Chaos Rings debuted on mobile devices and boasted impressive production values for its platform at the time. It spawned a prequel, an indirect sequel, and what seems to be a even more indirect third entry recently. I never played them because my phone sucked and was uncomfortable to play games on, but with the release of Chaos Rings III came a compilation of all four games for the Vita. Obviously I bought it for CRIII since that was the game that boasted the most content, but I decided to start from the first game and play in release order. So here’s a compiled review of I, Omega, and II before I start the main dish.
They’re developed by MediaVision, most notable for the Wild Arms series, and published by Square Enix.
Chaos Rings I
~Four years ago on mobile devices, this sure looked impressive compared to everything else on there: 3D graphics, an excellent fully-orchestrated soundtrack, and a full-length RPG! But upon booting it up on the Vita, the first thing I noticed was the low framerate and the blurry and jagged 3D assets. A lot of games look better during play than in screenshots, but the opposite is true for this particular game. Well, it’s kind of unfair to compare a 2010 phone game with 2014 Vita games, so that can slide.
The story brings a darker flavor than what most JRPGs like to present. It stars four pairs (technically five, but only four are playable) who are summoned to the Ark Arena and ordered to fight each other to the death for the prize of immortality. Those who refuse to fight are killed on the spot by the Executioner who resides in the Arena, and one must operate as a pair in order to participate.
Each pair has their own story that runs in its own parallel world. In fact, in each story, the other pairs’ relationships will differ compared to other variations of themselves, but the player gets to play as the most intriguing version in each pair. At first you can only choose to play as Escher/Musiea or Eluca/Zhamo, but the other two pairs can be unlocked. Only after playing through all their stories will the truth come about.
This is one of those games where I wished for more cutscenes and dialogue, because some of the character developments seem rather abrupt. A lot the scenes that were intended to be emotional felt forced. You also go through the exact same 5 dungeons with each pair, with the same bosses and enemies. Sure, you can choose enemy level and the bosses scale with your levels, they still go down in a few turns if you know your elemental rock-paper-scissors. By the third or fourth playthrough, I was sick of this place and just wanted to get the story done with.
The battle system presents some pretty unique ideas. Your party consists of two people, and you can choose to have them act solo or as a pair. When acting solo, it works exactly as you’d expect a normal RPG battle system to work. When acting as a pair, the two basically combine to make one stronger unit. They will attack together (and likely deal more damage than if they attacked separately), but also take damage together even when targeted by a single-target attack. There’s also a break gauge that indicates whether the player or the enemy has the advantage, and the side with the advantage deals more and takes less damage. Generally whoever attacks first will take the advantage, but the gauge will decrease towards ‘Even’ every time they take damage, until it flips to the opposite side’s advantage. Killing an enemy or hitting them with a critical will bring the advantage towards you, and the opposite brings it towards the enemy. Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to break the game and always have the gauge to your advantage.
The skill system works differently from the norm, too. When you defeat an enemy, there’s a chance that they’ll drop a Gene Plate, which will allow you to use its skills if equipped. However, Gene Plates come with 0-1 skills when first acquired, and you gain more skills by defeating more of that enemy type.
Overall, the bosses die too quickly, dungeons are reused too often, and there are random block puzzles that really break immersion (especially on the Vita, where you’re using button and stick controls until the puzzles that force you to use the touchscreen). It’s pretty obvious that this game was made for mobile devices and so that you can never get stuck for long. There are a bunch of post-game bosses, but the battle system wasn’t fun enough for me to want to bother. It’s definitely a neat attempt and there’s not many games on smartphones like it, but it feels rather lacking as a Vita RPG.
I recommend going in the order of Escher -> Eluca -> Ayuta -> Olgar for the best experience. As for personal favorites, I liked the Escher/Musiea pair the most, with Ayuta/Mana as a second. The more conventional relationships felt better executed, since they’re probably easier to write for a JRPG scenario writer. The earlier routes also have around equal focus on both sides of the pair, but starting with the end of Ayuta’s route and for most of Olgar’s route, the focus shifts more on to the male half of the pair and the grand plot rather than the girl. As a result, the only heroine I really liked was Musiea, whereas most of the guys were easy to get attached to. Each route has something interesting to reveal, except for Eluca’s, which seemed to repeat the same information as Escher’s.
Next: Chaos Rings Omega