Minoraxis enjoyed home runs on the App Store with Fantastic Knightand especially Exitium: Saviors of Vardonia in 2011, so kicking off 2012 with another top shelf KRPG seems like a no-brainer. As with the previous titles Minoraxis delivers a competent translation, solid controls and menus that are reliable as they are attractively designed. Sadly, there are cases where a developer can do everything right but still fall victim to the reality that a genre has grown stale, and that sums up my feelings on Soul Tamer Kiki (Out Now, $1.99 Release Sale).
Fantastic Knight and Exitium innovated with multiple-scenario storylines that did a great job holding my interest; Soul Tamer, by contrast, offers little to distract from KRPG conventions. In case you aren’t familiar with this particular subgenre of Action RPGs, its great weakness can be summed up in two words: fetch quests. Just when our plucky heroine walks into an interesting situation, you can count on an important NPC to slow things down with a request for five or ten random items. Then, like every KRPG hero before her, Kiki will dutifully trudge off to smash little cretins until she racks up enough carcasses to satisfy the mission at hand. This is part of the story, remember — plenty of lesser NPCs are on hand to dole out similar quests if it just so happens the player can’t get enough monster whacking. Soul Tamer also falls into the trap of giving even the most minor beasts loads of hit points, which means the player has to mash on that attack button ad nauseam just to squeeze one animal giblet or other trinket into Kiki’s inventory.
There are two sides to every coin, and Soul Tamer certainly carries everything KRPGs have been getting right. Navigation is a breeze thanks to area minimaps with little markers that show where quests may be accepted or turned in; a no-nonsense quest list tells the player which ones are story critical and where they can be completed to boot. The player exercises the usual amount of control over Kiki’s stats development, passive skills and weapon specialties. Bows, claws, and hammers are on tap, each feeling different enough that they’re worth experimenting with. Item forging and strengthening give the player something to do with spare materials.
One thing that’s a little out of the ordinary in Soul Tamer is the requirement that special attacks be synthesized, taking the form of expendable traps with spell-like effects rather than magic proper. Your mileage may vary on this point, but at least setting traps and leading enemies into them takes more finesse than mashing the attack button! Soul Tamer also offers a pseudo-sim element, letting the player set up farms and mines that produce forging materials once NPCs are recruited to operate them. These are well worth taking advantage of for their potential to shorten fetch quests by supplying some of the necessary items.
I hoped to find something interesting in the “Soul Tamer” system that gives the game its name, maybe a Mega Man-style approach that would let Kiki absorb enemy abilities and open the way for game mechanics outside the KRPG norm. Tragically, the “Soul Tamer” concept goes under-utilized; rather than possess Kiki with brand-new abilities, her captured familiars serve as mere stat buffs. The Souls are at least appreciated for their role in chewing up excess inventory as the player feeds them, which entices them to stick around.
With its very title spelling missed opportunity, Soul Tamer doesn’t bring enough new elements to the table to tap into the wider body of RPG and Action Adventure fans. Diehard KRPG fans, however, will appreciate how solidly built it is all around. Like Exitium, Soul Tamer lets the player completely rearrange the interface to taste, even changing the size of its trusty virtual D-pad. One thing that did strike me as odd is Kiki’s dash ability, which needs a double-tap on the D-pad to prime, and then a final tap to actually execute. That’s a little too much work for what should be a basic battlefield maneuver.
While Soul Tamer isn’t the most innovative of mobile RPGs to come out of Korea, I will give it this: it’s certainly the most beautiful I’ve played so far. I did myself a favor in turning the game’s speed setting down to its lowest level in the options menu, but the organic hand-drawn sprites and environments are a real treat to behold on a Retina display. KRPG fans will delight in playing dress-up with the many hats and armors that change Kiki’s appearance, though it does take a particular love of cuteness to truly appreciate Soul Tamer’s candy cane atmosphere.
iFanzine Verdict: While a beautiful and solidly built title that diehard KRPG fans will relish in, Soul Tamer Kiki sticks too close to the fetch quest model to reel in those who’ve written off the genre by now. Let your reaction to the phrase “constant fetch quests” guide you on this one.