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Review: Chaos Rings for iPhone

[Note: If you ‘d like to read my first impressions of the game, published hours of gameplay ago, click here.]

With the Square Enix name behind it, it ‘s easy to forget that Chaos Rings is not a Final Fantasy title. Sure, this game features turn-based combat and random encounters just like Final Fantasy I and II do, but make no mistake: this is a different class of Japanese RPG.

Chaos Rings is a very regimented gaming experience, and whether or not you ‘ll enjoy it depends on how you feel about the terms ‘grind ‘ and ‘level up ‘.


I’m still ambivalent about my time with Chaos Rings, but I know now that I didn’t play the game for the story. The premise in a nutshell: Five pairs of warriors have been kidnapped and placed inside a giant dungeon, called the Ark Arena. Here they are forced to strengthen themselves and duel one another until there is only one pair left standing. Over the course of the entire game, you ‘re given opportunities to play as each of the pairs ” though you ‘ll only have two to start with.

Instead of offering a rich set of dialogues, the game spreads the story out over a series of very short conversations — walking you through random encounters, random puzzles, and boss battles — all with the promise of a “Eureka” moment when the reasoning behind the Ark Arena is unveiled. While that moment did come right at the end of my four hours with the first pair (Zhamo and Eluca), it wasn’t nearly as interesting or mind-blowing as I’d hoped. Some people might say that my expectations were simply too high — after all, this is just a $13 mobile title. However, having played a fair number of Final Fantasy titles in my day, I really did expect more from Square Enix. Dialogues don ‘t need to be as epic as in FF games, but the way that every single pair initiates a “story moment” at around the same point in the game just feels so artificial.

[Edit: It has come to my attention — thanks to reader kazemizuhi — that the Square Enix acted only as publisher for this title. The actual game developer was Media Vision, and I’ve corrected the references to the developer in the rest of the review.]

Defeat your first boss? Time to reflect on friendship. Find a key to the dungeon? Reflect on your relationship to the princess. While the individual story lines aren’t predictable, the method of delivery is so mechanical it kills any suspense or intrigue.

I only ended up completing one pair’s story mode, and although I’m halfway through my second, I highly doubt I’ll be completing all five. So while the game may be able to boast a good 20+ hours of gameplay, a very small fraction of that time is spent learning interesting things about the characters you’re controlling.

Saved Games

A lot of JRPGs tend to favour save points over actual saved games, but Chaos Rings wisely chooses the latter. This means that, unless you ‘re in a fight or in the midst of a dialogue, you can quit the game at any time and come right back to where you were before. The game will automatically quick save your progress as you quit, but you ‘re also free to save the game at any time. Consider yourself warned, however: each of the five couples has only one saved game. There aren ‘t exactly any ‘bad ‘ choices to make during a play through, but you should be wary of this if you decide to create a New Game+.

Chaos Rings also has an option for a New Game+ (thanks to Aaron Parker for pointing this out), but it can be a difficult to start. Instead of starting a new game with the couple whose storyline you ‘ve finished, you ‘re actually supposed to load their saved game over again and play from there to unlock even more boss fights and expand on the storyline. I can ‘t confirm how different this new mode is because I actually created a New Game with my first couple and was only presented with the cash and genes from my first saved game. Long story short: no New Game+ for me.


While it ‘s clear that the story won ‘t win any awards, due credit must be given to the game ‘s control scheme. While most ‘hardcore ‘ titles require both hands to play, you can actually go through Chaos Rings with one hand tied behind your back. That ‘s not to say the game is too easy (actually, it is ” but that ‘s not the point), but, rather, all movement and combat controls can be accessed with just one hand.

This was accomplished by placing all combat and menu buttons along the right side of the screen and turning the d-pad into a dynamic control, rather than a static one (a d-pad appears wherever your finger touches the screen).

The only down side to the controls is the lack of physical buttons, which simply can ‘t be helped on the iPhone. It can be too easy to accidentally activate one of the game ‘s puzzles instead of moving your character, and you ‘ll really miss having a set of physical keys to mindlessly mash during random encounters.


There are several factors at work in any given fight: pair actions, break points, and elements.

The pair mechanic comes into play at the start of your turn, allowing your couple to act as a pair, or as separate units. Paired actions tend to have greater effect on the enemy, but any attack from the enemy will hurt both your characters. I think of my characters as holding hands while swinging swords, and hugging when the enemies attack.

Choosing to fight as Singles works exactly like you ‘d expect: you can select actions for each character separately, and incoming attacks no longer hit both parties (no more hugs!).

I thought this system would eventually branch out and turn into something more tactical, but it really is a by-the-numbers approach to combat. Regular fights are for paired attacks because you don ‘t get hurt too badly after you reach level 10, and boss fights are mainly for single strikes, because the bosses hit you so damn hard.

Break Points and elements were also promising gameplay elements, but they also fall a little flat, because of how predictable combat is. Break points could be described as the ‘tide of battle ‘, which turns in the favour of whichever side is doing more damage, but even after 8 hours of gameplay, I don ‘t fully understand it.

The elemental system is essentially a coloured version of rock-paper-scissors, with ice, wind, and fire instead of hand gestures. The thing is, certain skills and items within Chaos Rings can actually force an element onto an enemy, so the basic strategy in any given battle is to switch the enemy ‘s element and then cast a counter elemental spell for whopping damage (i.e . switch the enemy to Gale, and then toast them with Blaze).

Now that I ‘ve described the pair, break point, and elemental system, it ‘s about time to describe why they ‘re so tragically unnecessary. Each of these mechanics could have been genuinely useful or interesting, but each falls flat on its face after a few hours because of the cookie cutter combat in Chaos Rings.

Whether it ‘s a slug, a lizard, or a bird ” most every single creature you fight will react the same way. Sure, turtles will toughen their shells and birds may cast a spell or two, but they ‘ll spend the rest of their turns simply attacking you. Even boss fights feel like regular enemies on steroids, and very few of them actually present any unique or significant challenge.

Your characters also go through a rather drastic growth spurt in terms of gear and power after level 10, so while you may have to play smart early on, the majority of encounters in Chaos Rings can be won by spamming Pair Attack until your characters are the only ones left standing. No break point manipulation or elements needed.

It’s not all negative, though. The combat in Chaos Rings looks great for an iPhone game: animations for attacks look and feel right, and spell effects are suitably dramatic. The actual fighting doesn’t look realistic by any stretch, but the over-the-top effects and weaponry suit the gameplay perfectly, and the animations can dull some of the pain of “grinding” (engaging in repeated fights) to level up. Developer Media Vision even tried to pay attention to the little details, like how characters draw their weapons out before battle (although I *still* wonder where Zhamo keeps that giant spear when it’s not in use).

The only aspects of combat that feel off are the death animations for boss battles. Some bosses are a good eight times your size, and yet they fall to the ground as gently as feathers when you kill them. These deaths lack impact and take some of the gratification away from what should be a very rewarding visual experience.


I was really excited about getting a title from Square Enix developed specifically for the iPhone OS, but it took the writing of this review for me to realize that I wouldn’t make this purchase again. I also learned — after the fact — that Chaos Rings is a Square Enix title in name only, which helps explain why this title was so drastically different from the gameplay I’m used to when my favourite JRPG developer is at the helm.

So while there may be 20+ hours of gameplay for completionists and old school RPG fans, there simply wasn’t enough unique and engaging material in Chaos Rings for me. There are plenty of skills and bits of dialogue to unlock, but when nearly every story moment plays out at the exact same spot, and most fights end after spamming pair attacks, my time with Chaos Rings felt more like a gauntlet of grinding, instead of the fresh and engaging experience RPG experience I had expected.

Chaos Rings is available for $13 on the App Store.

The app was bought by JAiB for review on the site. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

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  • Oops sorry about that :S Maybe you had to load the saved game which you made after completing, I can't remember. It should unlock a new area which gives a much more satisfying story ending (and an epic boss battle too).

  • kazemizuhi

    Just an FYI, the game was developed by Media.Vision the team behind the Wild Arms series. Everybody and every publication has been pushing this title as a Squenix release, when in fact their role extended no further than publisher.

    With that knowledge on mind it does make the game's lackluster story and simplistic system understandable. Still a solid title and the best RPG on the iPhone in my opinion.

    • Holy crap, that does explain a lot. Thanks for the info — I'll see if I can work it in to make the thing more accurate…or at least, less inaccurate 😉

  • great review!

  • Thank you for another excellent review!

    Is it just me, or does it seem like most good quality graphic games are too easy, too short, and don't have nearly enough replay value?

    If it is just me, what titles would you suggest that meet my criteria?

    I have an XBOX 360, and I understand the differences, but I've yet to really hear about a game that has incredible graphics AND isn't too easy, AND isn't short, AND has replay value. I think the only thing that might come close are the soccer (football depending on where you live) games.

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  • Langley

    I dont know if you have played a mmorpg before, but I think you have the concept of "GRIND" wrong, I beated the game with absolutely no need for grind, and leveling, well of course, every rpg is about lvling (except ffxiii -.-), also this game wasnt supposed to be best than Final Fantasy , its one of the first real RPG games for Ipod and imho its the best.
    About "replay value" , I dont know what else do you need, you can continue the same game with the same chars to get new dungeons, you can also make new game+, you can unlock even more chars to beat the game with ( which happen to have different stories), what else do you need for a "replay value"?
    Also Im not completely sure about this, but i believe its only 4 couple not 5.
    I havent found any other decent RPG game for the iphone so I really cant c how were you disapointed from it, you need to realize that Final Fantasy I and II are just remakes and their graphics arent even close to Chaos Rings, its hard to make a game like FF for an ipod with those kind of graphics because the hardware has many limitations.

  • Langley

    I said mmorpg not RPG.

    About your "you simply *have* to engage in more random fights if you're not powerful enough" comment, the game has an option to select the lvl you want the monsters to be !, if you are not powerfull enough you can just choose a lower lvl, even tho I allways choosed mobs 10 lvls over me and still had no need to grind, I dont understand how you call it an easy game then you talk about having to grind if you are not powerfull enough, thats contradictory imo.

    Dont understand me wrong, Im not saying this is the best RPG game Ive played, of course is not anywhere near Final Fantasy Series, but this is an IPOD game, and I havent seen that many good RPG games for Ipod.

    If you are expecting to find games better than final fantasy I wouldnt recommend you to look on iTunes, go play a VIDEOGAME CONSOLE, like ps3, 360, even psp etc…

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