Shock Value: Zenonia
[Shock Value is a monthly segment which runs down inexpensive titles that are more than worth the money spent.]
Over the last few days I’ve sunk dozens of hours into Zenonia, a charming action RPG from Korean developer Gamevil. I will happily admit that I’ve been constantly amazed by just how sound and solid the gameplay is. Let me say before I go into any more detail that this game is worth far, far more than what it costs. The developer hasn’t splurged on frills like 3D graphics, CG cutscenes or epic, timeless stories. Instead they’ve focused on the one and only thing that die hard RPG fanatics care anything about: the gameplay.
The result is a game so well made, so generous and so addictive that you’ll be puzzled by its deceptively low price, if it isn’t free on your platform of choice.
- Title: Zenonia
- Developer: Gamevil
- Publisher: Gamevil
- Release: 2009
- Platforms: iOS, Android, PSP, Nintendo DSi, Windows Mobile, Zeebo.
- Pricing: Varies by Platform. Nintendo DSi for $8; iOS for free; Android for $1; Windows Mobile for $1, PSP for $7
While it lacks the glitz and glam of some of Square-Enix’s portable RPGs, Zenonia is a near flawless execution of the tried and true RPG formula with an action twist. Let’s talk first about its story. The story focuses on Regret, a young boy whose father was mysteriously slain by a demon when he was just a baby. After coming of age, Regret embarks on an journey to discover his own origins and ultimately the reason for his father’s death. Of course by the end of the game Regret’s closure is among the least important factors, as things get much more serious further in. The story is interesting enough that you pay attention during cutscenes, but it really isn’t too exciting. I certainly wouldn’t call the story one of the game’s main draws.
Zenonia‘s quirky characters and great sense of humor mean that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is refreshing. Some of the dialogue exchanged with the NPCs is truly ridiculous and over the top. I spoke to one of the puppies wandering around a town and he asked me: “Is it true that Bow Wow is Snoop Dogg’s nephew?” The jokes, fourth wall breaking, pop culture references and general randomness in the dialogue make the game feel so fresh and unique, especially in conjunction with the old school art style and hardcore, serious game-play.
The first thing you’ll notice about Zenonia is its anime art style. The handful of character portraits are colorful, diverse and nice to look at overall. The graphics are 16-bit and very colorful and they’re reminiscent of any number of old school RPGs for the SNES. All the sprites for the characters, cities and towns look great. This graphical style works even better for the combat, which looks clean and lively. The game’s overall UI looks good as well. I love that all the items in the inventory have their own illustrations.
The music is forgettable, even if it is mostly pleasant and easy to listen to. I thought the sounds were very well done and I enjoyed the sounds of the combat more than I thought I would. I never turned the volume off during combat, even if that did annoy people around me.
The real draw of this game is the fantastic gameplay. Zenonia possesses all the RPG staples and then some. The real-time combat is fast and action packed. The buttons are cleverly mapped so that you can easily access several skills on the fly. On the DSi, anyway. Players can choose from three different chracter types at the beginning of the game. These are: Paladin, Warrior and Assasin. Each of these classes play differently and have access to a unique set of skills and abilities. The Paladin weilds attacks influenced by elemental magic. The Assassin has enhanced mobility and stealth techniques. The warrior throws around its brute strength and big swords to devistate foes.
Enemies are aggressive and always powerful, constantly forcing you to strengthen your character. They also like to gang up on you, making things pretty difficult. The progression is steady and fluid. Levelling up grants you new skills and allows you to access stronger gear, which you always want because the enemies always seem to be of a higher level than you. Dungeons are big and filled with enemies and new gear. There are hundreds of weapons, pieces of armor, and accessories. You can find the best gear in dungeons, which is preferable to buying gear for your level because it can get really expensive.
There’s also a tad bit more micromanaging in this game than in many RPGs, and I happen to love it. Every item in the inventory weighs a certain amount. Your character can only carry a certain amount of weight, that amount being directly tied to their strength stat. When you pick up too much weight, your character will move slowly because they’re over-encumbered. All equipment, with the exception of the accessories, gets worn out as it is used. When it is broken or just severely worn, you can take it to a smith to have it repaired. Getting a worn out item repaired lowers the item’s total durability. In addition to keeping Regret’s HP (health) and SP (skill points) up, you also have to make sure he never gets hungry. You’ll have to buy and eat food to keep from becoming hungry, and if you don’t your total amount of available skill points will drop very low, making combat difficult. Additionally, you can fuse items together to create unique enchantments, and use those to power up your weapons and accessories.
The game moves forward with the completing of quests and there are dozens of main and side quests for you to do. These quests provide useful rewards liike experience boosts, as well as money and occasionally weapons or items. In addition to getting new skills, levelling up also allows you to manually increase the stats of your character. This allows for a unique experience each play-through because you can spec your character differently.
An in-game clock keeps time as days turn into nights. Certain things will only happen at certain times of day. For example, the dark merchant (or whatever it’s called) only shows up at night. I would say overall that the difficulty in the game is rather high. Good weapons and accessories can run you thousands of gold coins in the shops and constantly monitoring both hunger and item durability, in addition to HP and SP, can be challenging. Add that to the enemy aggression and disturbingly long dungeons and I think you’ll agree that the game is absolutely no cake walk.
Zenonia is exactly the kind of game Shock Value was created for. The developers could fairly ask three or four times that purchase price for the wealth of content that has been lovingly crafted for this game. Who doesn’t love cuddling up with a good RPG? Especially one this good that you can take around with you. This game has everything you expect out of a great RPG: tons of gear, robust progression, exciting combat, replay value, likeable characters and dozens of hours of game-play.
This game is so good that you almost feel like you’re getting over or somehow cheating someone by paying so little for it. If you like RPGs at all and you own one of the many platforms this game is available on, you need to download it ASAP.