If you have any experience with JRPGs, chances are you already know how the plot in Fantasy Chronicle (Out Now, $2.99 Release Sale) will turn out: boy sleeps in, boy’s village gets torched, boy sets out to rescue girl. Throw in some magical Guardian Beasts and a smack-talkin’ rabbit(!) and you’ve got the game’s story in a nutshell. The underlying translation is decent without rising to the bar set by Alphadia, and uncharacteristically for KEMCO, the script and battle messages still need some cleaning up. Suffice it to say you won’t be playing Fantasy Chronicle for its story, but it’s far from a total wash: there’s a game here too, and this collaboration from KEMCO and Hit-Point delivers the refreshing material this genre badly needs in that department.
The heart of any JRPG is its battle system, so let’s begin there. Fantasy Chronicle would appear to use a very basic Dragon Quest-style system at first, but nuances are gradually stirred in that take it a cut above your typical genre fare. The first thing the player will notice is that enemies are arranged into rows, the back row being unreachable unless the player’s party has developed certain skills or includes a member who uses long-range weaponry. A little exploration of the combat menu reveals that player characters can be swapped in and out of the active party before each turn. That first brush with death will leave the longtime JRPG fan shocked that any given battle can be re-attempted from the top, saving on menu navigation time and the inevitable walls of text characters shout at each other before important confrontations. Consumable items have to be equipped on individual party members outside of battle, with each character able to carry ten max instead of plundering from general inventory.
Most important is Fantasy Chronicle’s Guardian Beast system, which has the player assigning a godlike monster to each character and setting its AI to offensive, defensive or healing mode. Close attention to the story serves its greatest purpose by cluing the player in to which setting is most effective for a particular beast. On the other hand, some experimentation is warranted because each beast uses different skills depending on its setting. While this is Fantasy Chronicles’ most heavily advertised game mechanic, a skill combination system gives it a run for its money. The combination attacks on offer are well worth their weight in magic points and will tempt the savvy player to make tactical use of in-battle character switching.
Enemy encounters are random for the most part, but at least the encounter rate is low enough that the player can sneak in a fair bit of exploration between battles. Fantasy Chronicle handily lets the player warp out of dungeons from any point, which means zero backtracking — can I get an “amen” over here? Rounding out Fantasy Chronicle’s appeal is an equipment forging system that feels far better integrated into the player’s experience than any other I’ve seen in the wider RPG genre. Chalk that up to the fact that scouring dungeons and towns for raw materials is way cheaper than purchasing equipment outright, and it appears you can literally upgrade each character’s starting equipment to high-end arms and armor if you keep at it. Enemies become formidable a few hours in, so it’s important to get a good handle on the forging system during the game’s outset.
And then there are a few downsides. Fantasy Chronicle’s story revolves around a guild that hands out tons of fetch quests and other mini-assignments to the player’s party, which is sure to put the KRPG-weary on their guard. Some of these are necessary for moving the story along but it’s not always clear which sidequests are critical and which are completely optional. Don’t expect sprawling cities here, as shops and other notable town locations are linked together on a map — though this does make town navigation a cinch.
Fantasy Chronicle defaults to tap-and-go for movement, but the touch sensitivity of this system feels much too unreliable for my liking. Far better is the backup virtual D-pad, which makes environment navigation, menus, and battle commands hassle-free. A handy virtual button tucked into the bottom-right touchscreen corner swaps the visual UI elements on and off, but this doesn’t seem to toggle between control methods — it’s mainly useful for getting a clear view of the screen during battles.
And on that note, Fantasy Chronicle is quite beautiful all around. Enemies are well-animated compared to the mobile JRPG norm; I don’t normally go for first person viewpoint combat systems, but when I have something better than cardboard cutouts to stare at I’ll gladly take it. Fantasy Chronicle’s character portraits and area map art are some of the most attractively rendered I’ve seen yet. True, the character sprites and environments are unfortunately tiny, but if you squint hard you can tell that real artistry went into them. The game’s soundtrack is definitely a step above some of the sequenced music genre fans get on iOS, but its functionally appropriate music didn’t really stick with me after I exited the game. Should it strike your own fancy, however, KEMCO has kindly made the music collection available on iTunes.
iFanzine Verdict: Fantasy Chronicle has one of the most interesting combat systems among JRPGs on iOS, and this alone makes it worth a go for the savvy genre fan who’s on the lookout for something new. You’ll enjoy it best if you don’t go in with lofty expectations for its story and if you can stand a few KRPG-style fetch quests along the way, however.