Published by Square-Enix, Chains Transcendent is an upgraded version of last year’s Drakerider, optimised exclusively for iPad. Though the changes are fairly minor, the game definitely feels better suited for tablets and is another strong RPG under the Square-Enix banner.
The world of Igraine is under attack by a horde of creatures collectively known as The Dread. The only thing preventing humanity’s extinction is a small band of elite saviours; the dragaliers. It’s dark times indeed and players jump straight into the middle of the conflict, adopting the role of lead protagonist, Aran Lawson. Short-tempered and eager to prove himself, Aran begins his journey as a Dread tracker before realising his destiny. Bound to his dragon, Eckhardt, he must push back the dark forces whilst also trying to tame the mythical beast.
Everything about Drakerider is run-of-the-mill when compared to most of the JRPG genre. Everything, apart from its unique combat, that is. Though battles are triggered via random encounters, Drakerider replaces conventional turn-based combat with its own “chain” system. Battles are mostly automatic with Eckhardt attacking or using an ability every time the action gauge refills. Players are still mostly in control, however, and can switch abilities on or off for Eckhardt to use. By sliding the chain at the bottom of the screen you will also need to keep the dragon focused. Opposite to the chains is a meter divided into different-coloured sections. Each one has its own list of abilities which can only be accessed if the pointer is hovering on that part of the meter. If players want Eckhardt to defend or heal, for instance, they will need to swipe to the far left (the blue section) or swipe three quarters right to unleash his heaviest attacks. It’s important keep control as moving into the red section (the furthest right) will trigger Eckhardt’s berserk stance and he will proceed to attack Aran.
Chain mechanics aside, Drakerider is exactly what you would expect from a JRPG. Maps are fairly linear and punctuated with shops which sell items and gear. This, along with the game’s expansive ability tree affords players an enhanced level of customisation over their dragon. By spending Crystals, you can invest in new abilities and permanent stat increases which steadily unlock as you level up. However, it is these same crystals that are expended when using abilities in battle. The basic healing spell, for example, will cost four crystals with every use. By combining MP and currency into one number, Drakerider creates a unique sense of risk/reward when it comes to progression.
As mentioned before, the game is structured fairly linearly with players clearing one area before moving to the next. To do this, you will often have to fight your way through a boss battle. Both challenging and time-consuming, these encounters ultimately measure how prepared you are to advance to the next area, forcing players to swipe continuously as they trigger different abilities. It can be tough sometimes but luckily Drakerider is incredibly merciful, allowing you to back away from a fight once defeated and try again without any progress loss.
Its underlying concepts are both strong and familiar, but the characters and story that support Drakerider are somewhat lacklustre. It’s your classic end of days plot featuring a young-blooded warrior destined to save the world and a mysterious maiden. Sadly, these story-related tropes aren’t alleviated by Drakerider’s dialogue. Often wooden and nonsensical, you’ll be hard-pressed to feel anything for Aran and his companions despite his unique relationship with Eckhardt.
It may not look dramatically better than its iPhone counterpart but the bigger screen allows Drakerider’s simple interface and menus to shine. Built with ease and accessibility in mind, this is an RPG you could happily return to without the pressure of relearning a hundred different mechanics. Drakerider even features Japanese voiceovers that, when combined with its soundtrack, gives the game a feel of a fully fledged JRPG.