098444_largerIt would be a bit of an understatement to say that Square Enix enjoys a mixed reputation among iOS gamers. On the one hand, their iOS offerings are often extremely substantial compared to other titles in the App Store, with excellent production values, long quests, and unique gameplay systems that capitalize on the strengths of the platform.

On the other hand, they've been slow to embrace universal apps and cloud saving, their experiments with IAP have been audacious to say the least, and the prices of their games are relatively high. On top of all that, their customer support could best be described as bipolar, sometimes going months without crucial updates, and other times completely making over a game at no additional cost. Drakerider: Chains Transcendent [$13.99 / $13.99 (HD)] serves unfortunately well as a symbol of the publisher on iOS, both good and bad.

Let's get one thing out of the way first. This is not a new game. This is not even a low effort asset recycle like Chaos Rings Omega [$3.99]. This is Drakerider [Free / Free (HD)], which launched just about a year ago, but like a version 1.1 of it. If you have already purchased the original game's episodes, I can't possibly imagine the differences in this version being significant enough for you to jump in again.

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They've added a handy button to turn off random encounters whenever you like, tinkered around with the stats on some enemies to rebalance things a little, changed some of the cut-scenes that were just done "talking heads" style in the original into fully-acted scenes with the character models, and ditched the episodic purchase model for an upfront lump sum payment. To be very frank, this all should have been included in a free update for owners of the original game, and it's pretty suspect of Square Enix to package this into an entirely separate app with a new name, and non-Universal to boot.

Well, anyway, it is what it is. Had we reviewed the original Drakerider, I probably wouldn't be writing much about this at all, but as we did not, I'm going to review this game for the people who don't yet own the game in any form, because there's a very good game here that really didn't deserve to get bogged down by its publisher's antics.

mzl.byuhzxvgDrakerider: Chains Transcendent follows the story of a young man named Aran, who in the course of doing his job as a tracker gets roped into the dangerous job of becoming the apparent savior of his world. It sounds like a bad deal for Aran, until you realize that the position comes with a huge dragon. Aran's dragon, Eckhardt, is no friendly luck-dragon, however. His fondest desire is to eat his master, and that aspect is the crux around which many of the game's unique elements revolve.

The story is broken into five episodes, with each one finishing with an entertaining anime-style preview of the next episode. The story is weighty enough, with a variety of twists, predictable and otherwise, and like its iOS cousin Chaos Rings [$3.99 / $4.99 (HD)], you most likely will not even have the faintest idea at the beginning of where it will ultimately end. As with many RPGs, it kind of gets in over its head at a point late in the game, leading to it feeling a bit hurried in its efforts to wrap up all the loose ends in a satisfactory fashion. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable ride with some interesting characters, particularly the cast stand-out (and show-off), Butch Brewster.

Generally speaking, you'll be flying from one area to the next, walking around each map on dragon-back searching for a boss monster. There are a lot of areas in the game, but Drakerider isn't shy about reusing elements of stages wholesale, sometimes with little more than a palette swap. This makes the areas feel a bit repetitive after a while, even though the stage designs are pretty good on their own. As you go through the stages, you'll face quite a number of random monster encounters, though these can be turned off at any time should you choose. You'll want to strike a good balance for keeping them on or off, though, lest your dragon be under-powered for the bosses. There are lots of alternate routes to take on the maps, some leading to nothing in particular, but most rewarding you with a treasure of some sort.

The battle system is probably the most unique element of Drakerider. As mentioned before, your dragon wants to kill you, and the only thing holding him back are the chains you're binding him with. Your control over the monster is represented by a four-colored bar, going from blue to green to yellow to red, with the exact amounts of each color determined by your weapon. By swiping an on-screen graphic of the chains, you can try to control which point you're at in the spectrum. Eckhardt will fight the pull of the chains, and should you enter the red zone, things can get very bad, very quickly.

mzl.qoqhhlkgThe colors themselves correspond to various skills you can learn and equip. Blue skills are generally defensive in nature, and while you're in the blue zone, your character will focus on defending and healing any injuries ahead of attacking. Green represents physical offense skills, and your attacks will be a little more aggressive and frequent in this zone. Yellow skills are your powerful magic skills, and as you'd expect, the yellow zone is very useful when you're going on the offensive. Finally, the red zone has no skills, but going into it will cause Eckhardt to go berserk. This will result in heavy damage to the enemies, but if you don't get him back under control quickly, he'll snap you up in one bite, bringing you to the game over screen. There is an additional cost to unleashing Eckhardt's berserker fury, as he'll take semi-permanent damage to his maximum HP that can only be restored with a very costly item.

Defeating enemies earns you experience points, which level up your dragon, and crystal points, which are used both to execute skills and to purchase new ones. By chaining certain attacks together, you'll increase a multiplier for your crystal points. It's not very hard to do, and it ensures you'll probably have more than enough of them to go around. Buying skills is similar to a cross between the Sphere Grid of Final Fantasy X and the License Board of Final Fantasy XII. Skills are laid out on a spiderweb like pattern of chains, and gaining access to the better skills requires you to purchase and/or master the skills that come before it.

The one thing defeating enemies doesn't earn you is the game's currency, Tesserra. While things aren't too costly in the beginning, new weapons, armor, and accessories get pretty pricey in the long run, so you'll need quite a lot of money if you want to keep your gear current. You'll find a fair bit of it laying around in the world, but when that runs out, you've only got a couple of resources to fall back on.

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You can get a bit of cash by clearing mini-stages called Hypercubes, but the bulk of it comes from sending out a little helper to scour the stages you've visited in search of knick-knacks to sell. His trips take a set amount of real time to finish, and the best goodies can only be had by sending him out for eight hours. If you want him to come back early, you can use an item to do so, but that item is exceptionally rare, and if you want them, you'll probably have to resort to the game's IAP. I'm not really happy to see IAP in a game that's already so expensive, and though you can probably get by without getting all the nice gear, it really hinders the notion of finishing the game in a short span of real time.

There's more to this game that opens up as you play through, but some things are best left as surprises. Suffice it to say, there are wrinkles to this game that are not covered in this review that I'd rather you experience cold. Setting aside the shenanigans around how Square Enix chose to handle this premium version, Drakerider is, in both its original and updated form, an excellent game. It's big, meaty, fun, and crazy in the right way, and quite worthy of its legacy. It's a shame this particular release is a bit of a slap in the face, but if you haven't played this one yet, and you dig JRPGs, dragons, or both, jump in.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Brad Brasfield

    Wow, so not only are there separate iPhone and iPad versions (at the same price point!), but they aren't even offering an update for people who actually supported the game by buying the original version? Oh Square, you make it so hard to like you.

    • Morgan01

      It's one thing to make a profit, it's another to stick it to loyal fans. I stopped being a loyal fan a few years ago. This is a good emphasis on why.

    • ImJPaul

      I bought the original on iPad. But I sold my iPad and always wanted to get this in my iPhone. When it came out it was $7.99 for a week. I thought that was fair.

      Square is of course one of the more premium developers on the AppStore but I would rather pay big money for quality then get a bunch of free garbage.

      At its current price it's not really worth it if you have the original but if you are in a situation like mine then it was perfect.

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      I don't have a problem with there being a free version where you buy episodes separately and a different paid version that includes all the episodes up front. Other games do that and I think it's an ok tactic. I'm actually not that mad at there being separate iPad and iPhone versions either, though Universal is always the best. But I do agree that the changes, though minor, should be given to the owners of the original version. Maybe they will be, who knows.

      • ImJPaul

        This is Square Enix. They won't give anything to their users unless there is profit to be made. That's why they've been one of the most prevalent companies in gaming for over 25 years.

        I've been waiting for a widescreen update to Chrono Trigger since I got my iPhone 5. It's just something I've come to expect from SE. Ill keep giving them my money as long as they keep pumping out great original games. They've screwed me over many times but I'm okay with it. Ha.

    • Lazyninja7

      It is true they do a lot of selfish and stupid things, but a lot of their games are top-quality, and you can't argue with that.

  • worldcitizen1919

    A very, very unfair selfish cash grab by SE. They got my money for the 1st version then ditched me and won't give me a free update. To pee on your fan base is not advisable. SE won't have one left if they keep doing this.

  • araczynski

    Haven't supported squirtenix in probably a decade. Been hoping for their demise about as long, but it seems they still have droves of fans affected with the Helsinki syndrome that don't know any better.

    • eventide

      More like Stockholm syndrome.

      • eventide

        But I think they're the same thing :p

    • 61050

      lol, i havent really supported square-enix since the merger, in spirit anyway. they do have plenty of my money though, and i dont feel bad about it. lots of wasted time thanks to them and their many iterations as a game developer over the years.

  • defunct32

    Wow, I was planning to get the original Drakerider but held back and I'm glad I did, am getting this pn payday, 19.98 is expensive for me.... Am not from the US!

  • Morgan01

    Really no purpose in buying games for SE if this is how they plan to proceed from here on out. Why buy a game that they will only obsolete then repackage and sell new again?

  • NinjaKitteh

    Was always a fan of Squaresoft and Enix. Something diabolical happened when they merged however, and I haven't been a fan since. This is just another example of why I'm glad I do not have the disease known as "blind fanboyism".

DRAKERIDER Chains Transcendent Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4