I really don’t have any right to be reviewing Chaos Rings III.
I’m not that far into it, I haven’t played the first two games, and the last time I really committed to an RPG was Final Fantasy X — and that was 15 years ago. I am, one might say, a peculiar choice to review Chaos Rings III. And yet here I am, typing the very words you’re reading. Why? Because even though (I think) I still have a long way to go before finishing it, I’ve bitten off more than enough of Chaos Rings III to get the gist.
And the gist is good.
The story is, as you might have guessed from the genre, a bit schmaltzy and melodramatic. Your hero is raised by a foster parent, having lost their elders to “Marble Blue,” the planet they orbit where Hunters go to explore. Once you’re of age you head to the big city to become a Hunter too, and quickly team-up with a few other teenyboppers who have their own, equally epic motivations for wanting to visit the world below.
There’s a lot of story in Chaos Rings III, and lucky for us, it’s an enjoyable romp to follow along with. That said, this is a game that seems to have one foot firmly planted in traditional, console-based RPGs — so know that when you sit down to play, you’ll be carving out a big chunk of your day. There are moments of dialog that can easily last five minutes or more. It may not sound like much, but in mobile games? That’s practically a lifetime. To put 5 minutes into perspective, I could complete three levels of Geometry Wars: Dimensions in that time (or, probably, 100 rounds of Flappy Bird).
Story missions are similarly a big time commitment. The game has a “save anywhere” system (as it should), but if you’re really looking to do the Chaos Rings III experience right, be prepared to sit down and treat this the way you would any of Square Enix’s other RPGs. Sure there are side-missions and modes you can dive into for quicker bites of gameplay — but you’re here for the story as much as the gameplay, right?
While the game’s mechanics will be largely familiar for JRPG enthusiasts, Chaos Rings III isn’t without its uniqueness. Unlike a lot of RPGs where spells and abilities are tied to your character, Chaos Rings III ties them to “genes” (just a fancy word for cards) that you can switch between whenever you’re not in a battle. Each gene will gain experience in battles when equipped, modifying your heroes stats and abilities as the cards level up.
Of course, if you want to switch to a new gene instead, you’ll be back at Level 1.
This may sound like an aggravation, but when looked at in the context of Chaos Rings III’s questing system, it ends up being a twist that adds a lot of replayability. In addition to the main story quests there are a number of sidequests appropriate to any level of gene combination at all times. Players will choose the mission they want to do from the New Paleo Spaceport and then descend to the planet to complete them.
Chaos Rings III’s mission system really reminded me of Phantasy Star Online, but again, we’re talking something I haven’t played in more than a decade. Forgive me if my memory is a little spotty.
Like a lot of card-based games, genes can be fused and upgraded to improve existing cards and create new combinations. This area of the game can be a little confusing for newcomers, though thus far I’ve been able to enjoy the Chaos Rings III experience without worrying about genes much beyond equipping them and leveling them up through combat.
Combat itself will be a familiar affair for anyone who has played a JRPG before — especially one from Square Enix. Battles will occur at random as you explore Marble Blue, offering a turn-based, menu-driven affair. The game’s one unique twist allows for an enhanced attack if two or more party members use the same gene-based attack in the same move. With enemies and powers all offering an element-based design (fire and ice oppose each other, for example), this can make the right combination downright deadly against the right enemies.
The other catch — and this one might be a stickler for some of you — is that the MP that powers these moves is available in limited supply.
That’s not to say you won’t have enough MP to survive battles, but you’ll want to be sure to save your magic moves for the times they’re needed most. The MP regenerates in real-time — and some would be quick to argue that this is Square Enix drawing on their free-to-play design experiences of late. It’s not a wrong comparison, but with no IAPs to allow for an MP boost, this is really a design tactic to make you think about the moves you’re making rather than wasting them at every opportunity.
Still, that’s not to say there aren’t other places that free-to-play design elements sneak in. The game has multiple currencies, and the one that would equate to premium (again though, you can’t buy it with real money) is needed to buy golden keys to open the golden treasure chests you’ll find — golden treasure chests that frequently contain new genes. And the genes themselves, it could be argued, are inspired by the card-fusing battle games that litter mobile market. Going one step further, there’s also a battle mode that feels very much like what a standalone, quick-play F2P Chaos Rings might look like.
None of these notes are criticisms, mind you. Just warnings. If you hate this school of design, you might find some frustration here. I, on the other hand, can’t help but applaud them for taking lessons learned from a different model and employing them in a way that creates a different kind of challenge for the player.
Games always have currency, folks. In the case of MP and gold keys, you’ll just need to spend them wisely.
People are quick to complain about a lack of AAA quality games on the App Store and Google Play, but if you ask me, they’re just playing the wrong games. Chaos Rings III looks and feels like something straight out of Square Enix’s console catalogue — so much so that I’m surprised it doesn’t sell for a AAA price on the PlayStation Vita (what? It does in Japan? Well there you go then).
It may come at a premium price, but if you’re looking for a premium RPG experience, this is it. Don’t worry if you haven’t played the past games in the series. Chaos Rings III is new-player friendly, and I’m living proof.