From the hand of Cardboard Utopia, Children of the Zodiarc takes inspiration from classic JRPGs, bringing back the experience of memorable storytelling and engaging characters… with the help of board game mechanics.
Expecting to steal a golden treasure, thief Nahmi and her companions infiltrated the vault of a nobleman in the hopes of finding their ticket to freedom from the Toran empire, who took away their families, innocence, or money, depending who you ask. They did get a way to escape, just with reality-bending benefits.
Now armed with the Zodiarcs, artifacts left behind in this world by the “Heralds”, Nahmi’s company has set to master their power and take on the empire’s forces, all while looking for a place they can call home.
Aside from the usual grid field, unit positioning, etc. players are armed with fully customizable card decks and dices to decide the outcome of battles.
This Board Game spin is what really makes the game shine. Children of Zodiarcs is far from the first RPG to implement Deckbuilding – just to name popular examples, Kingdom Hearts: Chains of Memories and Yggdra Union did it way back in the Game Boy Advance – but it’s only half of the package; while decks area good way to let players customize their playstyle, the really interesting point are the dice.
As you probably have figured, the game’s probabilities are taken care of with the use of dice. These dice are symbols ones, and they control the outcome of battles. You even get to roll them by simulating the movement in-game…
…but the most important part is, with the right materials, you can customize the dice faces to create dice that will give you your desired results. This means, while luck is not gone, the game is giving you direct control of the odds of things happening without hindering you (you might be familiar with “can’t miss but weak as heck” attacks).
Dice will also unlock card’s secret power – certain rolls are required to activate some cards most devastating effect; so you have to take both dice and deck as a single entity and build accordingly.
This control over the Random Number Generator is uncommon among developers to give us*.
Graphics and Music
As for graphics and music, the game is very polished in both fronts. Sprites and world graphics look fantastic, with them having more of a “if middle ages had lasted until modern times” vibe than more conservative games. Vibe Avenue’s music is a perfect fit, and you can check out many of the tunes already on Cardboard Utopia’s channel.
Japanese Role-Playing Strategy games are as old as board games themselves – just set an amount of HP to Chess Pieces and improvise a “story” about a fallen kingdom and you are well on your way. Innovating here is not as risky as it is hard, and we see games selling “never seen before features” that amount to “new ways” to tune up items or complex job trees or other things that were real innovations way back.
What we end up with it’s a lot of games promising to reinvent the wheel and give us a “unique” story while doing stuff like upping the difficulty bar (read: giving enemies too high stats) or adding unnecessary fanservice** hoping it will carry the game. But those are the names we don’t remember.
Some of the biggest names out there (ie. Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, Disgaea, just off the top of my head) are the ones that introduced their spin to the genre, be it small or big (I’m looking at you, Dept. Heaven series). Children of Zodiarcs is taking a step that seems obvious in hindsight: JRPGs are already digitalized board games, so why not incorporate fun things from existing board games?
With a complete Kickstarter (it was funded by the 43th hour mark, and almost doubles it’s funding goal by the 4th (!) day of campaign), tops on both Steam Greenlit and Square Enix Collective, and a team of developers that have worked in such games as Eternal Darkness, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, The Warriors, and Far Cry 3, Children of Zodiarcs is one of the most promising indies of the year, and we are still on January. The game will launch somewhere late 2016 for PC, and a PS4 port is in the works.
* For the record, the only other installment of such deck+dice customization system I can think of is GBA’s version of Yu-Gi-Oh! DungeonDice Monsters. Talk about obscure mechanics.
** Most-anime inspired JRPGs are prone to fanservice, and that’s not bad per se, but there is a special place in my heart for games like Luminous Arc in which it is the only redeeming feature, and it is never enough redemption for the rest of the game. At least the Ateier titles like Hyperdimention Neptunia try to play it for laughs and are upfront about their intentions.