Chaos Rings: The Classic RPG is Dead to Me

I am a child of the era of Pokemon, Final Fantasy VII, VII and IX.  Now before you bash me for lacking Final Fantasy IV under my belt, hear me out when I say that in the era of Fallout 3, God of War and Starcraft 2, it is extremely hard back to go back and play a heavily pixelated game filled with (now) tired genre tropes without a lager and a heavy dose of nostalgia.

I generally avoid standard turn based RPGs these days for the same reason I avoided them when I was 7 years old: They are really just massive grind-fests filled with repetitive gameplay centered around accumulating the stats necessary to kill a boss. The turn based combat system lacks the sense of immediacy that other games offer, and unlike chess, there is really no need to strategize.  Just grind and then roll over bosses. God of War offers the pleasure of lobbing off limbs and eviscerating organs by perfectly timed strikes and split second decision making; classic RPGs offers the compelling feature of hitting the “X” button mindlessly until your opponent falls. As you can tell by now, I am not a fan of the genre, which is a fact that I should have remembered before plopping down $12.99 for Chaos Rings.

I recently got an iPod Touch and like any other child with anew toy I wanted to know it can do.  Aside from the obligatory download of Angry Birds and several other (more productive) apps, I decided to take a leap of faith on the  fairly universal praise of Square Enix‘s foray into the jaws of Apple.  The graphics seemed quite good in the trailers and it had been years since I last played such an RPG, so I reasoned maybe, just maybe,  this could turn out to be a compelling experience. 

Boy, was that a bad idea.

To Chaos Rings’  defense, it had gorgeous graphics, a riveting soundtrack, a decent story (which actually became quite memorable by the end), and a streamlined combat system with some depth.  In other words, the game has some good components, but it made the unforgivable mistake of being a classic RPG.  The fights were long and repetitive.  All the characters heal to full health after each battle so there is little tension of running out of potions or even dying. 

Playing through the game, I began to wonder why I ever enjoyed RPGs at all.  Pokemon I can justify as a phenomenon that I shared with my friends.  Final Fantasy has riveting stories as well as, once again, the friends component.  However, there were countless hours I wasted on other games that was essentially just about boosting stats.  Perhaps, I found these games challenging because I added the additional burden of never using potions out of fear I may need them in the future (by which time the potions were so weak they were worthless), and when I entered my late teenage years, I realized that I could pretty much create beer-hats out of all potions I collect so the games then became quite easy.  More likely than the use-the-goddamn-potions theory, I was addicted to the joy seeing stats go up by one point… even for five hours of work.  I believe that the long stretch of time didn’t seem to onerous since grinding is incredibly easy.  Unlike most things in life, all you have to do is mash “X” and you get crap done.

I recall it taking a good 7 hours to level up once in my first MMORPG Maple Story; I recall leveling up twice in one five minute battle in Chaos Rings.  Yes, I do realize that MMORPG intentionally slow down the leveling process to a snail’s pace so that the game company can sell all the gimmicky weapons, scrolls and spells to make the whole thing easier, but regardless, the leveling system in Chaos Rings is still laughably easy.  Now, I’m thankful the game didn’t stretch out its 4-7 hours of gameplay by forcing people to grind.  Being a game on the iPhone, I presume this was made for a more casual audience who can play it a few minutes a day; however, the game could have had a difficulty option for people who knows how to play an RPG.  It’s not a big gripe, but one I would like to point out for the more hardcore gamers out there.

I believe that developers of turn based RPG should approach it less as a bunch of statistics clashing (or in Square Enix‘s case) a glorified movie with gaming components, and more as a puzzle game.   There should be some real problem solving that is not too complex but challenging enough to engage the player beyond simply learning what element a creature is weak against and spamming spells. Such a combat system should be more fun since each battle becomes a genuine challenge that requires a player to actually make full use of the game mechanics instead of just hitting the attack command. Furthermore, grinding may still be a solution for some, but the game should make it sufficiently cumbersome to level up that it’s actually better to just learn the finer details of the combat system.  Sadly, Chaos Rings does none of this.  It’s just another pretty Square Enix game using the same old formula from the 90s.  Both the company and the genre needs to evolve or else the lukewarm sales of Final Fantasy XIII are going to look like blockbuster numbers in the future.

9 Responses to “Chaos Rings: The Classic RPG is Dead to Me”

  1. I’d say strategy RPGs do a pretty solid job of making it challenging though I would have to caution against the gimmicky (but enjoyable in its own way) Disgaea franchise. Given that I too prefer something more meaningful beyond the hit X over and over, grind up to hellacious levels, and pummel bosses into oblivion, games like Final Fantasy Tactics (you’ll want the original one for the PSX or the PSP remake titled War of the Lions), Tactics Ogre (actually, the Ogre Battle franchise has yet to disappoint), and Stella Deus to be more my cup of tea. Action RPGs like Vagrant Story have been good too, as well as the obtuse (but fun) Unlimited Saga.

    Sadly, I haven’t had a chance to try out any others since time has been woefully short as of late, so I can’t tell you how next-gen RPGs have gone down (Valkyria Chronicles was fun what little I played of it).

  2. I’ve been playing Monster Hunter Tri a crapload lately, which I guess you’d call an action RPG. So, there’s little in the way of attack spamming, but there’s still an unfortunate amount of grinding… not to level up, which has no relevance to your stats, but to get good equipment. In order to upgrade your stats you need to make better kit, and to do this, you need rewards from the monsters you kill. When the necessary rewards to make the next important armour or weapon have drop rates as low as 2%, it can be incredibly frustrating. Sure, it’s hella rewarding once you get it, but 2% drop rates are ridiculous for something that takes 15 minutes to kill… and that’s if you’re good (and you have good teammates).

  3. You know, I think the combat in the vast majority of RPGs is pretty empty, whether they’re Japanese or Western, or turn-based or real-time (or a hybrid). It almost seems like at this point that the companies should just focus more on giving it the illusion of being interesting, giving as many non-combat options as possible, or simply make the game scale better as you progress (can be automatically strengthening/weakening enemies based on level, can be giving out far more experience for major storyline events than someone can get from grinding).

    I think the last time I played an RPG where I had to do some kind of thinking through my combat (beyond simple things like looking for cover in a game like Fallout 3) were in some of the major battles against enemies like dragons or bosses in Baldur’s Gate 2, which was 10 years ago.

  4. I like the way the Tales games handle combat. It makes battles fun because the characters actually have styles and you can plug in a second player.

    I played some of FFXIV and I couldn’t believe how utter garbage the gameplay was. Menu scrolling battle systems as old as the dinosaurs should stay dead and buried.

  5. I suppose it’s just a generational thing. The Final Fantasy games were fun and all, but those games are mostly a fantasy story book as an RPG, or at least that’s how I view them. The more recent brand of RPGs like Fallout 3 or Oblivion focus far more on the player experience than any real storyline. I mean the storyline for both those games in and of themselves is pretty weak.

    Then you have the other types of RPGs that provide a mix of storytelling and gameplay, two of which are KotOR and Mass Effect. Kotor tends to lean towards the FF model, while ME leans more towards the user experience type of thing.

    It’s mostly a matter of what you end up appreciating more in an RPG. Square Enix is one of those companies that’s stuck to their tried and true formula through the ages. I wouldn’t look to them for innovation on this front haha.

  6. @zzeroparticle
    Final Fantasy Tactics was interesting in that it was the only FF game I felt had any real strategic depth to it if only because it forced you to position your units in the most efficient way possible.

    As for action RPGs, I find that several of these games are just as uninteresting as turn based RPGs unless they have a full combat system like Castelvania or Kingdom Hearts where timing attacks and dodges is an issue.

    Ah, the good old MMORPG curse where it takes the time and effort of around 3 PhDs to get to build up a maxed character.

    I agree. I think that future RPGs will go down the path of Fable III where there are a countless number of quests and sidequests a player can take part in throughout the game. It’s an aspect of MMPORGs I think can port over to standard single player RPGs easily and fluidly… However, I hope that the combat is not dumbed down quite as much as in Fable III.

    I think that menu scrolling would be acceptable if there were genuine strategic elements to the spells or if you were controlling more than one character, but otherwise, yeah, it should be obsolete.

    I honestly think that by today’s standards, nearly all the old RPGs will be considered bad. They are probably unplayable to anyone who has grown up with Mass Effect and Fallout 3. I don’t just mean graphically, but in terms of gameplay as well.

    As for Square Enix not innovating… that is why they are facing the end of a long barrel.

  7. I personally dislike open sandbox RPGs (Oblivion, Morrowind, Fallout 3), and, despite the fact that I was raised on Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights (the former being a genuinely brilliant game, the latter simply being a guilty pleasure), I tend to favor linear RPGs.

    Why? Who the hell says there needs to be something challenging to make a game fun? I like the linearity because I can predict what happens at the end of the game. I get over being a little whiny bastard, save the princess, and it’s happily ever after. Seriously. I love it.

    In fact, in my many years of playing games, I’ve only very rarely played any evil characters (a few times in Baldur’s Gate/other DnD-influenced games), and I just don’t enjoy playing those sorts of characters.

    It’s really hard to compare Western and Japanese RPGs, primarily because what the gamers expect is so different. Here in Japan, while you mash the x button, you can chat with friends, surf 2ch, and do a lot of stuff at the same time. And stat crunching is fun (this is coming from someone that did regular mathcrafting on Elitist Jerks during his WoW days though).

    As a side note, I did a bit of research into this subject about a year ago. The famous series Record of Lodoss War was originally created in story format as the successor of a failed attempt to import Western-style fantasy games (for example, DnD) into Japan. Companies found that instead of open roleplay, the Japanese tended to prefer these books that published stories set in particular campaigns, rather than making their own characters and playing themselves. This trend carries onto even modern day linear Japanese RPGs, which continue to be fun for those who simply *prefer* those kinds of games.

    And finally, I love collecting the useless and random items in games (HNNNGGGHHHH VESPERIA!!!), and I think Japanese RPGs do a great job of that.

  8. @Kylaran

    I don’t necessarily dislike straightforward RPGs, but ten hours in, I start to ask myself whether I’m truly having fun or not. Yes, I get addicted to a game because it’s fun, but eventually I realize that I’m simply just addicted. I find that if I stop playing, I’m not any less happy than if I had continued to grind.

    As for social media being integrated with games in Japan… I can see this coming to Facebook real soon. RPGs are such a low amount of focus that I think it is feasible to multitask and still have a complete grasp of everything around you.

  9. I have this game on my iPhone. I cannot play it for more than 5 minutes. It’s irritating.

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