Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Children of Zodiarcs

If playing Children of Zodiarcs, you should expect to find the following in this game:

- A simple, but engaging and worthwhile story about revenge, class divide, and the terrible consuming nature of hate.
- Emotionally charged characters whose personalities and directives are well-designed and expressed, as well as understandable to the audience.
- A final confrontation between heroine and villain that embodies the thematic shared essences of their character (those being hate and revenge), while also being symbolic of the all-important divorce between how they will choose to live with that shared emotion going forward.
- A deceptively easy-to-understand, but actually pleasantly complex battle system.

Conversely, you should not expect to find the following in this game:

- Joy.

Yeah, Children of Zodiarcs is a very good RPG, but I’m warning you up front: if you’re not prepared for a hell of a downer, then this is not the story and cast for you. I’m writing this 3 days after having finished the game, and there are elements of its tragedy that are still bothering me. Which is good, make no mistake! It means that the writers did their job really well. Just, if you play it, y’know, be aware that a lot of that job is to upset you. Not that it’s all depressing or hurtful; the game also leaves you with many strong elements of hope. But ultimately, this is a game about the terrible wake left by the wrongs of society, and by hatred and vengeance, and that kind of subject matter isn’t given to happy stories. So be warned.

Now, if you’re still interested in what Children of Zodiarcs can offer after that warning, I’ll say that I definitely recommend it. It’s a simple but honest tragedy that focuses on what atrocities can come from harmfully imbalanced society and unchecked upper classes, both directly, as we see the people crushed beneath the weight of a system that keeps the many in poverty and pain for the benefit of the few, and indirectly, as we see the protagonists and antagonist repay the suffering the world has caused them back, in the unfortunate, unfocused way that relentless anger tends to cause. Beyond that, CoZ is also focused on the concept of vengeance as a matter of its own, and provides a telling, yet somehow hands-off perspective on it. The message that vengeance is not worth what it costs you, costs paid by both your humanity and by the innocent around you, is clear, yet really never said, or even fully acknowledged. It’s done quite well. I mean, if I had to pick 1 RPG to recommend as an examination of and warning against vengeance, it would still be Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, whose excellent method is still clear in my mind even now...but Children of Zodiarcs is a damn fine second choice. And hey, one can never have too many interesting and emotionally-charged stories examining and cautioning against losing oneself to fury, right? So play them both!

Hm...Children of Zodiarcs, Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, and Final Fantasy it just me, or do tactical RPGs have a disproportionate trend of being hard, downer stories? I mean, they’re obviously not the only ones (the mere memory of Eternal Senia happening to drift through my consciousness has been known to make me tear up), but still, seems like this corner of the genre has an unusual predilection for this sort of thing.

Anyway. The characters line up as excellent embodiments of what the story is trying to say, who the story is about. Admittedly, there aren’t many that I actually like on a personal level, but that isn’t necessarily the important thing, is it? I don’t personally like Kreia in Knights of the Old Republic 2, but damned if I don’t respect the hell out of her as a character and a mouthpiece of the game’s philosophy and musings. I may not have much affection for Nahmi, Brice, Zirchhoff, Argon, or Pester, but they do what they need to in the plot, and are interesting and complex characters whose perspective and feelings you can fully understand. Not much more to say than that; they’re solid characters who play their role in this game exactly as they should.

The music in this game is decent, and at times reminds one faintly of Final Fantasy Tactics (as does the overall story, for that matter), in a way that is pleasant, but never overbearing--Children of Zodiarcs is still clearly its own entity, not borrowing so much as paying homage to its inspirations through its sound. The gameplay is, as I said, quite good--there’s a lot of factors in combat and combat preparation to consider, but ultimately, combat in CoZ is a satisfying mix of skill and luck, and 1 of the few battle systems based around cards and dice that I don’t hate more than I hate RPG battle systems in general. I sort of feel like this is what Crimson Shroud’s battle system should have been.

I’d also like to mention that this game’s got a great example of Indie polish. Some indie RPGs are basic and kind of unimpressive in look, feel, and know I like Celestian Tales 1 just fine, and recommend it to you as a good RPG, but at the same time, it has that look of an Indie RPG that is finished, but basic. Some RPGs, though, are like Dust: An Elysian Tail, or Bastion, in that they do definitely look like an Indie RPG, but one that’s been carefully polished to feel and look exactly the way it was envisioned, to be unquestionably its own, singular entity. Children of Zodiarcs belongs to that latter category--it’s got a visual aesthetic that’s glaring yet dark and subtly angry, simple in looks but in a carefully tailored way. And even if it doesn’t make a showing of it, the game pays attention to detail--I was impressed by the fact that this seemingly simple, direct gameplay system accounts for the surroundings and method of destruction in combat to the point that enemies actually, in their death animations, topple off raised standpoints, fall down stairs, get knocked against’s a very tiny and unimportant visual detail, but it’s telling when a game’s creators take the time to polish their product to even such a tiny level as that. To me, of course, Children of Zodiarcs would be exactly as solid and worthy an RPG even if none of these peripherals were any good, because its plot and characters are great...but the peripherals ARE good, and for those who do care about visuals, sound, and gameplay and whatnot, I think you’ll be pleased well enough with it.

Anyway, I think I’ll wrap things up with that. I go on too long in these rants already. Children of Zodiarcs is a poignant, well-crafted tale, and I recommend it, so long as you’re prepared for a game that punches your heart more often than warms it. This is an RPG that I’m proud to have helped make possible. Check it out!

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