Square Enix has built its reputation on sequels. Through the multitudinous Final Fantasy iterations and spin-offs, the company has cemented its reputation as the undisputed king of the JRPG.
That once-glittering accolade has become tarnished of late, though, with the company resting on its laurels and releasing games that are neither as innovative or as exciting as their predecessors.
Chaos Rings II sets out to buck that trend, building on the template set by Chaos Rings and Chaos Rings Omega and layering it with even more spectacular visuals, more compelling characters, and a slightly more focused narrative.
The result is a pocket-sized role-playing game that puts some of its console brethren to shame. And while it clings to some of the stranger decisions of the first two games, it’s every bit as exciting and intriguing too.
Although the two character parties remain, this time around the story isn’t focused on couples, but on a single man -Darwin. He’s a floppy haired mercenary with a tortured past and some burning secrets, who inadvertently becomes the saviour of the world.
The story revolves around ancient forces who are vying for control over the mortal sphere, and who have stopped time. Darwin and his companions have to traverse this paused world, finding out what’s gone wrong and figuring out how to remedy it.
Cue much melancholy introspection, plenty of fighting and adventuring, and a lot of heart-wrenching sacrifice too.
The core of the game lies in its turn-based battle system, and while it repeats some of the missteps of the original it’s still a marvel. Every round, you need to choose whether your two characters should fight alone or as a pair.
Pairing up does more damage, but it also means that if one player gets hit they both do. A gauge lets you see the ebb and flow of the battle, but unfortunately it still doesn’t show the turn order.
Spectacular special moves unlock when you’ve taken enough damage, or control over the battle has skewed entirely in one direction. Each character has his own customisable set of magics (called Sopia) and attacks at his disposal, and an element system makes choosing the right ones essential.
The battles are still random, but the game is built around quick firefights and small, easily explorable maps. As you kill, you become more powerful, as well as unlocking moves and powers from the creatures you’ve slain.
When you’re exploring, a decent floating joystick lets you control Darwin. You can replay areas you’ve completed at higher levels to push your XP meter onwards, or to search out any items you might have missed the first time around.
A ringing endorsement
As complex and nuanced as the battle system is, it still offers up neatly packaged slices of turn-based violence. The game never seems overwhelming, and the ability to save whenever you want means you can jump in and out with ease.
Square Enix and Media.Vision have built a game that showcases all the bombast and drama of a JRPG, whilst remaining accessible enough for newcomers to enjoy.
The sheer amount of content here will be enough to drag in all but the most fervent JRPG dissenters, but it’s the mix of astounding visuals, compelling gameplay, and intriguing story that will keep them coming back for more.