If there's anything I've learned after pouring several days of my life into the latest installment of Com2uS's action-rpg Inotia franchise, it's that no amount of Engrish exposure can truly prepare you for that strange moment when a gorgeous brunette clad in diaphanous silks informs a 'pretty boy' of an anti-hero that he is squirting blood.
This awkwardness informs a lot of the dialogue in Inotia 4: Assassin of Berkel [Free / Free]. While relatively free of the grammatical errors that usually plague such games, Inotia 4 has a rather, uh, unique way with words. Here, you'll find imposing-looking orcs declaring that things are "kinda awkward" and villains that order their lackeys to "allure" helpless souls to a nefarious end. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Unless you're totally adverse to the idea of peculiar phrasing, the accidental humor actually offers a light-hearted touch to what otherwise feels like a stereotypical jaunt.
The story in Inotia 4: Assassin of Berkel is one built out of familiar tropes. For example, the protagonist's an effeminate-looking but curmudgeonly chap who also happens to be young, gifted at the art of assassination and a member of the Shadow Tribe. His star-crossed love interest? A young woman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Final Fantasy heroines like Rinoa, Garnet and Yuna. Needless to say, this sort of sets the pattern for the rest of the game. Inotia 4 is a little bit of everything you've ever encountered in an RPG from the Orient. There are warring factions, magic, subterfuge, hidden pasts, and even an arrogant stranger with an overpowered weapon. If you were looking for something new, this isn't the KRPG you're looking for.
While I'm not particularly fond of the virtual d-pad utilized here or its periodic lack of responsiveness, the controls are pretty standard fare. It's the interface that bugs me to no end. On top of many smaller issues, the deluge of buttons, character portraits, health bars and mana bars can make it literally impossible to see where you're going. To be fair, it doesn't happen all that often but when it does happen, you'll take painful notice.
From an audiovisual perspective, Inotia 4 is neither particularly impressive nor completely humdrum. An odd mixture of Retina quality elements and retro-looking graphics, the game feels a little older than its actual release date. As for the audio, I'm somewhat on the fence. On one hand, the music isn't too shabby; it's the kind of stuff you would expect from an RPG. On the other hand, the sound effects left something to be desired for.
So, why play Inotia 4? Why go through strange localization and flighty controls? Why endure the storyline you've probably heard a thousand times before? Why did this get a four star as opposed to a plea for you to run away?
Simple. Because it's actually pretty good.
Like a blind date between mostly compatible people, things can begin on a slightly shaky note. However, once momentum has been built, beautiful things can happen. If you have nothing against grindfests (it IS a Korean RPG, after all) and an obsessive-compulsive need to build the perfect party, Inotia 4 will eventually suck you in and keep you there.
The party system, though far from ground-breaking, is rather commendable. One of the things I liked best about it was the fact that while you can only have two party members (in addition to the protagonist) active at any given time, the game not only allows you to keep a stable of six but also ensures that all of them level up in an appropriate manner as you progress through the game. It's a small feature but a clever one. Unlike many other RPGs, you can actually elect to mix and match your selection of humanoid minions without having to first devote extensive amounts of time to their personal developments.
Speaking of party members, they will consist of mercenaries summoned from item drops and, from time to time, the odd plot-generated NPC. Most of your time, however, will be spent with the former. Your mercenaries may belong to any of the six different classes available in the game. They also come with as many item slots as the protagonist, their own set of skills and statistics appropriate to the quality of the item that conjured them. While you're in command of their equipment, you will need to cough up a few crystals if you want to change the rest.
As you can imagine, some of the appeal in the game lies in how you can tailor the composition of your party. Curious as to how pet-wielding classes will do against a stubborn boss? Bring them out and prepare for a crowded rumble. Fancy seeing how well three tanky priests can hold up against the game's dungeons? Go ahead and test out that theory. Nothing will stop you. The level of micromanagement required is also entirely dependent on you. While you can choose to rely on your A.I settings, you can opt to take control of any of your characters at any given time.
Inotia 4 is also a dream come true for those who just HAVE to have the best gear. By and large, there's no shortage of equipment to collect. Random beasts will sporadically drop legendary headgear. Fusion machines will occasionally offer the chance to engage in repeatable quests, quests that will grant you access to recipes for absurdly powerful items. You will also find goodies from boss battles, treasure chests and their spoils, side quests and shady merchants marketing what may or may not be the next best thing. Inotia 4 makes it easy to be covetous and is shameless about rewarding those willing to grind their way towards glory.
You know what the best part of all this is? Your party's appearance will change with every high-priced trinket you acquire.
By the way, I'm impressed with how Com2uS handled one aspect of their IAP system. In Inotia 4, crystals are used for, well, pretty much everything. Have a weapon you really want to make but lack the ingredients for? Pay for its creation with a handful of crystals. Want to resurrect your party instead of restarting from the last saved point? Cough up the crystals. We know you have them in there. While hardly the most unusual approach, Com2uS has made usage of those crystals as enticing as ever. In the grand scheme of things, five crystals is nothing compared to an hour spent scouring the maps for material. You almost find yourself compelled to conform.
In between all of this, crammed between the good and the bad, nestled between the occasional guilty crystal expenditure, that's where the magic happens. Inotia 4 will have you mashing buttons, switching hot keys, pondering talent points and beating on artillery turtles without so much as a second thought. It will have you gathering ingredients for a powerful new weapon even as you effortlessly transform your glass cannon of a priest into a shield-wielding bastion of power. It will keep you trucking towards the next level, determined to see how your new weapon will do against the latest dungeon or how well your latest collection of party members will hold up. Inotia 4 isn't the most original title out there but it certainly knows which buttons to press.