They say it’s a man’s world, but in the case of Wild Frontier’s Chris Noah, he’s not the one wearing the trousers.
Instead, his feisty girlfriend Lamia is the one calling the shots, so when she announces she’s boarding a ship in search of a new continent, Chris reluctantly tags along.
When the ship is wrecked and the two lovebirds arrive in a new and mysterious land, the adventurous Lamia is forced to break up with the inexperienced Chris, kick-starting the events of what is easily one of the most appealing and unique action role-playing games to hit iPhone in some time.
We’ve been critical of the genre in the past, citing the repetitive gameplay, poor translations, and fetch quest gameplay that typifies this particular breed of role-player. With that in mind, high hopes were not in evidence when approaching Wild Frontier, but I’ve come away pleasantly surprised.
First, the visuals are a cut above the norm. Most of these RPGs are ported from older mobile devices, which results in ill-defined graphics as the developers lazily stretch the image to suit to the larger iPhone and iPod screen.
Thankfully, this game's visuals do not suffer the same unfortunate fate. They’re pin-sharp and packed with animation and colour. Almost every element on the screen moves - from the largest dragon to the smallest blade of grass – and this lends the game a lush, dream-like feel.
More than just a pretty face
Yet, as we’ve noted in the past, merely having an excellent presentation isn’t enough to cover up the cracks of generic gameplay. Although Wild Frontier does adhere to the traditional action role-playing template, everything is handled with a little more assurance and panache than your run-of-the-mill title.
For example, fighting the numerous enemies that populate the strange and vibrant land of Wild Frontier is a more tactical proposition than a button-mashing affair. Rather than relentlessly tapping the 'attack' button, you’re expected to time your blows to unlock special combos.
The game also has a real-time clock and alternates between night and day. The cosmetic benefits of this are obvious: it’s tremendously atmospheric to witness the sunlight slowly giving way to twilight. It’s more than a just an additional layer of visual sheen, though. At night, your foes are markedly more vicious, making combat riskier.
Old habits die hard
When you add in an above-average English translation, unique and likeable characters, and an appealing item creation system which relies on plundering enemies for valuable components, it’s clear that Wild Frontier is a special RPG.
It doesn’t quite extract itself from all the traditional pitfalls: the abundance of fetch-quests leads to repetition and the game’s low price point is due in part to the existence of in-app purchases. Thankfully they’re not essential and you can ignore them to experience the full challenge.
This type of role-playing may suffer from age-old problems such as samey action and often nonsensical storylines, but Wild Frontier does enough right to make it easy to ignore its occasional lapses of judgement.