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Role Playing on the Road – Zenonia 4

I’m going to start this column off with some back story. I’ve been doing some traveling lately, seeing friends from all over Canada. I’ve been between jobs, homes, and cities for the last two months. It’s been a blast. But, without my computer and PS3, I’ve been going through some separation anxiety.

How to sate that thirst? Buying a PS Vita or a 3DS seems the logical answer, but unrealistic for a jobless, homeless fellow such as myself. (As much as I love video games, I still have to eat.) So you can probably guess the route I had to take: mobile gaming.

I know, mobile devices make the Wii look like a modded Northwest Falcon Mach V. But I became enticed by a certain genre: the mobile RPG. RPGs don’t really seem all that well-suited to mobile gaming: they’re time consuming, addictive, and story heavy. Not the kind of games generally tailored to 15 minute playing spurts. But, despite that, I saw an opportunity, in the cute sprites and simple button layouts of the touchscreen, to recapture some of the golden age of SNES RPG gaming.

So do any come close? That’s what this column is here to discover. I’m happy to report that a few are actually very good. (And yes, as expected, some of them are very, very bad.) None will replace Skyrim, but a few might make that morning metro commute a little more bearable. Without further adieu, let’s start off with a good one:

Zenonia 4 (Played on the iPhone)

This was the first one I tried, because it (and the rest of the Zenonia series) came highly recommended by a few quick Google searches, and I’m honestly pretty blown away by the pint-sized package.

Let’s get the big stuff out of the way: Zenonia 4 is completely free (as is Zenonia 3), and it will keep you going for hours. Yes, there’s an option to spend real money to get in game rewards (‘Zen’ points), but it’s unnecessary; you can have the complete experience without spending a dime. While they were a few luxuries I wish I had access to (such as extra Origin of Life points, which allow you to revive mid-level), I felt like the option to pay was a polite way of asking for donations.

Zenonia 4 features a bizarre and enjoyable time hopping plot. You take on the role of Regret, a young man who is told (by his future self) that he must save the world from blah-blah, y’know, Super Evil Dudes. Anya, an obnoxious fairy who regularly gets knocked out and loses her memory, is Regret’s (not exactly faithful) companion, and together you’ll travel through The Land of the Fallen, time, and the “real” world at various stages of disrepair. It’s not the most original mechanic — and at the beginning it the story was definitely confusing — but it allows Regret to visit characters at different stages of their lives, and zapping back-and-forth between time periods to complete quests keeps things interesting. It’s a hokey, big (considering the size of the system), and messy story with some fun surprises.

(I unfortunately haven’t played any of the earlier Zenonia games, so I can’t say how it compares to the other entries; however, since Zenonia 3 is also a freebie, there’s a good chance I’ll be going back to try that one soon. I have been told that Regret is the protagonist of the original Zenonia, so it might make more sense to go from there. It is not free, unfortunately.)

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The gameplay is similar: messy, but fun. You pick from a fairly standard list of classes: Blader, Ranger, Druid, or Slayer. (I pickedthe gun-toting Ranger.) The buttons are simple: a D-pad in the left corner and an all-purpose action button, surrounded by some hotkeyed items, in the right; the action button is used to do everything from talk, interact with the world, and blast, hack, or blow your enemies away.

The leveling system is basic: kill enemies or complete quests -> receive experience -> level up -> receive points for skills and stats. Anya, the fairy, also levels up, and when she gains levels you can “extract” various runes from her used for item creation. It’s all fairly standard, but surprisingly deep for a mobile game.

The biggest downside of Zenonia 4 is also the biggest downside of its SNES forebears: grinding. Battles tend to play out similarly and you’ll encounter the same enemies A LOT. There’s very little variety to the enemies anyway; most of them will either get close and cut/smash you, or stand back and fire projectiles. They’re also exceptionally easy. I am happy to report, however, that boss fights often (but not always) break the mold and offer a greater challenge. Again: it’s a free mobile game. I wasn’t expecting Dark Souls.

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On top of that, there PvP, co-op, and solo arenas. You can engage in fun 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 battles. ‘Standard’ is once again what you can expect. But how many times do I need to mention Zenonia 4 costs NOTHING? Studios put less content into full-priced movie tie-ins every few weeks. I’d be more than happy to pay $5 for Zenonia 5.

Visually, Zenonia 4 is exactly what I’d hoped mobile RPGs would aim for: cute (but not revoltingly) and very inspired by Square-in-their-heyday SNES RPGs such as Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV-VI, and The Secret of Mana. The sprites all have big, stupid heads and, when important characters speak to each other, detailed versions of them in a variety of poses (that look almost nothing like the sprites) take over the screen. Each time period has its own, distinct look (not just to the towns, but the surrounding forest as well). Even when the setting is grim and apocalyptic, the graphics are always bright and colorful. It’s nice to look at.

Gamevil should be commended for offering such a good package for the unreasonably reasonable price of $0. I was instantly impressed by the visuals, had no trouble getting into the action, and eventually fell for the strangely enjoyable story. Zenonia 4 won’t replace your “real” RPGs, but if you find yourself with some free time and phone, you won’t regret giving it a shot. Did I mention it’s free?

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Posted on July 27, 2012, in Roleplaying On The Road and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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