When the term “retro gaming” comes up it’s easy to think of arcade classics like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong, but let’s not forget that the 1990s were also the golden age of action-RPGs (role-playing games) like The Legend of Zelda. GAMEVIL’s Zenonia follows in the footsteps this tradition as you pick up the blade of a young man named Regret.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term action-RPG, they are a little different than traditional role playing games in that battles take place in real time. That means you’ll be tapping an attack button every time you want your character to strike, or running away if another enemy approaches while you’re struggling with the first. Action-RPGs take place in a living breathing world, and Zenonia is no different. If your only experience with role playing games is in turn-based adventures like Final Fantasy or Dawn’s Light, Zenonia is going to be an adrenaline-charged shake up to your menu-driven ways.

The story, music, and art present themselves as the perfect homage to the 16-bit classics that Zenonia emulates. If the gameplay seems to draw inspiration from games like Chrono Trigger or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, then the story is something straight out of Final Fantasy. You play as a child left behind on the battlefield by the forces of evil, raised by a former knight who fought for the forces of good. After your surrogate father is slain by a demon, the whole town wonders if you have a deep dark secret from your past that has come back to threaten the world. The stage is set for the over-dramatic, good vs. evil, world hanging in the balance epic that games of that era were constantly about.

You’ll control Regret using an on-screen directional pad and a single action button – a fairly simple control scheme that frees up much of screen real estate for in-game action. Tucked between the pad and button is a taskbar showcasing all of your character’s information. Health points, skill points, and quick slots for combat skills provide everything you’ll need to see during the bulk of your quest – at least during the combat and exploration phases.

When you need to level up and manage your inventory and equipment, a relatively intuitive menu system will take you through everything you need to tackle with ease. Your first instinct when handling these menus will be to simply tap on the selections with your finger, but like the rest of the game you’ll need to use the directional pad and button to navigate through the menu choices. It’s a poor choice for the menus, but once you get used to it there’s little reason to complain.

You’ll be in these menus pretty frequently. Levelling up happens fairly regularly – especially early on – and awards you stat points and skill points to spend on developing your character. Like any traditional RPG you’ll spend stat points on things like attack, defense and constitution. Spending skill points, on the other hand, will unlock new combat talents for your character to take in to battle. You’ll select these from a talent tree not unlike the kind you might see in World of Warcraft. Assigning these new talents to quick slots on your in-game taskbar makes it easy to bring up any spell or complicated swipe of your sword in the midst of battle.

The talent tree is a great touch and a wonderful example of how Zenonia is taking new school game design and applying it to old school mechanics. A few other elements do the same, introducing modern gaming ideas to this incredibly retro adventure. Decisions Regret makes, for example, will impact the characters alignment and how their story unfolds. And there’s a unique day/night cycle to the game world that affects which quests will be available when. Fantastic additions like these bring a great deal to that 16-bit action-RPG formula without taking away from that vintage feel. It’s a great balance that the team at Gamevil should be commended for achieving.

Zenonia is more than just a game – it’s an investment in time. If you’re the type of gamer looking to snag an on-the-go game that you can pick up and play in spurts, Zenonia isn’t going to be for you. Like any good RPG, Zenonia is best played in marathon sessions. It’s the sort of game you’re going to want to play with your iPhone charger plugged in; you’re going to get lost in this world until the “10% battery remaining” warning pops in front of your eyes, and you’re kicking yourself for having spent three hours without even thinking of taking a breather.

If you were fortunate enough to experience the golden age of action RPGs known as the early 90’s, Zenonia is going to feel like a lost classic that is going to be well worth the 30 or 40 hours it will take to complete. For those who weren’t there during that incredible era, Zenonia is an amazing title that will give you a great glimpse into the games of yesteryear that any action-RPG fan will enjoy.