In a lot of ways, if you've played one Korean RPG, you've played them all, and if you've played one 16-bit inspired action-RPG, you know exactly what to expect from another -- but Minoraxis' Exitium: Saviors of Vardonia [$1.99] hopes its ideas about multiple narratives and play styles is enough to separate it from the abundance of action-RPGs in the App Store.
The majority of the gameplay elements are going to be familiar -- the hack, slash, then loot formula is here in abundance as is the need to grind through respawning enemies to get enough experience and goods to tackle the next area. The game controls exactly like you expect, but the iPad offers enough screen real estate to keep the fully customizable interface from being overbearing.
The thing with the controls is, they feel weird -- even after several hours, it never clicks in the way you want it to. That's partially because the directional pad is a little awkward, but it's also because the characters move incredibly fast, as if the whole game is overclocked. You can adjust the speed in the options menu, but it never snaps into a sweet spot that feels comfortable.
If you can get used to the controls, there is an amazingly deep game here. You'll be playing as one of four characters, from two different sides of the war, each with their own story, play style and class. The story isn't going to win any awards, but as far as heavy-handed RPG narratives are concerned, it's at least a familiar telling of two warring kingdoms infested with a harsh brand of evil and monsters running around. Considering the supposed weight of the narrative, the dialogue is rather light in some places, but it's unclear how much of that is due to translation issues.
Unfortunately, you also know what to expect from the quest system. Although there are hundreds of different sub-quests, nearly every single one amounts to a fetch quest, some of them are even simple enough they'll only take a few seconds to complete. The story missions don't differ much either, but thankfully, the massive map has a diverse set of enemies and locations to keep you from getting bored.
That's good, because you'll be grinding those enemies a lot. Even if you decide to go with the in-app purchases, you'll need to spend hours hacking away at enemies to level up. Most of that comes with a rewards system outside of gaining a level, as Exitium seems to want to award you for completing a massive variety of micro-tasks, from killing a certain number of enemies to using potions a number of times. For the obsessive compulsive among you, there is a ton of content to mine here.
Since each of the characters comes with their own play style, the game is going to feel different whether you pick the berserker, paladin, priestess or mage. The berserker and paladin are both all about close range combat, so if you're into the more classic feeling action-RPG, you'll be most comfortable with either of them. The paladin and mage are distance attackers, and since the game doesn't come with an auto-target, they can take a little longer to get used to, but each has their own merits.
Each character also comes with their own set of passive and active skills gained by either completing the micro achievements mentioned above or by leveling up. The skill tree isn't that deep, but each skill has several levels associated with it and they help diversify combat enough to keep it interesting across the course of the game.
As you'd expect, there is also a crafting system where you can make potions and enhance weapons. It's as deep as it needs to be, and you can get through the game without spending too much time on it if you don't want to. There is, supposedly, also a multiplayer aspect to the game, where you can trade items with other characters, but I was never able to get it working.
Exitium looks fantastic and nails the 16-bit style. It certainly stands out the most on iPad, where, with the exception of a few odd things that weren't optimized, the game looks wonderful. It certainly cribs a lot from its history, but you can see a lot of effort went into making it look the way it does.
As far as how it actually plays, Exitium: Saviors of Vardonia doesn't offer a whole lot of new ideas, but it does offer an interweaving story that begs for the game to be played four times and enough quests to keep you busy for a long time. It could use some tweaks to the controls and the dialogue will make you laugh for all the wrong reasons, but as an action-RPG, it nails what it's going for and has a lot of content. It's not up to par with the likes of KTH's Wild Frontier [$2.99], but the clean menu system, easy to understand crafting, multiple story lines, and the interface make it stand out in the genre.
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