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Portabliss: Chaos Rings 2 (iOS)

Heidi Kemps

Did you know that you can download handheld games now? That's amazingly convenient! The only inconvenient part of it is finding the right games to buy -- and that's where we come in, with our Portabliss column. In each installment, we'll tell you about a downloadable game on the iPhone, iPad, Android device, DSi, 3DS, PSP, etc. Today: Chaos Rings 2.

During GDC this year, Cave Vice-President Mikio Watanabe implored smartphone and tablet game developers to price their products appropriately: a high-quality game should come with a higher pricetag. Square Enix's Chaos Rings 2 certainly follows Watanabe's advice.

At $18 on iPhone and $20 on iPad, it's among the higher-priced big-name iOS releases. But that old adage of "getting what you pay for" applies, too, as Chaos Rings II is a superb RPG that easily justifies its premium pricetag.

Gallery: Chaos Rings 2 (iOS) | 5 Photos

Chaos Rings 2 doesn't waste much time, either. After a foreboding initial struggle against a massive foe, you're dropped into the tale of Darwin, a soldier who's been caught with his buddy Orlando in a very nasty ambush. Things immediately go from bad to unfathomably worse: Darwin and Orlando get sucked into a mysterious room, where Darwin is forced to strike his best buddy dead. Darwin and four other people – all of whom seem related to Orlando in some way – are then trapped in a strange, ornate palace, and then told by a jauntily dressed gentleman speaking for the "Creator" that Darwin will have to ritually sacrifice everyone else, one by one, in order to seal a great calamity. And did I mention that one of the would-be sacrifices is Darwin's adopted sister?

It's a pretty grim story, as a good chunk of the exploration you'll be doing involves seeing locales on the verge of disaster and essentially preparing your fellow party members for their ritual deaths, all while learning more about their personal backstories. The writing and localization is superb, and the fact that the game is fully voiced (albeit in Japanese) adds a nice flourish of characterization. And no, you can't avoid the sacrifices – when the time comes, you'll have very tough decisions to make. Much like the excellent DS title Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, however, there's a bit of morbid strategy to whom you offer up as martyrs, as you'll gain a permutation of their powers for combat afterwards. Still, you'll most certainly feel pangs of guilt every time you're directed to slash your finger across the screen for the fatal blow.

The premise and story itself is intriguing enough, but Chaos Rings 2 also looks gorgeous, sounds beautiful, and plays wonderfully. Longtime RPG fans may recognize developer Media.Vision from their long-running, fan-favorite Wild Arms series, and Chaos Rings 2 holds up to that level of quality. Visually, the game is stunning, with excellent character, environment, and enemy design and high-quality models that look fantastic on a small or large iDevice screen. The soundtrack, too, is of the typically high standard we've come to expect from Square Enix offerings; odds are you'll be quite tempted to purchase some of the songs on iTunes even after you're done playing.

The gameplay is what will really keep you hooked on Chaos Rings 2, though. The turn-based battle system focuses around a two-member party, with both paired and solo attacks available. Paired attacks are more powerful, but open you up for more damaging retaliatory strikes, so they need to be used cautiously. A rock-paper-scissors style of elemental attacking also comes into play, making it essential to keep tabs on both your own and your opponents' ever-changing attack properties.

Successfully striking at your opponents' weaknesses in succession can yield a turn where all of your actions have increased benefits, but if the opponent gets the jump on you they can reap the same rewards. You can't just mindlessly attack through battles, as even standard-level opponents pose a threat if you're not paying attention. New to combat in Chaos Rings 2 are abilities called "Awakenings," which are limit break-style attacks that offer increased benefits when charged and utilized.

I'm not even getting into some of the other cool stuff about Chaos Rings 2: the elimination of the flow-destroying puzzles from the original games, the nifty skill-building and customization systems, the side missions and multiple, branching paths the story can take. It's easily one of the best iOS offerings I've played. Sure, $18 is a lot by App Store standards, but what you get for that money is an experience that is just as good -- perhaps better -- than many Japanese console RPGs. If you like this genre and own an iThing, don't miss Chaos Rings 2.

Chaos Rings 2 is available for $17.99 on iTunes. An HD version for iPad is available for $19.99. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.

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