Zephyr Games – after spending two whole years working on the game – has finally debuted their much promised release of Kirin Wars (out now, $1.99), an original iOS strategy RPG title. The game plays much like a cross between Nintendo’s Advance Wars series and Sega’s less updated Shining Force series, or – according to the developers themselves – Kirin Wars is also extremely similar to the ancient Langrisser series (which was apparently only released in Japan). I will say right now that Kirin Wars is a title with an extremely solid gameplay engine, but – which I will cover soon enough – it has also unfortunately been saddled with a peculiar design faux-pas.
The plot of Kirin Wars is not something I can truncate easily for a review, probably because the game’s backstory – immediately available from the title screen – is practically a miniature novel unto itself. Seeing as how most developers find plot as one of the places where they can cut corners when making an original iOS game, I find Zephyr Games’ decision to give the setting of Kirin Wars a fully wrought explanation as something exemplary. Unfortunately, or at least on my iPod Touch 4, the slider button that you use to scroll through the longer text segments proved rather unresponsive to the bulk of my attempts to move it up or down.
Speaking of the encyclopedia option in Kirin Wars’ menu, which happens to be where one can read the title’s lengthy backstory, it is with this part of the game that I believe the developers pulled an unfortunate design faux-pas. The fact that Kirin Wars has a massive – practically text book thick – in game manual on every last facet of the game is very useful, the fact that none of this information is ever available during the course of gameplay is just frustrating. Unless you’ve rote memorized the entire behemoth tome, you’re not going to know what each unit type’s stats are when building a team – what the difference between two potential rank promotions are – or even what any of the special move abilities do. While it is true that this curious feature omission does not block anyone from enjoying the gameplay to be found within Kirin Wars, it definitely makes playing the game a lot more aggravating than it would otherwise need to be.
Anyways, the actual gameplay in Kirin Wars takes place on a giant grid with each side moving – or sometimes not moving – every unit in their forces before it becomes the opposition’s turn to do the same. Each side in a conflict will consist of both that army’s commanders, as well as the lesser units – ranging anywhere from zero-to-four in total – that are directly under each leader’s control. A stage will continue to go back and forth until either side’s specific win condition has been met, which generally – but not always – is based on assassinating a key figure from the opposing army.
During a turn each unit may take two actions: one where they may move up to their maximum distance permitted, factoring in difficult terrain; and the other where they either use a special ability, or directly attack an enemy in range. However, it seems that if a division attacks first that they will lose their chance to move that turn as a result; on the other hand, they may do both in the same round so long as the unit completes their movement action first. Some special units with the ‘Fleet of Feat’ ability will be able to move to a location – perform their attack – and then move again before their turn ends, assuming they didn’t use their entire permitted movement range in the first go.
When attacking a unit the results are based on the terrain differential, the relevant attack and armor types of the units involved, how badly damaged the units involved are, as well as if the target is already being flanked. Assuming that the target survives the initial strike, and the assailant is within the unit’s personal attacking range, then the targeted forces will get a free swing back at their attacker. Whenever a defeated unit also happens to be one of an army’s leaders, all the divisions beneath them – assuming they weren’t already dead – will immediately scatter and flee upon their commander’s demise.
Each successful kill will award experience points that go straight to the commander whom owns the attacking division in question, but no points are ever awarded for any units that ran because their leader was killed first. This creates a dichotomy were taking out the leaders first will cause a fight to be more easily won, but only by initially eliminating all of a commander’s men can the player get the maximum rewards out of each conflict. Once a commander reaches level 10 they will immediately advance to a new class type, resetting their level back down to 1 as a result, and the player will sometimes be required to choose which new class the leader becomes (which, as I said earlier, the game will not explain anything about the options available when this happens).
Visually speaking, Kirin Wars actually does look a lot like the Advance Wars series that I earlier compared it to (or at least it would if Advance Wars were to take on a more medieval theme to its setting). Where as each unit is represented by a single icon on the grid board itself, the division’s current strength is visually shown through the number of men remaining whenever they go to battle with someone else. During combat you’ll watch as the men on both sides of a conflict swing their swords – shoot their bows – or something, each and every time two units clash up against each other. However – curiously enough – there does not exist any animations to watch whenever special abilities are used, with the damage/effect instead being calculated straight on the grid sans any pomp or circumstance.
The developers have promised that the plot in Kirin Wars is not just a stand alone product, and is actually the first episode in a much larger saga of Adventure RPGs that Zephyr Games plans to release on the iOS. While game franchises aren’t exactly a new thing, they have promised that – taking a page from the recent trend in titles from developer Bioware – that the events in later releases will be impacted by the things you did in earlier games. Kirin Wars – as I said earlier – does have a very well built combat engine, so – assuming Zephyr Games can rectify the problems with asking players to rote memorize the massive manual – this could easily become a significant long running series.
iFanzine Verdict: Zephyr Games has already done much right with their construction of Kirin Wars, and it is a fine substitute for people wanting something like the Advance Wars series on the go. However – as it currently stands – players are going to have to bring their best memory skills along if they want to play the game, or at least until the current issue of no during game explanations of anything is rectified. The fact that Kirin Wars includes practically a miniature novel of backstory should do much to make anyone happy whom is looking for an original iOS game with far more in the way of plot. The bottom line is that Kirin Wars is a very good game, but not quite as good as it could have been until a very specific design faux-pas matter has first been dealt with by the developers.