When the original Zenonia hit the iPhone last year, it was the type of action-RPG experience that old school gamers would die for. It was also, by and large, the only game of its kind on the popular portable. But in the last 10 months role-playing games have carved a name for themselves on the device, with everything from Across Age to Final Fantasy vying for the dollars of portable gamers. Instead of banking its success on the trailblazing nature of its predecessor, Zenonia 2 needed to find a way to stand out from the crowd if it wanted to wow us like the first one did – but it was a task that proved too great.

Taking place in the same universe as the original Zenonia, Zenonia 2 is set in a time when everyone is losing their memories. You’ll get to choose from four characters whose stories intertwine as they progress on their mission to revive the tree of life and restore everyone’s memories. Each character has a very different play style, but the story will remain largely the same regardless of who you choose.

 The Lost Memories

Zenonia 2: The Lost Memories will offer a healthy dose of déjà vu to veterans of the first game as nearly every aspect of the original has returned. You’ll be able to purchase new talents from a skill tree, accept seemingly mundane quests from the townsfolk, and do battle with little more than the incessant tapping of your finger on the on-screen action button. From the overly-simple combat to the constantly grinding nature of quests, the experience feels a lot like its predecessor.

That’s not to say the game doesn’t offer a ton of enhancements over the original. The first Zenonia‘s menu system was laughably bad – originally designed for a cell phone, you were forced to navigate with the on-screen d-pad instead of simply tapping your selections. This time around the menus are far easier to deal with, clearly designed with the iPhone in mind. They could still be better – selling items is a pain, as it checking out item details and comparing one piece of equipment to another – but overall the menu layout is a vast improvement.

We were also shocked (in a good way) to see that changing equipment will actually change the appearance of your character. It’s commonplace to see this in big budget 3D games like World of Warcraft, but in a 2D RPG it’s almost unheard of. Seeing our character in a new headpiece for the first time knocked our socks off. It’s a really great touch, complementing the slightly tweaked 16-bit visual style perfectly.

 The Lost Memories

Offering four character classes is a big plus in terms of replayability. Every character truly feels different in terms of game style, so if you’re really digging the game you can always start up another save slot and see the difference between the melee character and the gun-toting one, for example.

There’s also a new item-crafting mode that will let you build your own equipment from supplies you’ve collected. It sounds like a neat feature, but like the menu system it manages to feel more like an inconvenience than an enhancement. Besides, you’re never short of cash and can always buy the latest and greatest weapons from the shop, so item-crafting quickly becomes a moot point.

The game also offers up a Player vs. Player arena which sounds exciting, but manages to be the biggest disappointment in this release. The gameplay in this mode is asynchronous, meaning you’re not playing an actual person but an artificial intelligence that uses a character that another player has created. So you can still battle your friend’s character – just not your actual friend. Whether it’s due to poor match-making or players who have simply found an exploit to super charge their characters, the PvP feels really unbalanced. Whatever the reason, the matches proved completely unwinnable despite our numerous attempts.

It’s not that Zenonia 2 is bad – in fact it’s better than its predecessor in a number of ways – it’s just that we were expecting a fresh experience rather than something that feels so much like what’s come before. It’s nice to see that they’ve fixed a number of annoyances from the first game and added a few new features here and there, but they didn’t go that extra step and add anything revolutionary to the series either. If you haven’t played the first Zenonia, you may as well skip it and stick with this latest release as it’s definitely a more polished title. But if you have played the first one? Zenonia 2 just manages to feel like more of the same despite the tweaking.