Review: Zenonia 3: The Midguard Story
Puzzle games and 3-hour adventure games are fun enough while you wait for a friend to show up, but if you want to sit down on your next month of subway rides with a nice, long RPG, Gamevil’s Zenonia 3: The Midguard Story has you covered on your iPhone or Android phone.
But this threequel doesn’t penalize you for not having played the first two of the series. How could it, with the high rate in which iPhone and Android gamers try and discard even paid games? But from the disposable rubble of your discarded apps comes an action/RPG that can be played from anywhere between 2 hours and 100 hours depending on how much you love item/XP farming.
The story is set after a long, long war between the Divine and Devil tribes, with gods defeating gods. Unfortunately, this is told only through cutscenes and you never get to play the scenario yourself. Eventually, the war zone crumbles and the whole lot crashes into Midguard, the war seemingly over.
Chael, the game’s protagonist and Sword Knight, Shadow Hunter, Mechanic Launcher, or Nature Shaman (depending on your opening choice) and his fairy companion Runa begin their journey on Earth as the often-bullied Chael trains under his father to become stronger. Inevitably, they are absorbed into an inter-realm portal while Chael is out picking flowers for the girl he’s interested in, and end up in the middle realm, Midguard, located between Heaven and the Ground - a place overrun by Unique Monsters (a name that is, unfortunately, not very unique).
Chael, who is the adopted son of Mr. Regret from the first Zenonia and a decent warrior by this point in his training, is able to save the winged Divine Tribe’s shaman Celine from danger. Chael is continuously mistaken for a member of the Degenerated Tribe, which was once part of the Divine Tribe but lost its wings (fall from Grace, anyone?), but seem to be separate from humans. While Luxferre, the strongest warrior of the Divine Tribe, detests Chael for being of a wingless breed, Celine accepts that he can aid them.
Thus begins the series of questing that is Zenonia 3. You'll fight your way screen-by-screen to defeat the Devil Tribe and find a way home, meeting all flavors of characters who will ask for assistance along the way.
The in-menu quest log will track your next main quest goal and your side quests as you use the virtual D-Pad to move Chael, though he may spin around a little if you tap too many directions too quickly. Fighting consists of virtual button mashing to perform combos, combined with on-screen special move shortcuts you can tap to use a skill and deplete SP (stamina points), and Chael will automatically turn toward his foe while attacking so you can get the most hits in during a combo regardless of how your enemy moves. This is a nice touch: a subtle game mechanic that greatly reduces potential battle frustration. You'll level up your character, unlocking skill points to put toward the passive and offensive skills and attribute points to strengthen your character. The graphics and UI have been upped for this iteration of the series, allowing the on-screen shortcut bar to use less screen real estate when quick-accessing skills and items.
But when jumping from one to the other, Zenonia 3 feels like Zenonia 2 wearing a new dress to a new restaurant, though it works here. The art is made up of SNES-like sprites in a world that could have been made in RPG Maker, complete with game commands you're probably not supposed to see that pop up from time to time (like "Luxferre Talk" when you begin a conversation with him). The music suits the game: a fairytale score with twinkles mixed with almost industrial synth pop tracks for the darker zones.
But it's not all grim saving-the-world stuff here. In typical Korean RPG style, there's plenty of humor interspersed with dialog, and emotive speech bubbles exclaim character reactions. There are also some awkward grammar and phrasing throughout the game, probably due to translation issues. For example, when Chael asks the shaman Celine, "What's your identity?" and she introduces herself as if he asked, "Who are you?" Fortunately, this is nothing game-breaking, and may simply provide a chuckle.
The cartoony characters occasionally break the fourth wall, further pushing the lighthearted feeling of the game amidst the dark premise of having to stop the resurrecting of the dark lord. At one point when Chael is being dismissive of Runa, Runa proclaims she is a fairy, not an NPC, and that her dialogs should be listened to. Quirkiness like that add to the charm of the game.
The only performance issue I'd had on an iPhone 3GS was when the game appeared to have frozen when one bar of phone service appeared in the subway, and unfroze when the connection disappeared. I can't be sure it was a coincidence, though it seemed to be trying to connect to the internet. Battery life seems ok for a game: it will drain the battery somewhat quickly, but is not a huge powersuck like more graphically intense games.
Zenonia 3 comes complete with GameCenter support and connections to facebook and Twitter for sharing your achievements, as well as online play that includes PVP and leaderboards.
It's an unusually epic game for the iPhone, with a full slew of in-game cutscenes that tell the story. While not a game you can pickup for five minutes while distracted (unless you just want to attack some enemies to gain XP and items), it's a great game for a lengthy bus or train ride or for when a friend is running really late, and the auto save feature means you can get notifications, close the app, or play until your battery dies without losing your progress. And if you're not satisfied with racking up tens of hours on one game save, you can fill two other slots with any of the four classes, which each come equipped with their own skill tree to vary gameplay.
And now for the twist: unlike the previous games in the series, Zenonia 3: The Midguard Story is a free download from the App Store, with in-app purchases of rare items using "Zen Points". Better yet, there are no in-game ads (only a main menu pop-up ad). There is also an inexpensive paid version, but the only difference is that the paid version starts you off with more Zen Points.
If you've been looking for a full RPG experience on your iPhone or Android phone, give this one a try.