I swear, Kemco must get a bulk discount on orphaned protagonists. As many games from this publisher do, Chronus Arc [$3.99] opens by showing us a horrible tragedy that befell the hero of the game at some point in the past. In fine RPG tradition, especially those with 'Chron' in the title, the introduction to our plucky lead in the present is with someone close to him waking him up. The past might have been grim, but here and now, it's party time. In an incredibly odd and sure-to-be-plot-significant ceremony held every ten years by the kingdom, they perform a ritual called "Time Rewinding". Certain broken items are restored to new condition right before the eyes of the people, and a good time is apparently had by all. Well, who am I to criticize? In the town I live in, we have a festival where people have fights using 25-foot poles with burning lanterns attached to the top. Festivals are nuts sometimes.
Anyway, our hero Loka's role in all of this is that he is a young man on the cusp of becoming a full-fledged Sorcerer Knight, an elite class with an apparent membership of one. The job of a Sorcerer Knight seems to be protecting the kingdom and going to fetch props from a cave every time the Time Rewinding ceremony is held. Loka's final exam is to go get these props, called Chronus Fragments, from the cave. His teacher accompanies him, and basically provides the game's tutorial. When the two reach the storage room where the Fragments are kept, they're caught off guard by enemies from another kingdom who are there to steal the Fragments. The teacher pulls an Obi-Wan and tells Loka to run and get help, but by the time Loka comes back with reinforcements, there is no trace of either his teacher or the enemies that assailed him.
Loka resolves to find his teacher, and for some reason, the princess of the kingdom, who is his childhood friend (of course), is allowed to accompany him. They'll eventually be joined by a scatter-brained pop idol named Kuril, and suffice it to say, what seems like a simple journey ends up having serious global implications. Chronus Arc isn't going to win any prizes for its story, but there are some interesting elements to it. Wait until you see the explanation behind the Time Rewinding ceremony. It's surprisingly kind of clever and genre-savvy. Generally speaking, though, the plot and characters are the usual color-by-numbers stuff we see in games developed by Hit-Point. They seem to be really good at coming up with interesting premises and doing almost nothing with them. It doesn't help that their characters are, as usual, boilerplate anime rejects who are neither interesting nor annoying. At any rate, this end of things has never been Hit-Point's forte, and that state of affairs hasn't changed here.
Servicable plots with interesting premises are one of Hit-Point's calling cards, and you'll find all of the other usual suspects here as well. Their usual crafting and guild quests systems are here, largely unchanged from the last couple of games they've developed. If you've only played their first and most famous, Fantasy Chronicle [$4.99], you'll find some refinements in the crafting system, mostly related to streamlining the ridiculous amount of materials, but if you've been following along with each release and have played Bonds of the Skies [$3.99] or Cross Hearts Arcadia [$2.99], there's nothing new here.
Hit-Point introduced a new engine with Cross Hearts Arcadia, which Chronus Arc is thankfully using. First person battles, long a staple of Hit-Point's RPGs, are out, replaced with a standard Final Fantasy-style side view. The new engine is also Universal and supports iPhone 5's larger screen, albeit just by putting down some fancy borders. So that makes two of Kemco's developers that have finally stopped using ill-fitting engines from the J2ME days. Another happy side effect of this engine change is that the scrolling isn't quite as choppy as it was on the old engine. The game looks quite nice, though it's clear their aim is to imitate latter-day 16-bit RPGs as opposed to pushing into the 32-bit realm like stablemates WorldWideSoftware. Still, there's a lot of detail in the spritework, and although everything looks quite pixelated, none of it looks bad at all.
Battles are turn-based and there aren't any interesting new gimmicks this time around. In some ways, it's even a step back from previous release Bonds of the Skies, since it lacks the positioning strategies you could take advantage of in that game. Your party is made up of three characters, and each has the usual array of physical and magic attacks. The battles have a little bit more of a bite to them than in recent Kemco games, but there's still very little challenge here. At least there are occasions where you might want to buff or debuff, so that much is an improvement over Destiny Fantasia [$7.99]. The only fights that are going to ask all that much of you are the bonus hunts the guild gives you.
The new twist on the character building this time is the technique system, where each character can equip a set number of techniques that modify their abilities in some way. You can swap them around as you see fit, and some combinations work better than others, so it's fun to experiment and see what works best. The job class system from Machine Knight [Free] returns here, though some aspects of it have been modified. If you're inclined, there are lots of ways to make the characters your own in Chronus Arc, and that's something I always appreciate in an RPG.
The biggest innovation in the game is unexpectedly in the dungeons. As a Sorcerer Knight, Loka has access to a Sorcerer Ring, which lets him perform certain actions outside of battle. You'll use these actions to solve a variety of puzzles in the dungeon, most of them involving blocks and switches. As you play through the game, you'll unlock new actions, which you'll need to use to solve puzzles in the subsequent dungeons. Complementing this new puzzle emphasis is the change from invisible random encounters to set visible enemies in the dungeons. The overworld map still has invisible random encounters, but in the dungeons, you can always see the enemies, and once you take them out, they'll be gone until you leave the screen and return.
This sidesteps the serious problem in some RPGs of getting dogpiled by random encounters while you're trying to solve a puzzle. I really enjoyed the dungeons thanks to this new approach. The interesting dungeons, combined with solid combat and a fun world to explore really make the 20+ hours of the quest go by quickly. You can really feel that Hit-Point is trying hard to improve the overall experience of their games, even though they're clearly strapped for time and budget. I'm really impressed by the progress this developer has made from Fantasy Chronicle to now. They've gone from what were clearly scaled-back experiences to something that would pass for a good SNES game.
There is IAP in the game in the form of the now-familiar special points, which can be earned by beating enemies. Thankfully, unlike Destiny Fantasia, which put semi-valuable story content behind the proverbial paywall, Chronus Arc offers up one bonus dungeon along with an assortment of cheat items. Interestingly, this time I actually earned enough points through play to unlock the dungeon without having to shell out extra. The Ancient Dungeon, as it's called, is fairly challenging and fun to navigate. There's no important story to be found in it, so it's obviously intended as an extra challenge for players, so even if you choose to spend your earned points elsewhere, you're not missing anything vital by passing on it. I don't mind this kind of content as IAP, if it must be shoehorned in somewhere.
The translation quality is about the same as usual for Hit-Point. There aren't a lot of obvious mistakes, but the dialogue is very bland and sometimes awkward. Games like these can benefit greatly from a good localization, something I wish Kemco's other developers besides EXE Create would figure out. There aren't any glaring issues, it's just really dry. Controls are the usual choice of virtual buttons and touch, allowing you to easily bring up the virtual controls or put them away at the touch of an ever-present button.
Chronus Arc isn't going to turn the genre on its head or anything so dramatic, but I think this might actually be the best all-around RPG Kemco's published for iOS. I wish the game was a little bit harder, and I would love to see better writing and characterization, but thanks to the steady improvements Hit-Point's been making with each game, they're finally starting to get onto something. I hope they continue to push themselves with each new game. As for this one, Chronus Arc is definitely a worthwhile journey for RPG fans, so long as you don't mind the flat characters.
Editor Note: We don't usually like using wacky screenshots with lots of text, but there's just something that's adorable about Kemco's engrish.
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