Indie Narrative Review RPG

Children of Zodiarcs – Review | Roll of the Dice

Introduction

In a world filled with excellent tactical RPG’s, you need a pretty unique hook. Something that’ll grab a person and pull them in. Get it, because that’s what hooks do. Children of Zodiarcs got it, and they nailed it. The trailer sunk its claws into me. A part from its unique name and my persistent want to say Zodiac, I was pretty excited. I knew nothing going in, despite it being on other platforms. Somehow, someway, I avoided spoilers. Probably because I’m a shut in, but those details aren’t important.

What I describe as a Deck-Building/TRPG, Children of Zodiarcs has a taunting task ahead. Will it stand with heavyweights like Langrisser or Fire Emblem?

Story Synopsis

What is a Zodiarc?

It’s a mixed opinion. Some have deemed it to be a technological miracle. A source of limitless energy and hidden knowledge. However, there are others with quite the opposite perspective. They view it as a weapon. One with infinitely corrupting influence. An alien parasite. So many differing opinions, but one thing is certain. Zodiarcs were gifts from the Heralds. A gift that many are after…

Zirchhoff and The Ebony Flame have taken aim at the Toran City Guard. The mission is to take hold of the relics within. Their efforts don’t go unnoticed though. What’ll happen when they come face to face with the enemy…?

Children of Zodiarcs - Brice

Writing

In my opinion, the most important aspect of RPG’s, period. So how does Children of Zodiarcs fare?

To be honest, I fell in love with the banter. Each character has a distinct personality. The word choice used when they speak fits perfectly. Nothing felt out of place or strayed far from their portrayal. The eye-roll inducing jokes were also up my alley. Probably my favourite part in the whole game is a girl named Brice. From the moment you meet her, she’s a bit hesitant. You can tell that she doesn’t trust easily and is overall quite sassy. The jabs with Pester – a male thief – sort of reminds me of a sibling relationship. At several points, she’ll affectionately refer to him as “chickenshit”. This did a lot in keeping me invested and smiling.

Something I disliked was the execution of back story. Children of Zodiarcs is primarily combat. So the narrative is told while on the battlefield. That’s only the bones of the tale however. You see, it’s fleshed out further by clicking on the character icon on the world map. I’ll be honest, I didn’t clue in until much later. In hindsight, it’s pretty obvious. There’s a speech bubble to signify conversation. It’s my worry that people might get engrossed in other things. If they aren’t proactive, they can miss it, like I did. I personally took notice late game. So, I was bombarded with a slew of no-context backstory. It would’ve been great to have it ingrained into the main plot. Then again, I might have ADHD.

Oh, and there is branching paths. Not in the traditional sense. When one event occurs, the linear tale will split off. Once it does, it’ll show what occurred in the background. In other words, what lead to the events of the level you just conquered. I loved this method of story telling. Instead of padding out the game with filler, they‘re able to concentrate on a section to fill in the blanks With important details. Well done.

Performance (Stability)

Animations were flawless. I only noticed a lone – albeit very slight – glitch. When I jumped on a platform, my character was a bit finicky. As she leapt, it seemed to have skipped half a second of the animation. At least that’s what it looked like. Almost as if the character had teleported. A bit strange, but hardly an interference.

Presentation (Graphics)

The fidelity of Children of Zodiarcs isn’t comparable to Triple A’s, however, I still liked it. Environments stay true to what they are supposed to represent with a surprising amount of detail. You’ll come across castles, sewers, and many other locales during your journey. What I liked was despite numerous consecutive stages in the same area, they varied. While the colours and feel was the same, I appreciated the sense of movement.

The character portraits that indicate who is speaking were also well done. I really enjoyed that each one had numerous variations to show specific emotions. It not only gave the character life, but you knew exactly the tone laced behind their words just by reading their body language.

My biggest gripe has to lay in the abilities themselves. While animations were done perfectly, the actual presentation was a touch bland. When you have a spell that’s called Ruiner, I expected an awesome sequence. Like the earth shaking. Or bits of ground surging upwards. But what we got was a whimper of that. Not game defining, but it would’ve added a lot and further enhance what’s a great game.

Game-Play (Mechanics)

In terms of its genre, Children of Zodiarcs doesn’t deviate from what makes a TRPG. You can move in any direction as long as it’s within the highlighted area. If you then hover above an enemy, you’ll be able to see their movement boundaries. I personally see this as a much in this genre. It allows you the tools to effectively plan out your assault. I’d simply use a strong defensive ally as bait, and lure in the enemy in. What I especially appreciated was that the AI aren’t stupid. Commonly, the computer will make dumb decisions. They might decide to heal opposed to delivering a kill shot. Not here. I routinely had my ass handed to me because of a faulty decision. This forced me to stay on my toes and thus, I never felt bored of it.

However, unlike your standard TRPG, the way you attack isn’t standard, and has its flaws. As previously stated, abilities are shown in the form of cards. Feeling a bit of Déjà Vu here, eh?

What I found really cool is the clear influence from Dungeon and Dragons. Whenever you select an action, you’ll be brought to a screen. Here, you can roll the dice to determine the amount of damage you inflict. Not only that, but some abilities will have additional effects. These are shown with stars. Some dice have a side or two with this symbol. Now, say that your abilities secondary skill requires a star. One flick of the wrist later and you roll it. This unlocks that effect. It’s an interesting way to inject an extra bit of strategy. You may still get frustrated though.

It’s a risk VS reward system. When initiating an attack on an enemy, if you dislike your first roll, you can reroll two die. There’s been plenty of instances where I’d roll a result, damaging my opponent to 1HP. There were times when I thought, I could do better. So, I’d take the risk. Only, the end result inflicted less damage.

This brings me to a personal gripe. There’s a sense of luck. Because your abilities are tied to cards, you’ll need to replenish your hand. So, a part from attacks or guard, you can choose to draw 2 cards from your deck. However, there’s never a guarantee you’ll receive what you need. I had a few cases where I wiped out because this. While in dire need of a healing spell, I’d receive attacks. Even if I planned ahead, it was a gamble. I was left vulnerable. Yes, you can construct your own deck. That won’t mitigate this complaint. The offensive far outweigh the cleric. Even when stacking your deck in that direction, it’s up to fate. I wasn’t a fan of this because it felt like the loss wasn’t due to my incompetence. I just hadn’t trusted in the heart of the cards.

On the topic of die, there are a total of 6 symbols;

  • Shard represents Damage.
  • Shield represents protection against counterattacks.
  • Stars trigger secondary effects.
  • Hearts heal for 5HP.
  • Draw Card allows you to draw a card.
  • Lightning gives you an extra action.

With every positive, comes a negative. Or in this case, 4. They are;

  • Cursed Shared weakens attack.
  • Cursed Star prevent secondary effects from triggering.
  • A Skull damages a character for 5HP.
  • A Cursed Card forces a character to discard an ability.

Luckily, you’ll eventually be able to customize your dice. For the price of other die found during combat, you can replace a symbol with another. Keep in mind that it’ll never be cheap. And getting rid of the negatives will always be expensive, but the grinding is bearable. The Gameplay loop is genuinely fun. I‘d murder countless mobs while listening to my favourite podcast. Keep in mind that each dice comes with a level. What this’ll mean is you can only go as far as that number. If the dice is level 2, then the number beside the symbol can only go up to a 2. As I’m sure you’ve surmised, this’ll multiple the effects listed above by the number. For example, a heart now self-heals for 10HP.

Sound Design

It’s easy to tell that a lot of love went into this section. Being more of an indie title, you wouldn’t expect an instrument based OST, but that’s what you get. My ear holes enjoyed every note. I did like that when in battle, the good and bad have different themes. It gave some variation. If I had to dock any points, it’s that you never heard the full thing, as turns lasted a few seconds.

My biggest complaint is more just a wish list thing. I feel that this game would have benefited greatly from voice acting. I really feel like it could have taken it to a new level. Not having it doesn’t affect the concluding score or my joy, but man, what could’ve been.

Verdict (Summary)

Children of Zodiarcs does well to stand with the heavyweights. It has enough uniqueness to it that you won’t consider it another clone. The banter between characters is excellent. My personal favourite was Brice, and anything that came from her mouth. She’s sassy, a potty mouth, and strong-headed. While I enjoyed the orchestrated soundtrack, voice acting was missed. It would have done so much to add to this great game.

I’d describe it as a Deck-building/TRPG. Your abilities are presented in the form of cards. As such, you’ll draw a card each turn to fill out your hand. Again, it’s vital you trust in the heart of the cards. With each level up, you’ll unlock more skills, or strengthen the brute power of your attacks. This encourages you to experiment as you build your deck. However, because of the element of luck, there will be moments you wipe out because destiny deemed it.

I very comfortably, whole-heartedly say this;

CHILDREN OF ZODIARCS IS RECOMMENDED

Platforms: PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, PS4 and XBox One
Purchase Links: Regular (PC) or Collectors editon (PC)

Many thanks to Plugin Digital for the review copy.

If you enjoy these type of games, how about checking out our review of a Strategy RPG such as Langrisser I & II?

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