Genre Blends have quickly become the norm in iDevice gaming. We’re all used to the simple sidescrollers, match threes, and all of that fodder, but what would happen if we mix them? It would either be an ingenious concoction loved by all, or a complete failure quickly deleted. ChronoSgear is a blend not all that original (Puzzle RPG),being similar in nature to Might and Magic on the Nintendo DS. But, does it bring enough new to the table to make it worth your time, or are you better left playing something unorthodox like an educational slasher?
The game puts you in the shoes of Starck, a boy with a troubled childhood who recently earned entry into a mafia-like gang. The opening sequences has his mother being killed, and it soon cuts to your entry exam with a tutorial explaining how to play. The typical fair. After you succeed, your employer puts you and your adorable sidekick through a variety of missions to prove your worth and protect the “Brotherhood”.
As Starck, you play in a variety of turn-based match three puzzle battles against numerous opponents. When you first start off, you are given four units. Three of these units vary in power and speed, and the fourth is your hero. Each player has three moves per turn, and strategic invasion is successfully carried out by arranging your units a certain way, and how you arrange them has numerous effects on the battle. Your goal is to cut your opponents life meter (known as SOUL) to zero, and the player will have to master both offense and defense to succeed (and I’m not just saying this, the game is no pushover). This is all done with simple to use touch control I have no gripe with whatsoever.
If you stack three of your basic units vertically, it forms an attack position. Based on your unit, a timer is set above your chain of three. The faster the unit is, the quicker you will attack, and chances are the slower unit does more damage. When your unit attacks, it runs through the line ahead of it, which means it will strike through every enemy ahead of it until either it runs out of offense power, or gets to your opponent’s life. The other most basic tactic is defense, placing three units together horizontally forms a shield. Your units have different defensive values, meaning that stronger units will hold off stronger attacks.
But this isn’t it. If you stack three more units of the same color atop an existing chain, you can double your attack while retaining three units. You can stack shields on top of each other, creating layers upon layers of defense. When finding yourself with a unit in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can delete it with a press of a button. If, by deleting, you form another combo, you get yet another move added into your repertoire. Complicated? You get used to it very fast, and the fun only continues.
Special units are earned as you progress. The first special unit, is, of course your hero. The hero is only present once at any given moment, and is activated by stacking two units of the same color on top of it. The hero has a rather high attack, and can use a variety of special abilities. These are known as battle cards. Battle cards are usually used by setting up the hero to attack, and then stacking even more units onto your charged hero. This gives your hero the ability to cut through defenses, turn your units into shields, and a plethora of other fun effects. Aside from the hero, there are tanks, giant insects, drain machines, etc. The effects of these units vary greatly, for example: The battle beetle is a larger unit and is charged by stacking four units on top of it. After a set amount of turns, it uses an obscenely large attack stat to rip units in front of it. It also doubles as a heavy shield as it charges its attack
The core mechanics are made very solid, but the RPG aspects in the game are very simplistic. After winning a battle, you and your units both gain experience. After you level up, you gain more health. After your units level up, they gain more attack and defensive power. The units vary greatly, but the selection isn’t very huge. The game does allow you to mix and match your team of five into a crazy array (three of the same unit type makes for a rather interesting battle), but lack of any real customization occasionally make the adventure repetitive. One wishes there was a little more customization involved, maybe a shop of some sort to upgrade units.
My primary complaint though, is the game’s difficulty. I know it may seem cliché for criticizing a game for being challenging, but the curve in ChronoSgear is obscene. The battles themselves are controlled by rather competent CPUs, but this isn’t the problem. Leveling up is far more difficult than it should be, and when you do level up, the benefits are thin. I’ve faced opponents twice the level as myself, and received less than a 10th of the experience needed to level up. Mass grinding is almost MANDATORY for defeating the harder opponents of the game, and since each battle takes around five minutes or so, the formula becomes tedious. Before I even left the first town of the game, enemies had twice as much health as myself and units were marginally more powerful. Originally what I had done (because I didn’t want to farm for two hours to defeat an enemy) is take advantage of the hero’s EarthShaker ability (which cuts through an enemy line and does massive damage to the opponent’s Soul) to pass the levels, and this hardly took any strategy.
But then I encountered the first boss. This may be the definition of a living hell, it was a nice change of pace, sure, but it was practically unbeatable. The boss has a method of instantly attacking your health every three turns or so, and to hit him, you need to destroy his weapons and attack the cockpit. It doesn’t matter how much strategy you use, unless you farm to a certain extent, it is impossible to defeat him in the time you get. You need to grind for health so you last longer.
Aside from this very strange difficulty curve, the game gets an A+ in ambiance. Solid artwork make running through towns rather fun, even the entering buildings is pointless aside from story battles. A simple invisible D-Pad that is accessible anytime on the screen makes walking painless, and a jazzy soundtrack in the over world and rock tunes during battles really set the mood to combo your opponents to death. Your main character and his opponents rarely say anything interesting, but your cute little sidekick occasionally spews out amusing dialogue making the story very much bearable.
Note: Aside from the story mode, two player mode is available after beating the game. I have yet to even come close to beating the story, so I can hardly comment on it. I wish it was accessible from the start, since story mode is tough.
iFanzine Verdict:Overall, ChronoSgear is a very polished game. The core gameplay mechanics are tweaked to an absolute perfection, making battles enjoyable and easy to play. Unfortunately, the game lacks in the ability to customize, and as an RPG, you should be given a slightly larger variety of settings to mess with. Not only that, but to the average RPG player, this game is extremely difficult. Opponents pose the right amount of challenge strategy-wise, but unless you are prepared to level grind, you will hardly stand a chance. This does not detract very much of the game’s polish though, for two dollars, you get a game with great graphics, excellent challenge, fine-tuned gameplay, and longetivity.