wouldn’t the developers rather have the characters they crafted engaging with the player, rather than the randomly-generated mercenaries? On the bright side, even with the story characters, there is plenty of room to customize and to give them abilities that fit your style of combat.
Where Inotia 3 differs the most from the SNES-style action RPG is in equipment and loot drops. In terms of item collection, Inotia 3 has more than a touch of Diablo to it. Loot drops from monsters are common, and each character has eight equipment slots that loot can fill. Not only that, equipment dropped has level requirements, which the characters must meet to be able to equip items, as well as semi-random special abilities. The end result is that the player can and should spend a great deal of time in the equipment menu, trying to decide whether the Supreme Necklace that gives +1 to Luck is a better fit for Ameli than a Worn-Out Talisman that will increase her MP regeneration. For some, this is a fun way to customize your character. Others may find the customization too boring or time-consuming, but I found it a nice diversion from battle.
However, there is one place where this loot system stumbles: there is a decided lack of inventory space. Beginning in the middle of the story and leading to the endgame, players will find themselves desperate for more space, without a decent way to expand inventory. As a result, I found myself dropping or selling items that may have been useful later on, simply because I didn’t have the space to hold them. This included trashing rewards from the many sidequests in the game. It kind of hurts to drop the boots you received for defeating a boss character an hour or so prior, just because you think that the new equipment you’ve gotten may prove to be more useful in the long run. All the same, the loot system was decidedly a net positive in the overall gaming experience.
Inotia 3 does fall into one of the worst traps that foreign-developed iOS RPGs tend to get caught in: the dreaded poor localization. South Korean developer Com2uS obviously spent more time on the localization in the first couple hours of the game than the rest of the game. As I moved towards the ten hour mark, the dialogue got progressively sloppier. I’ve seen this happen in other iOS games, and while I understand how it comes about, it never fails to disappoint me. Players should be rewarded for making it to the end of the adventure, not punished with increasingly nonsensical dialogue and sloppy programming.
As mentioned before, control is strong both on the smaller and larger iOS screens. Though I didn’t play through the full game on my iPhone, I did give it a shot, and saw no major difference between it and the iPad version. I’m truly glad that more games are becoming universal apps, able to work on any iOS device. As for my full playthrough on the iPad, I found it hard to use the virtual D-pad using my thumb as if I were using a controller, simply due to the size of the device. However, character control is responsive, and menus are well-organized and easy to navigate. The whole game is programmed to be touch-responsive without being either twitchy or slow to respond. While the interface could be improved slightly, there really isn’t anything major to complain about in terms of control.
Graphically, Inotia 3 does a good job given system limitations. Sprites are clean and have a good amount of detail. In a nice twist, character sprites for the party change dynamically based on what equipment the characters are wearing. Large, detailed character portraits appear during dialogue, which is very nice the first time you see them. Unfortunately, there appears to be only a single portrait for each character. This means that no matter what happens, the characters wear the same expression, and for some of the characters, that really hurts the scenes that they participate in. This is especially true for the main character Lucio, who is a pouty mess no matter what happens. The roguish Candace is also perpetually surprised, with eyes that are enormous even in a world of super-deformed, anime-styled characters. When something serious happens to Candace, the portrait is still a bit comical, which takes the player out of the game.
Inotia 3’s musical score is mild, but nice, which is about par for the course in iOS RPGs. Music fades in and out with time, but generally fits with the story and is present without being overpowering. While I get that people can and do listen to their own music while playing games on their iOS device, I’m really starting to get tired of games where it feels like too little effort was put into scoring and sound design. Inotia 3 has a couple of tunes that are notably good though. For example, there’s a “boss battle” track that has a great little opening and keeps energy up throughout the fight. There’s also a jingling, magical opening theme that does a fine job of setting the tone for the rest of the game. Beyond that, the score is forgettable. As for sound effects, well, there are only a few of them, and they get painfully repetitive during long fights. While there certainly are worse sound offerings in iOS games, Inotia 3 fails to distinguish itself from the competition in any meaningful way. And that’s a shame.
In the end, Inotia 3 plays like Secret of Mana blended with a little bit of Diablo, but without the crispness or style of either. Though the game wasn’t put together lazily, Inotia 3 is still a bit of a mixed bag. None of the faults are dramatic, but there’s also nothing truly fantastic about the game. I will say this for it: it is certainly one of the most in-depth games available for the iOS platform. With a good 20 hours worth of content in the storyline (and that’s before the equivalent of a New Game+), Inotia 3 offers substantial bang for your buck. In all, it is solidly above-average, despite powerful distinguishing characteristics. For a portable action RPG under ten bucks, that’s just fine by me.
This review is based on version 1.0.3 of the game, and was played on a first-generation iPad.