These are hectic times for the land of Beollent. Its imperial government, already divided within itself, has come under attack from without as rebels try to bring down the proverbial house. Wrapped up in this conflict are two youths: Wenrick V, heir apparent to the imperial throne, despised by other aristocrats for his arrogance but a celebrity among rank-and-file soldiers for his willingness to take to the battlefield, and Erien, who’s just found out that she’s kinda-sorta the presaged savior whose destiny it is to tear down the empire once and for all. Will these star-crossed foes resolve their differences or perish at one another’s hands? And which will go on to become the Fantastic Knight (Out Now, $2.99 release sale)?
It’s not often we get a KRPG with such dramatic narrative potential on iOS! My hopes for this one were initially let down by wooden characterization and a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am rush through plot points that would have carried greater weight if fleshed out more. A few hours into both Wenrick’s and Erien’s scenarios, however, I found myself hooked enough to care about what happened next. Two things salvage Fantastic Knight‘s plot. First, Minoraxis took great care with dialogue quality, producing natural-sounding lines with enough high terminology to lend the story a sense of cultural authenticity. Second, like Heroes Lore III before it, Fantastic Knight benefits immensely from the dual-viewpoint setup. There’s no doubt that the player is best served here by firing up both Wenrick’s and Erien’s scenarios, trading off between the separate game saves periodically. Viewing its numerous plot twists from separate angles greatly magnifies their effect, and even RPG fans who are as picky as I am are liable to be drawn in enough to forget that few of the characters are particularly memorable in their own right.
Like its story, Fantastic Knight‘s gameplay is greatly reinforced by the two-scenario premise. This one is unflinchingly combat centric, the player’s constant mashing on its attack button interrupted only to make use of hotlinked skills and consumable items. The game-saving kicker here lies in how different the player feels in Wenrick’s and Erien’s shoes. Each handles uniquely in combat and their wildly different skill trees produce suitably diverging results: Wenrick lays the smack down with earth-shattering sword techniques while Erien rushes around delivering knife slashes that poison or paralyze enemies. Their special attack meters even function differently: Wenrick has to keep whaling on enemies to replenish his, whereas Erien will feel a bit more comfortable to fans of Zenonia, Seed, and Heroes Lore with her traditional auto-filling energy bar.
KRPG veterans will find all the expected trappings in Fantastic Knight: Level Up points distributed among player character stats, tons of loot to sort through and upgrade, area minimaps, and the ever-present fetch quests. Fantastic Knight delivers each of these genre staples with a little more panache than usual, thankfully! All its menus are admirably polished and touch-friendly compared to the tiny, bare-bones, D-pad navigated micromanagement interfaces the genre serves up more often than not. Minoraxis spices up the usually dreaded mini-quests by using them as opportunities to serve up quirky vignettes or flesh out the game world’s cultural landscape — it’s almost as if so much energy went into making run-of-the-mill NPCs memorable that the effort leeched some color out of the major characters.
What’s sure to astonish KRPG veterans is the fact that Fantastic Knight has launched with (gasp!) a well-calibrated user interface! For once I’ve been able to spend several hours with an iOS Action RPG and watch in amazement as the player character perfectly responded to my movement commands; other devs would do consumers a favor by shamelessly copying this game’s virtual D-pad. Likewise, there’s no getting stuck on environments or frantically tapping at mal-sized virtual buttons in Fantastic Knight. Now all we could ask for is an option to rearrange the virtual buttons at will, but the default arrangement feels ergonomic enough for a right-hander at any rate.