Some time ago I ran a review of the original Chaos Rings, which is now available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and PlayStation Vita. In short, I found the game to be a great example of what JRPG gaming could be on mobile devices, if still slightly lacking in some areas. If all you want to know is whether or not Chaos Rings 2 is an improvement, you can stop reading now and go buy the game: it basically corrects every problem of the original and adds a dose of its own awesomeness to boot. But if you’re still not convinced, feel free to stick around for the full review. Let’s get started!
Despite being a direct sequel, Chaos Rings 2 doesn’t stick too closely to the narrative of Chaos Rings 1. They are very much connected, but those connections will not be obvious without some exploration and a good memory of the original Chaos Rings and to a lesser degree its prequel, Chaos Rings Ω. As a result, Chaos Rings 2 stands well on its own and is easily enjoyed with no prior series experience, but in its own small ways the game does reward players who go through the entire trilogy.
It could be said that Chaos Rings 2 is more linear than Chaos Rings 1, but this is more due to the first game’s openness being a facade than the sequel actually being more restrictive. Like the prequel Omega, only one basic plot line exists, and while some choices can be made along the way, things pan out pretty much the same regardless. This game does feature multiple endings, but each one is based upon a single, immediate decision and if you don’t get the one you want, you can simply load your last saved game, choose not to end the game at that point, and proceed onward until you hit the next opportunity to wrap things up. (Hint: keep playing after the credits!)
Up to that point, expect a lot of familiar JRPG tropes and themes such as the end of the world, sacrifice, fate and destiny, love, bravery, and villains who basically try to be God and end up the devil instead. That’s not to say that Chaos Rings 2’s story is generic, though. There is a lot of narrative depth to be explored, and much of it is pleasantly unpredictable. On top of that, the game features a terrific ensemble cast who are all connected in some way but each feature completely unique and interesting storylines that cause the player to really care about each and every member in the party.
Without giving any spoilers, it’s a very serious story and often a very moving one as well. If you thought mobile games couldn’t have any weightiness, Square Enix is here to prove you wrong. The game will last you anywhere from 20 to 30 hours, which is a little on the short side by console JRPG standards, but the story feels paced just right as it is and stands on the lengthy side by mobile standards besides.
While the storyline of Chaos Rings 2 may be fairly disconnected from its predecessors, the gameplay proves that it definitely belongs in the same series. Gameplay consists of exploration sequences, cutscenes, and of course, battles. Though after the opening sequences you are free to play with whichever characters you please, the party is limited to two people at all times. While this may sound restrictive compared to the majority of JRPGs, it is actually the foundation for Chaos Rings’ unique and quite terrific pair battle system. At the beginning of each turn in battle you will be faced with the choice to fight as a pair or go solo (or flee). If your party fights as a pair they can deal one high damage strike, and if they fight individually they can deal two separate, average blows. But be careful: how you choose to do damage also affects how you receive it. Acting as a pair makes it possible for the enemy to hit both of your characters with a single blow, but of course this is much more rare when acting individuality. It’s a deceptively simple system that really spices up the traditional HP/MP, physical/magical/items setup, and is really fun to get into.
Chaos Rings 2 doesn’t ignore the exploration sequences, though. Lots of bonuses await the avid explorer, and getting them will require a special skill from each member of the party. Perhaps there’s a wall that has to be cut through, a platform that has to be moved, a target that has to be shot at a distance, or a gap to be jumped. There’s only one person for each task, encouraging the player to really make use of each character in the game. There’s even a gang of mischievous pandas to hunt (no, really!)
The origins of the original Chaos Rings and it’s prequel were obvious. While characters and levels were realistically proportioned, they possessed the same low resolution aesthetic about them as the 3D remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV. For Chaos Rings 2, however, Square Enix clearly gave their engine a few updates. Prerendered backgrounds are highly detailed and look great even on the super high-res screens of recent Android devices. A few are even animated this time around, though the story makes provision for those that aren’t. Character geometry and texture detail is also great for mobile devices, rivaling the quality of sixth-gen consoles like the PlayStation 2. Shaders have even made their way into the series for the first time, the result being far more realistic lighting and immersive special effects. Some of the updates are subtle and go easily missed, but at the same time the effects would be missed in a different sense were they simply not there at all.
Sound & Music
Like the previous two games in the series, Chaos Rings 2 is fully voice acted, but only in Japanese (English text is available). While this will delight hardcore JRPG fans, it may seem a bit strange to those gamers less familiar with the genre. Either way, the voice acting is excellent all across the board and adds a lot to the mood of the game whether you understand Japanese or not.
Music is likewise excellent, taking all the best themes of past games and rearranging them for a greater cinematic feel and throwing in some fantastic new tracks as well. Towards the end of the game there’s even a pretty terrific J-Pop style track performed by Minori Chihara, who is well known in Japan for her music career and numerous contributions to anime series. It’s too bad Sarah Alainn doesn’t make a return from her excellent vocal work in Omega, but Chihara fills her shoes pretty well, albeit with a different style.
While some mobile developers are trying to use the latest graphics technology to give their games that ‘console feel’, Square Enix has done something far better in their approach with Chaos Rings 2. While the games does feature beautiful graphics and artwork, it’s the deep, engaging story, interesting characters, fun battle system, excellent music, and terrific voice acting that make this a game which doesn’t feel like it belongs on an Xbox or Playstation, but a game that can actually pull gamers away from their consoles for a while. It is virtually flawless from start to finish–thoroughly enjoyable, often thoughtful or moving, and even humorous at times. The $15 price tag may be a bit high among mobile games, but think of it as a 3DS or Vita title that just happens to run on iOS and Android. If you’re a fan of well-made JRPGs, you owe it to yourself to check out Chaos Rings 2.