Journal entry 11: My sister is gone, I’m having dreams where I defend a wizard from poison elementals, some guy is parading around as me, and I have to find 10 bronzes for an overly-emotive young girl who wants to make a ring for her fiancé. “10 bronzes for a ring!?” I respond, “That’s gotta be the most absurdly HUGE ring I’ve ever heard of! And besides, who the hell wants a wedding ring made of bronze, anyway?”
I Dunno, But It Sure Is Fun
In my four-or-so hours play testing Zenonia 5, I found myself impressed with the depth of mechanics embedded in this slick action/RPG title and constantly lusting after more magic items to combine into upgrade stones for my new toys… But, why was I playing? What was the goal? Aside from my sister disappearing and some angry boy swearing to “become the Devil”, was there a point to all this madness? This “point”, I am still searching for… but one thing’s for sure, this game is addicting and pretty.
Zenonia has come a long-long way since the early days where it loosely mimicked one of the first Zelda titles on Nintendo. I played the first episode, then a pay-to-play title, and it was still pretty solid given the old-school graphics and sound it employed. Being tasked with reviewing the fifth iteration of the series has really given me a sense of how the game has evolved over time. Whereas the first Zenonia was a top-down, 8bit style RPG, Zenonia 5 is more of an isometric, cell-shaded, and action-style game. The backgrounds are artsy and look hand-drawn, the monster sprites are tightly-designed, and combat abilities now trigger in crazy, “Marvel-vs-Capcom “anime-style chains complete with explosions of light and fountains of numbers spewing forth from each mobs’ head.
In The Hamster-Wheel
You begin the game choosing from one of four classes – Berserker, Paladin, Wizard, and Mechanic – each having a distinctively different appearance, equipment set, and skill-tree. As in most RPGs, as you level you’ll be sinking points into various abilities – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Intelligence – which all affect various aspects of your character. Intelligence, for example, will increase your SP pool (used when triggering special abilities) whereas Dexterity will affect your EV (evade). In addition to skill points, you’ll also gain a point to be spent on special abilities in your particular class’ skill tree. Every x number of levels, you’ll be able to buy/equip new sets of armor, weapons, rings and capes. Your items degrade with use, so you’ll have to fork-over gold for repairs, but don’t fret… Loot is abundant in this game. Run quests, both side and storyline, kill stuff, level, sell loot for better stuff, and dominate. Zenonia 5 dives even deeper into item-management by offering a variant on crafting (Combine), enhancing magical items (Refine), and merging two magical items to create an “upgrade stone” which can add stat-bonuses to other items in your inventory.
But, what happens when you look outside of the constant pursuit of loot and levels? To start with, this game needs a tutorial. I immediately found myself dropped smack in the middle of a vastly-complex, JRPG-style game riddled with cryptic skill/ability acronyms and strangely-titled shop options without a clue as to what it all meant. “Combining” is not intuitively synonymous with “crafting”, nor is it readily-obvious that “EVA” means “evade”. There is a small Help file buried within the System menu, but I didn’t realize that until further into the game when one of the screens referred to it for more information. Zenonia 5 certainly has a steep learning-curve if you really want to get a handle on all it has to offer.
Solid Mechanics ISO Soul
The artistic style of the game is vibrant, cartoonish (anime), and looks hand-drawn – especially the map background art for each area. The controls are responsive and the ui is very intuitive. This is also the first Android title I’ve played where moving outside of the joystick range doesn’t stop you in your tracks (usually quite an annoyance). They’ve implemented a snazzy radial “quick-slot” toolbar that has two banks – sliding your finger across flips between each. Combat is also very responsive, though it can become difficult to place yourself properly in order to hit your enemies. And while you make cool noises in combat, your enemies do not. I often found myself surprised at how little health I had left as there’s not much visual/tactile feedback when you’re getting hit – my Nexus 7 doesn’t vibrate – and the mobs don’t make any sound; grunting, swinging, hitting, or otherwise.
While the mechanics, interfaces, and graphics excel in Zenonia 5, its Achilles-heel is most certainly its story – both on counts of spelling/grammar as well as over all engagement. The dialogue is frantic, simplistic and un-engaging, as is the story at-large. Some cult was persecuting a “witch” in the name of the law, some other creeper shows up and gets so angry he kills everyone and proclaims that he’ll “become the Devil”. Soon thereafter, you start having weird dreams, a little fairy shows up out of nowhere to help you out, your sister and grandmother disappear, and some other guy shows up acting like you. Confused? So am I. The most engaging part of this game is certainly the action-oriented combat and accumulation of loot, and NOT the story. After 4 or so hours, I still have no idea why I’m doing what I’m doing (other than trying to get a cooler spell book). But regardless, the game is very fun.
Layers Of Re-Playability
In addition to all of this mechanics-combat goodness, there’s a layer of “freemium” type content – you can purchase a currency called “Zen” using real-world dollars (or get 10 free per-day) and use it in-game to buy more powerful items, change your character’s avatar style, or create “evolution” items that evolve in stats alongside your character’s. Zenonia 5 requires an Internet connection to play, and there are both PvP and “Abyss” online, multiplayer mini-games to be played. In PvP, you can quick-match against a random, similar-level online opponent in a small arena in a duel to the death using your best character in all his best gear. In Abyss (one free session per-day), you are thrown in a similarly-sized arena but face-off against waves of increasingly difficult mobs… and it’s timed. Winning either of these mini-games will net you a really snazzy (potentially unique or legendary) item! Factor-in the new “Raid” mode that’s coming in a near-future update as well as the “Hell” difficulty you can unlock after beating the game, and Zenonia 5 has some serious long-term re-playability potential.
Z5 is a great addition to the Zenonia series; it’s fun, addicting, responsive, and pretty. If you can get over the dialogue and shoddy story-writing and just focus on the endless loot-pursuit, you’ll find your fingers saddled with a solid action/RPG title that costs exactly zero. Fans of PC games like Diablo 2 and Torchlight will enjoy much of what this title has to offer.