Chaos Rings II
A distant sequel to the first game, CRII features an entire new cast and premise. Rather than four converging stories, CRII tells one (longer) story. The protagonist is Darwin, and rather than fighting to the death in an arena, he is tasked with sacrificing his party members to seal a great evil and save the world, which is currently frozen in time before its destruction. Darwin wasn’t originally the chosen one though: his childhood friend Orlando was supposed to do the sacrificing and Darwin was fated to be the first sacrifice. But things go wrong and Darwin was forced to kill him instead, with all the other chosen sacrifices watching. They all happen to share a specific bond with Orlando, and aren’t exactly thrilled about seeing Darwin kill him. Especially not the former’s younger sister.
The story’s execution feels much more natural this time around, and it’s easier for the player to get behind the characters’ feelings. The deaths feel much more emotional, and the fact that Darwin spends some time together with each character before sacrificing them certainly adds to the impact. The final act of the story takes on a turn for the conventional and cheapens the effect of the emotional deaths, but I guess I couldn’t say no to an ultimately happy ending. Overall, I liked the characters better, especially the females. Darwin himself is kind of an angsty protagonist, and while you can’t exactly blame him due to his situation, it’s understandable for some people to want a protagonist like Vieg or Escher back. The story isn’t quite as nightmare fuel as Omega, but it’s still quite heavy compared to other games in the genre. The story took me ~17 hours, which is probably less than what going through all four routes of the first game took, but the pacing here feels much better.
As for gameplay, that’s a different beast. It’s surprising how much better of a game it is to play when the developers fix a few mistakes and rebalance boss battles. They actually feel like RPG bosses this time around. The game keeps the pair system, but makes it so that the Break Gauge is much harder to sway, and once you’ve built it up to your advantage, it only gives you a boost of one turn before dropping back to ‘Even.’ Bosses are generally more challenging and have more unique moves, so a lot more skills (like buffs/debuffs) have the potential to be useful. There’s an extra Awakening gauge that lets you use special moves, and there’s overall more satisfaction to be found in the gameplay. Doing Awaken as a pair command allows you to summon the Holy Beast forms of your sacrificed allies, for the cool factor.
The dungeons are still pre-rendered 2D backgrounds with 3D character models, but the background illustrations are more beautiful and detailed this time around. The 3D models during cutscenes are also a huge improvement with more details and better anti-aliasing. In addition, there’s side quests to do in the main game, and they’re mostly of the ‘fight additional bosses’ category rather than dull fetch quests. It’s nice to have side things to do during the main story. You also have some degree of freedom in choosing who to use in battle when not advancing the plot, and inactive members also level up. The skill system is similar, but instead of making enemies drop skills, you level up your Sopia Plate by equipping it and battling, forcing you to actually switch around and experiment with different skill sets. Also two people cannot equip the same Sopia at the same time, so you can’t just give everyone the most powerful skill of each element and call it a day.
It’s probably hard to go back to Chaos Rings I or Omega once you’ve played 2, because 2 is that much better to play as a game. Story is up to personal preferences, so those wanting something darker and a less angsty protagonist might like the earlier games better. Honestly, I liked the idea of the plot and villain in Chaos Rings I better, but II has a more natural execution and makes it easier to care for the characters.