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Chaos Rings II Review: Better Story, Better Graphics, Same Gameplay

As the iOS world slouches towards freemium games, IAPs, and more versions of birds hitting pigs, Square Enix continues to take the platform more seriously as a place for quality, console-style games. Their latest offering, Chaos Rings II, continues to showcase the dev’s commitment to quality iOS gaming. It’s a graphically strong, cinematic game that suffers a bit from familiar gameplay.

Players of the two previous games in the series, Chaos Rings and Chaos Rings Omega, will be immediately familiar with the structure of Chaos Rings II. You play a pair of characters who move between set scenes and grind their way through various world-levels in turn-based combat. The story is set aboard the massive and mysterious Ark Arena, and before the end of the story, most of the main characters will be scheduled to die. Piu-Piu will dance in the corner with his cardboard ladies and sell you upgraded weapons and armor. The music will be pretty good. Yes, this is familiar territory for the Chaos Rings series.

Having said that, it is the best executed of the three games. The characters are more interesting, and you get to know them all a little better. The plot has more … well, plot to it, and the Ark Arena (and its handlers) have been recast into something more interesting and textured. The graphics are stunners, with everything from the character designs to the pre-rendered backgrounds impressing. And unlike Chaos Rings Omega, Chaos Rings II doesn’t just recycle level and enemy assets; the setting and monsters are new and better-looking than before.

Like its predecessors, Chaos Rings II isn’t an open-ended RPG, but a linear story that you guide the characters through. Unlike the previous entries, here you aren’t following one pair through most or all of the game. Characters are constantly switching off, and through the life of the game (and it’s LONG life, with many hours of gameplay to be had) you’ll take control of at least six different characters. This could be seen as a bad thing, since it means sometimes having to redo levels just to level new characters to the same level as the ones you were previously playing; but the benefits are variety, story, and drama. I consider that a fair trade.

In every conceivable way, Chaos Rings II is better than either of its predecessors, except in the one way that perhaps matters most: core game play. It’s still stuck in a single linear dimension: grind wandering monster mobs (almost all of which require nothing more than straight face-beating) to reach bosses (where things like character abilities and items become relevant). I liked the original game enough to play through this one, but boy did I find myself wishing for some sort of change to the combat routine. Especially since the game entices you to replay and grind higher to develop the many characters and to unlock more story elements.

The other potential turn-off for this game is the price. It is not cheap, at $17.99 for the iPhone and $19.99 for the iPad. In the App Store, that’s a premium price to pay. If you like RPGs and liked the precious games in the series, it’s definitely worth it; but still … ouch!

All in all, I love and appreciate Square Enix’s approach to big, dramatic RPG opera storytelling, and I enjoyed my time with it in Chaos Rings II. But the edges are wearing thin on the Chaos Rings formula a bit, and I can only hope that they take some cues from their more famous franchise in the future. Chaos Rings III needs to open up the gameplay options a bit, and perhaps expand the story beyond the Ark Arena. I’d hate to see the franchise go stale.

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5.

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