While shooters deteriorate and platformers feel trite as the years pass, classic role-playing can improve over time like a good bottle of wine.
Though many attempts at recreating old skool role-playing charm on iPhone have yielded vinegar, Zenonia decants a sweet, full-bodied vintage. Quality role-playing paired with a slice of cheesy humour cut through a few flaws for an enjoyable experience.
A land ravaged by decades of war between demons and humans, Zenonia is where seventeen-year-old orphan Regret calls home. You take up his sword as he finds himself alone in the world, scorned by his village in the days following his adopted father's death. Only by trekking across forests, deserts, and caves can he go face-to-face with those responsible and learn of his true destiny.
He does this in time-honoured fashion: by hacking and slashing. Zenonia taps into the spirit of 16-bit role-playing with gameplay rooted in simple action and straightforward character development. What it doesn't offer in new ideas, it makes up for with nostalgic appeal and self-referential humour.
Responsive controls thankfully ensure that the game's classic vibe isn't lost to aggravation. A virtual D-pad on the left side of the screen moves Regret, while taps of the action button on the right enable you to attack.
Pressing the action button also allows you to chat with other characters and interact with items such as treasure chests and sign posts. During combat, a series of quick slots lining the bottom of the screen can be tapped to use items and activate skills. These slots could stand to be bigger since it occasionally takes more than one tap to trigger an ability.
The controls are only a problem insofar as you're required to use the D-pad to sift through menus. Instead of taking advantage of the touchscreen, you're forced to navigate your inventory, status screen, and options menu with the D-pad.
This saps Zenonia of any native feel, catching it red-handed in a lazy transition from Java to iPhone.
Other flaws point to an imperfect adaptation. The visuals, while chalk full of charm, are noticeably pixelated and downright blurry in spots. Elements of the head-up display appear stretched across the length of the screen, rather than redrawn in a resolution fitting the device. Localisation errors frequently appear as well, usually in the form of misspelled words.
None of these shortcomings takes away from what is a fun, energetic role-playing game. The strength of its real-time combat system and the degree to which you can mould your hero make Zenonia compelling.
A small branching skill tree and customisable attributes ensure that hacking away at enemies yields rewards of your choosing, instead of keeping you locked into a predetermined line of progress. Differences among the game's three starting classes mean even greater variation in abilities among Warrior, Paladin, and Assassin.
Regret's quest involves a dozens of missions, and a slew of optional errands. More creativity could give many of these tasks added punch, though the simplicity of events ensures Zenonia is perfect for portable play. Laundry list missions that have you collecting animal bones, fetch quests, and assassination orders are hardly imaginative, but work well to provide drop in, drop out mobile gaming.
Self-referential charm and well-crafted role-playing mechanics carry Zenonia through the rough spots. Even with updates to address flaws such as menu navigation and writing errors, the obvious sense of the game having been ported from mobile won't go away.
Great gameplay, however, is enough to override that flaw for a fun, satisfying adventure.