Fate is our greatest ally until She turns against us! Are you born a Noble, or forced to live as a slave? Destined to play the role of hunter or prey? All of life comes down to a roll of the dice, and in this game it’s more literal than you may expect.
This sensational Strategy RPG was developed by Montreal based indie developer, Cardboard Utopia, and published by Square Enix. The game was originally funded on Kickstarter, but I’d not heard about it till we got the Press Release for it on release day.
Games like this come around only a few times in a lifetime, games that send you on an emotional rollercoaster. The kind of games that genuinely make you feel something, the kind that make you ask real questions.
Upon finishing Children of Zodiarcs I couldn’t help but sit and ponder about what I’d just experienced. 56 hrs of play time that is now plastered onto my heart forever. Oh, and here’s the silly part. I didn’t expect to spend much time with it. I thought it was just some generic SRPG on Steam that’s not bad, but not special either. I was wrong, 100% wrong. This game is special, special enough that I want to climb to the roof of the tallest building I can find to sing its praises.
The story is centered around a group of orphan children who belong to a gang that attempts to steal a relic from a Noble family. My first impressions of the plot was that I’d already figured it out, and that I’d not even need to complete the game to get the full essence of what the devs expertly portrayed in the game. Thankfully like I mentioned before I was wrong in my initial assumptions of the game, and I continued to be wrong all the way to the final chapter. For those planning to pick this up I strongly recommend playing the side stories as soon as they appear, as well as reading the skits on the city map. If you miss these, and it’s quite possible to do so, you will be experiencing a completely different story from the one I did. These little snippets, and the so called ‘side stories’ may seem optional, but they’re not.
I’m gonna stress it again. You need to play them.
The over aching plot and the writing that conveys it, is so well written and robust that it is able to portray complex societal eccentricity that have plagued human “civilization” for as long as we have been able to document our experiences. These archaic concepts include social classes which serve only to restrain the advancement of our species. And it is this particular issue that is the focal point of Children of Zodiarcs.
Plot aside, this is still an SRPG at its core. Games like God Wars: Future Past, Utawarerumono and Summon Night 6 are the first titles that come to mind when thinking about the grid based strategy systems in play in this game. Each characters has their own range of grids squares that they can occupy per turn, and they also each have a few moves that they can execute depending on their position on the map, other characters, and abilities. That being said the game does bring something new to the genre by mixing a few board game type elements into the gameplay.
Before entering battle you are able to choose between a set amount of cards, and different dice. The variety of choices available to you increases as your characters level up and progress through the game. In battle you are able to hold up to 7 cards on each character, then execute the effects of these cards by rolling dice. The dice have symbols on them that either buff, or reduce the effects of the cards played, as well as activate special effects like extra moves during a character’s turn. This unique way of play helps make what could feel like a familiar experience feel more dynamic. The roll of the dice is unpredictable. And though you are able to re-roll up to two dice per turn, you are still not guaranteed a favourable outcome. The game is also playable using a dice auto rolling feature which I do not recommend using because it nerfs the re-roll feature. This is because when dice are re-rolled the manual way they have a chance of affecting other dice played by knocking into them, but with auto re-roll only the two chosen dice are affected by the re-roll. The game also allows the player to speed up play so that you can mostly skip the opposition turn by just holding the A/X button.
Graphically, the game is pretty good looking, and it’s not very demanding to run either. I was able to run the game on my work PC at 1080p 60fps effortlessly on a rig that I would consider a mid range PC.
The camera is also very fluid. Arguably better than the one I fell in love with in God Wars: Future Past. Panning around characters to find the perfect position to execute my strategy was as simple as moving the right stick left, right to rotate around the focal point, or up and down to pan in and out. The camera also dynamically zooms in on characters when they perform any action similar to the aforementioned God Wars: Future Past.
Children of Zodiarcs is an almost flawless game. It’s got an exceptional plot with very likable characters, with a unique yet familiar style of gameplay, but as I just said it’s almost flawless. The only conceivable flaw this game has is related to a shortcoming associated with its audio. And no, it’s not the music or sound effects. Those are great, and fit the tone of the ever changing plot quite well. Notice I said shortcoming, and not an issue with the audio. Those that listen to our podcast, That Beautiful Life episode 198, will have heard me mention that the game lacks voice acting. It’s all text based, and really well written, but throughout my experience with the game I felt a longing, a longing to hear the voices of the characters that I’d become so emotionally attached to. At the game’s current price of $17.99 I’d consider voice acting inconceivable, but I would wholehearted welcome a paid DLC that adds voices to the dialogue scenes between the characters.
It should come as no surprise that I’m highly recommending this game after all that I’ve said so far about it. It’s one of the best titles on PlayStation 4 and Steam right now, and I’d love to see it make its way to the Vita and Switch someday. Children of Zodiarcs is a modern day gem that players that fancy strategy RPGs should not pass up on the opportunity of playing.
The copy of Children of Zodiarcs used for this review was supplied to us by itself publisher Square Enix.