Zenonia - Review

Back in 2009, the world of gaming was a little bit different. HD "Next Gen" consoles ruled the market, motion control for games became common, and even the handheld games on the market were more along the lines of console styled games on the go. Everything was all about the new technology, and pushing past the limits games of the past once had. Although a lot of gamers loved the seventh generation of gaming, and couldn't wait to see where it would go, not everyone jumped aboard the bandwagon with open arms. Some people still longed for the old school styled games they grew up playing, but at the time it seemed that them days were long gone. That is, until games such as Zenonia hit the market.

In 2009 a game titled "Zenonia" was released on Apple's App store. It was an old school styled action RPG featuring 2D graphics, as well as other retro elements that many thought were long gone. It had the charm of an SNES game, it was advertised to have deep engaging gameplay that would last around 40 hours, and above all, it was dirt cheap! Although many may have simply overlooked the game due to its low price tag or "outdated" looking graphics, but for old school gamers, the game easily stood out above the rest. So, just how was Zenonia? Was it really a game that would quench the thirst for those longing for the past? Or was it just another budget title that didn't even deserve its cheap price? Well, lets find out!

The Story of Zenonia:

Zenonia opens up with what appears to be some sort of battle. The game simply throws its players into this world without any real explanation on what is going on, but you soon come to realize that it really doesn't matter. As the forces of good and evil wage on, a baby boy soon turned up in the middle of it. Although no one really knew where the child came from, he soon caught the eye of a man by the name of "Dupre." Despite being the commander of the Holy Knights, Dupre soon found himself leaving his position to go back home and raise the child as his own. As the years went on, both Dupre (who renamed himself to "Pardon" to hide his identity) and the young boy lived in peace. The young boy was given the name "Regret," and everyone in the town seemed to live him; however, that all soon changed.

When Regret was only 17 years old, disaster struck. His father was killed by the appearance of a "demon," and afterwords the towns folk soon started to show their true colors to Regret. It turns out that everyone has always hated him. No one wants him in the town, they refused to talk to him, and what little they did say to him after the death of his father was nothing but rude remarks. The only reason they treated Regret nicely in the first place was due to his father.

After being tricked into cutting down a tree in town that was apparently very important to the town, Regret found himself with no other option but to leave. As he stood in front of his father's grave, he couldn't help but wonder just how things turned out the way they did. Who really killed his father? According to the Holy Knights a demon had never appeared in the village, but that statement alone contradicted everything Regret had been told. As he continued to ponder just what may have really happened to his father, Regret soon found himself being forced out on an adventure. While he stood in front of his father's grave, Regret was approached by a man named Billy who held a letter. Billy told Regret that he should move to a town called "Adonis" and deliver the letter to a man named "Ronake" in the process. Despite not knowing why he was asked to do so, Regret decided to follow Billy's request. He left the town, moved to Adonis, and handed the letter to Ronaka. Unknown to Regret, that was the moment his life would change forever.

Despite having a full fledged story mode, Zenonia's story really doesn't stand out. The story as a whole is very predictable, and from the start you can easily tell how things are going to go. From the get go the game throws you into this world, and nothing is really explained. You as a player will have no idea why the war in the intro is going on, you will have no idea who these characters are, you will have no idea why Regret is asked to do the things he must do, and you may not even remember all of the game's key events. The story really is nothing more than a basic plot that serves as a way to move the game forward. Overall it does do its job, but if you are expecting an "epic" storyline, Zenonia will not offer it.

On the flip side, Zenonia also doesn't take its self too seriously. It knows it is a game, and it doesn't try to hide it. The game often breaks the fourth wall, and it even cracks quite a few jokes about it not being real. Throughout the adventure you will constantly be reminded that Zenonia is just a game, and that alone really helps give the game its charm. Even if you don't remember every little detail about its generic story, you will remember the (as the game puts it) "LOL" moments.

Choosing Your Style:

Before Zenonia really gets started, players are given the option to pick what type of character Regret will actually be. The game has three very different classes to pick from, and each one offers you a very different type of gameplay experience. If you decide to play as a Paladin, Regret will have access to magical attacks, if you decide to play as a Warrior, Regret will carry around a huge sword, and be power based, and if you choose the Assassin class, Regret will be a fast moving killer who uses two blades. Each class has their own strengths and weaknesses, but which one you pick really is up to you.

Once you pick a class to play as, the next step is to actually build your class. Zenonia features a "skill tree" system like many of the massively multiplayer online role playing games on the web. As you play through the game, killing enemies, completing side quests, and completing story quests, you will earn experience points. Once your experience points reach a set "max" level, Regret will "level up" and earn some skill points which can then be spent to learn skills and abilities. Each character class has their very own unique set of skills to unlock, but you personally get to decide what Regret learns and what he doesn't learn.

By spending points, Regret can unlock either brand new moves (such as different attacks or special abilities), or he can learn passive skills. While "active skills" must be used with the press of a button, passive skills are always active and they provide Regret with different boosts. Some passive skills may increase his attack power, others may increase his defense, and some may just allow him to use some sort of new ability. There is a wide range of both passive and active skills, but because of that you cannot learn them all. Since skills are grouped together in a "tree" like format, you sometimes have to learn a specific skill before you can learn another. This means that you may have to focus on learning a skill that you do not want just to learn a skill or ability that is farther down the line that you do want or need. There are only so many skill points in the game, so you really have to plan out what you want to use on them before hand. Messing up here can also sometimes mean the difference between having an easy time with Zenonia, or having to play through a nightmarish challenge.

Besides having to make your way through the skill trees to teach Regret what you want him to know how to do, there is another aspect to the customization system as well, and that comes in the form of stat growth. While in many role playing games stats auto increase when you level up, that is not the case in Zenonia. Just like a MMORPG, you actually have full control over which stats increase when Regret levels up. This means that, with some planning, you can actually build Regret to become whatever type of character you want him to be. You can make full use of the class you chose and increase his stats and learn skills based on the class' strengths, you can learn skills and level up stats to make up for the class' weaknesses, or you could just go crazy with it and try to come up with something of your own. Once again it is possible to completely mess up Regret making the game a challenge, but it is also possible to build an overpowered Regret and make the game a complete pushover as well. Once again, it is up to you to decide.

The Gameplay:

Although customizing Regret is a major part of Zenonia, it is actually only a small part of the gameplay. The game itself is a top down 2D styled action RPG which was created in the style of classic games from the 8 bit and 16 bit eras of gaming. In game you move Regret around with the virtual analog stick (or d-pad depending on what type of device you are playing the game on), and you press the main button to attack, talk to people, and pick up items. That is all there really is too the game. It uses a very simple control set up, and the skills and items that Regret can use show up on the screen as shortcut icons (another feature often seen in MMORPGs); which you can actually arrange in any way you want. If you want to put all of your items on the right side of the screen, and all of your special attacks on the left side of the screen; you can. Overall you don't actually need to use items or special attacks to beat the game, but you would be missing out on a lot of the core gameplay if you don't.

The customization, and controls are not the only similarities Zenonia has with MMORPGs. Like in most MMOs, the game features a few towns that you can visit with field areas connecting them. In towns NPCs will walk around, and they will often send you out on what is known as a "side quest." Most of the time these side quests revolve around going out into one of the field areas to kill some monsters, or kill a monster and pick up an item it may or may not drop, but other times they will send you around the town to fetch items for them. These quests don't really add too much to the story, but they do often reward you with prizes as well as some EXP. As for the story quests themselves, they too play out in a very similar fashion. Regret will be given a goal to complete, and once you complete it a cutscene will play. At times Regret will be sent off to dungeons (which are linear "levels" with puzzles to solve and a boss to fight), but there are only a handful of them in the entire game.

While out on the field, the gameplay is a bit different. Here is where monsters roam around, and it is also where some of Regret's limitations start to show. Not only does Regret have a health bar, he also has an energy bar which slowly depletes over time, and he also has a weight limit. As you play the game Regret will get tired, and he will start to get hungry; if Regret's energy is to ever run too low, he will be limited on what actions he can preform, and what attacks he can use. To increase Regret's energy all you have to do is get him some food, but sometimes that may not be an option.

Although Regret's inventory is pretty much unlimited, there is a set amount of weight that he can carry before it starts to impact the gameplay. If Regret is carrying too many items, he will then be slowed down to a crawl, more open to being attack, and he will be a pain to control. Moving with too much weight on Regret's back becomes a major pain, and it is something you will want to avoid. If you have to drop some food or that brand new piece of equipment to move fast again, then so be it. You will be picking up quite a lot of items on your adventure, so item management will be key.

Even though there is in fact a shop in most towns where you can buy items for Regret, most of the "better" pieces of equipment will actually come from rare drops. Every time you kill an enemy (which can be done by simply mashing your attack button, or using a skill if you wish to do so) there is actually a chance that it will drop an item. Sometimes this item will be food or an item that you can use to heal yourself, but other times it will be a piece of equipment. This is actually the main way you will power up Regret in the game, but at the same time that weight limit will always be holding you back. Sometimes you may come across a stronger piece of equipment that you need to be a higher level to use, but that very same piece of equipment may be what is pushing Regret past his limits. You really have to decide if it is worth holding onto or not, and if it isn't, then you will either have to sell it or throw it away.

The final "main" aspect to the game is actually one that is rarely seen in RPGs. Zenonia features a day and night cycle, as well as a simple weather system, which really helps change the game up. Depending on the time of day and weather, different events may take place, and different areas may be open to you. Sometimes specific people only show up at night, and other times some areas may only be open during the day. It really is a nice feature which adds a bit more depth to the game, and it is something that would be nice to see in other games of the same genre.

What is Wrong and Right:

As if fully customizing Regret and the controls wasn't enough, Gamevil decided to add in one other "customization" feature to the game. Throughout the adventure you can actually choose what you think is the right thing to do. At different points the game will ask you if you want to side with one character or another, or if you want to do something or not. Although the game's story will play out generally the same way, these decisions will determine if Regret is "good" or "evil," and that will result in some major differences. Along with the other classes, the good and evil system is just another reason you may find yourself replaying it even after you finish. There is quite a lot to see in this "small" mobile game, and that fact becomes even more apparent as you progress through the story.

The Good and the Bad:

If you are a fan of old school RPGs, MMORPGs, or if you are just looking for something to kill some time while you ride the bus, go on lunch break, or go on a long drive; Zenonia is the perfect game for you. The game captures just about everything that made old school RPGs great, and it is well worth the low price of 99 cents. The 2D sprites are nicely done, the humor is nice, the customization is extremely deep, and the story quests and side quests can easily last you over 30 hours. If you truly wanted to complete this game by playing as every class and seeing every different option, you are looking at a game that will easily last you over 100 hours. No matter how you look at it, even if you're not a fan of the genre, everyone can see how good of a deal Zenonia is.

The only real downsides to Zenonia is the fact that you can mess up. It is very possible to build a character that will struggle through the entire game. If you truly want to play through the game correctly, you will have to look at one of the official or fan created builds that have been posted on Zenonia's official forums. On top of that, the game does look a little bit dated as well. Although it looked pretty good for its time, since its initial release Zenonia has become a full fledged series. While the later releases in the series have sharper graphics, Zenonia itself tends to look a bit blurry depending on the device it is being played on. It doesn't take away from the game, but it is pretty easy to notice if you are playing the game on a device with an HD screen. The final issue with the game is actually with its alternate versions. While the standard mobile release is cheap, other versions are not. The game was released as a "full" title on the Nintendo DSi and eShop which may feel overpriced considering it is only 99 cents elsewhere.

Overall, Zenonia is a great game. It does everything right, and its "issues" don't actually hold it back. Sure the gameplay may get a bit repetitive, but for anyone who likes this style, Zenonia is in fact a must have. In the end I give Zenonia a solid 9/10.

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