Review: Chaos Rings III is worth the mess

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If memory serves, the original Chaos Rings was the first iPhone game that truly impressed me with its tactical gameplay and mature storytelling. An instant favorite, I went on to love both of the follow-ups—Chaos Rings: Omega and Chaos Rings II—each of which was equally dark and wonderfully melodramatic.

This is why I was very nervous about approaching Chaos Rings III, from Media.Vision and Square Enix. I mean, first I was nervous that we’d never get a western version, considering the game has been out in Japan since last year. When the U.S. release finally came, my initial impressions of the game focused around this thought: “Remember how Chaos Rings II opened with you killing your best friend then immediately teaming up with his sister after being told you’d soon have to kill her, too? In Chaos Rings III, your first quest is rescuing a pig for your little sister.”

And that’s a legitimate problem. I want macabre storytelling in a Chaos Rings game. I want despair and sacrifice and impossible scenarios. I certainly don’t want a band of high school kids joyfully traversing the countryside as they fight pigs stuffed into peach cans. There’s even a Lollipop Labyrinth made of giant cakes, candies and cookies, at the center of which is a castle that a young girl hasn’t been able to enter. Ends up, this is because the castle is actually just her house, in which sits the skeletal remains of her dead parents, her own body floating above the bed. The entire labyrinth is just a dreamscape created by herself before dying, and if she were to find that out, the dreamscape, and her own existence, would vanish.

Chaos Rings III

Now that’s more like it!

But it’s also a problem. Chaos Rings III is too disjointed, torn between the lighthearted teenaged adventure and darker subject matter that occasionally peaks out from its darkened corners. The original Chaos Rings had a sense of dread that permeated the entire game. Here, it’s like they’re forcing that darkness in, as if the story was meant for something else and they decided 3/4s of the way through to make it a Chaos Rings game.

The plot is not the only sign of this. You will not be able to convince me that Chaos Rings III wasn’t originally planned to be a freemium title with in-app purchases; the whole Ohnz monetary system reeks of IAPs. These are coins you get for completing quests and finishing chapters, and which are used to buy special armor, unlock genes (more on those in a bit), buy keys that can be used to unlock gold chests that include “gifts” and genes, and they’re completely separate of the in-game currency (ML) which is used to buy your normal armor, weapons, buffs and such. Ohnz are much harder to come by. You only get one per quest, whereas the quality armor and weapons will cost you 40.

Then there’s the completely separate Battle and Story Modes, which really don’t need to be separated at all. One contains the main plot with all subquests, the other is just a chance to fight an increasingly difficult array of rotating monsters to receive prizes and experience. There’s a coliseum in the main story that’s used for various plot elements, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to just walk in there to get this done, as opposed to leaving the game, opening another mode, and then going back to the game. (And oddly, although most of the game is translated into English, the color commentary in Battle Mode is not.)

But disjointed as the gaming experience is, Chaos Rings III is still a lot of fun. The turn-based battles now involve three characters—as opposed to two in the previous entries—which creates a better support system and opens up more strategy options.

Chaos Rings III

There are the familiar abilities to attack, guard and use items, and you can also use genes. This time around, genes are not just abilities you randomly acquire as you level up, they’re collectable cards which you obtain and level up throughout the game. You can assign one card to each character in combat, changing that character’s battle abilities. Focus on fire attacks, for example, against ice monsters, while setting up another character with the ability to heal or buff your party (or debuff the enemy). You can also power up the genes by using other gene cards, or combine them to create new genes like demons in a Shin Megami Tensei game. In fact, acquiring new genes is the only way to upgrade your party, whereas the genes themselves are upgraded through combat experience. And in a sympathetic touch, the genes assigned to the party members not actively used in combat can still level up, allowing you upgrade genes without actually using them.

The genes themselves range from very cool to kind of cute to outright sexist, as is the way, unfortunately. I could’ve done without the attire of quite a few of the females (and a few of the males, to be fair). The genes are easy to overlook since they can really only be viewed when you pull up your gene list, but I’d really like to see the gaming industry reach a point where this isn’t necessary. The outfit below, for example, is one of the tamer ones, despite the impossible breasts:

Chaos Rings III

There’s plenty more I could say about Chaos Rings III, but perhaps the most important indicator is the fact that since I’ve downloaded it, all other games have gone on hold. Despite the mess in the game’s story and structure, I still find the gameplay itself addictive, and I’ve come to care about what happens to the characters. Chaos Rings III isn’t exactly the sequel I wanted, and it’s not as good as Chaos Rings II, which provided a much tighter and more polished (albeit shorter) experience. But after over a year of anticipation since it was first announced for release in Japan, I’m not disappointed. And even with the $19.99 price tag, I don’t think you will be, either.

Apple Channel Rating B

Buy Chaos Rings III

Genre: Games
Seller: Square Enix
Requirements: iOS 6.1 or later
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
Price: $19.99
Availability: Now

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  • Hi

    Fair enough review. Played thru all the series too, though I had no prob about being upbeat & dark at – these are 15+ yrs old. Also not sure you played thru the end. Equips go up to 50 cost not 40, near the end.

    • Kirk Hiner

      True enough, I’m not quite at the end yet. I reached a point where I realized a lot of leveling up was in order, and didn’t want to delay the review.

  • William Zambrano

    Kirk, I agree on all points. The Chaos Rings feel sets in but unfortunately its towards the end of the game. The game also requires a lot of grinding which I wasn’t a fan of and it forces you to collect as many genes as you can to raise your team level.

  • Nate Davies

    The controls are a joke, the camera is an abomination, the corridor run, random battle system is PS1 era bad and the story is pretentious and insultingly upbeat. I recently watched Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash and I fail to see how SE could turn Chaos Rings into something less threatening than fan service anime. I feel like I wasted my money on a game that failed to live up to both it’s own lineage and it’s own influences.
    5 out of 10, if I’m being generous.

    • Kirk Hiner

      I agree that it failed to live up to its own lineage—Chaos Rings II was much better—but I also don’t consider it a waste of money. The combat was still fun, the card-collecting mechanic was more engrossing that just grabbing genes, and there were enough dark elements to help me get past the otherwise “insultingly upbeat” nature, as you aptly described it. Definitely not what I wanted from a Chaos Rings game, but fun enough for me to play through the whole game.

    • revelated

      Negative. If you like dark games then no, Part 3 isn’t going to impress you, but overall Part 3 is superior in almost every way possible to the other two and one of the best RPGs on mobile.

      • Kirk Hiner

        You liked 3 better than 2? I thought the whole dynamic with the cards and side quests and everything got pretty messy (this game really felt like it was going to have IAPs, and then Square Enix bailed on that), and I felt that 2 had a better story and did a better job of keeping a consistent tone throughout. But I still enjoyed playing it, and it’s still on my iPad.

        • revelated

          I actually enjoyed the side quests. The whole cards/IAP-not-quite-IAP was a bit weird, but from an overall story perspective and character development, I felt 3 was better than anything going at the time. There were times in the game that I truly felt helpless and powerless against my foe – a lost art in JRPGs for sure.

          Also the whole story arc around time and meeting people but not remembering…it was a pleasant overall experience.

          2 was not a bad game by any means, I beat it as well. The thing I didn’t enjoy about 1 and 2 is this idea that you’re going to kill characters off and there’s literally no way to save them – so no matter which story arc you choose, it always ends in the same outcome. TO me that’s dull. I like variety; kind of like Chrono Trigger where you could alter the game 11 different ways simply by beating the game at key points.