Chaos Rings is a traditional JRPG produced by Square Enix where you explore dungeons, battle monsters, gain experience and level up. It started its life as a mobile game back in 2010. Takehiro Ando wanted to bring his game to the Vita because, “I really like the PlayStation Vita,” he remarked in an interview with Weekly Famitsu. “To be honest, I made it because other developers have been taking their time releasing good games for the PS Vita.” Regarding the prequel and sequel he was “asked if we could expect a Vita-compatible Chaos Rings II, Ando expressed his wish to bring the sequel over. However, he added “If there’s a reliable market for it, we’d like to port all the titles we’ve worked on. Therefore, it’s going to largely depend on how this release of Chaos Rings does.” (Kotaku) Here’s wishing it to come true.
What Is It About: Chaos Rings story centers itself on five couples (though one couple is removed very early on) that have been brought from around the world to compete in a tournament called the Ark Arena. They are summoned by a mysterious figure called the Agent. The Agent states that all must compete and fight to the death. Should they refuse, they will be killed. Their reward, should they defeat the others, is eternal life.
The couples are then tasked to obtain several rings before they may battle against the others in the Arena. The story evolves from here. Players gain experience, levels, and Gene Plates (magic) in the dungeons. The story is unique, especially for one revolving around fighting through a series of dungeons, making sense of what would normally be a thin reason for fighting in these locations.
The remaining couples are all playable, though you begin the game with a choice of two, the rest are unlocked. I should point out, that at the ending of each couple’s story, you can jump back in and the story continues. This was a surprising element, and each couple is playable further filling in story elements and solving some mysteries. The development of the characters was done well, actually making you care for each couple.
In addition all the couples have a New Game+ so you can max out their levels at 99. There are dozens of hour’s worth of content in this package. The only gripe I had with the story is how slowly it unfolded in the beginning. That being said, once I was hooked I couldn’t put down the game.
The Looks: The characters were designed by Yusuke Naora, who was the art director of Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and X. The art design takes much of its influence from PSone era art, a mixture of hand drawn art and pre-rendered characters. It has a very fluid style. The character and enemy designs are excellent, and the enemies intriguing. I thought that the dungeon designs would grow old however each area is unique and has two distinguishing sections. I enjoyed the monsters, and especially the boss designs. The bosses also really hit the nail on the head, and truly feel like boss battles. This game looks and feels like a great PSP game that was never released.
What You Hear: Noriyasu Agematsu composed the music of Chaos Rings, who had previously composed the music for Wild Arms 5. Familiar and different the music evokes the feeling of each location. You’ll love the familiar button select noises of the genre, and battle winning music. The shopkeeper music will bring a smile to your face. The characters all speak Japanese, so reading the text is how the game tells its tale. The voice actors added an element to the game, they were well done, and emotion carried through the language barrier. I only wish that some of the music tracks had been longer, as they would play out and reach their end, fade out, then restart. Pointing out just how short the song was.
Controls/Gameplay: Controls well using the PS Vita buttons and analogs, but you always have the option of touch controls, but why would you do that? The game controls via the Vita’s buttons, d-pad, and analog sticks. The original touch controls are intact as well, however the buttons provide better accuracy. Unfortunately puzzles are controlled solely through touch, though it does not impact it one way or the other.
The game’s combat is what is really fun about this game. It plays like any turn-based Final Fantasy. It is immediately familiar, and easy to grasp. However that doesn’t mean that Chaos Rings doesn’t bring something of its own to the RPG stables.
Being as the game centers on couples, the combat weaves this element in as well. Each battle you have the choice during each attack to either combat Solo or Pair. Choosing Solo means doing less damage, but you create two targets for the enemies to attack. Choosing pair means a stronger attack, but you are one target.
Pairing up also allows you to cast a Gene (the games word for magic) on the pair, which allows one character to cast an ability for the both of them. As well the games magic system, Gene, works by learning these skills by defeating enemies, and the more times you defeat enemies of a specific type allows you to master those Gene sets. Mastering and then equipping those sets allows for more abilities to be used during battle, giving you more options. This solves some of the tedious bits of grinding, as there is an added bonus to grinding, trying to master Gene sets in addition to leveling up. As well there are elements (blaze, aqua, gale) that work on a rock-paper-scissors concept. This quickly deepens the combat.
Any status effects and health are restored at the end of each battle, however magic is not regenerated and must be regulated during dungeons.
I found myself experimenting with pairing up and going solo, then using Gene abilities that allow you to add an element to an enemy and then using an elemental Gene that did extra damage to that specific element.
There is also what is called a Break Meter. This shows you who currently has the advantage in battle. Each time you successfully land an attack the meter goes up. Let the enemy score an attack, and your meter goes down. The Break Meter did not seem to truly impact the game until you face high-level enemies, and when you out level the enemies. It would allow you to attack without the enemies getting a chance to counter.
I had gripes with the poor map design, the first level or two I spent trying to decipher which way was which. Though after a bit of time it begins to make sense, though not good sense.
There are puzzles that are apart of each dungeon, but they are hardly difficult, save for the beginning lack of instructions (the game does not tell you in the beginning, that in addition to the blue blocks used for teleporting, that the crystals can also be used as teleportation spots). As well the puzzle sections are the only sections that force you to use touch screen controls. Had more thought been put into them they could have been a nice change of pace, however after the initial speed bumps they rarely challenge. The puzzles could have been taken out altogether, and there would have been no impact to the game.
In addition, before entering each dungeon you can set the level of the enemies such as 1-10, 11-20 and so on. I suggest setting them higher than your characters level for a better difficulty. As well the random encounters can be toggled on or off via the menu screen, which is titled ENC. This is good if you have no need for battling during a dungeon run, or just want to find the exit.
The Good: Its origins may be mobile, but its heart and soul is fully, a great JRPG. From the deep yet accessible RPG elements, excellent art design, and enchanting music, Chaos Rings surpasses its mobile origins. It’s only eight bucks, with hours and hours of game, what’s not to love?
The Bad: Puzzles are underwhelming, not challenging, and do not help further the game.
The Ugly: An unnecessarily confusing map design that takes time to understand.
Who is the game for? Anyone who enjoys RPG’s, or is just bored.
This is my first review of many. I welcome all suggestions and comments. Thank you!