We were given access to a preview build of the upcoming strategy-RPG, Children of Zodiarcs, a game that adds a few twists to the familiar turn-based tactical tile action seen in games such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem and The Banner Saga.
Children of the Zodiarcs is set in a world that's a reminder of the value of Star Trek's prime directive of non-interference. You see, a thousand years ago this world was visited by beings referred to as Heralds, who gifted the people the power of the Zodiarcs. Extremely powerful artefacts. This brought on a golden age, but alas, as you might have expected, it didn't last. Instead, war ensued, and the civilisation was lost. A new civilisation has sprung up from the ashes, and now these people have begun to discover the power of the Zodiarcs for themselves. As the player, you're part of a crew of thieves trying to steal these artefacts from the nobility who horde them for themselves.
There is something about Children of Zodiarcs that reminds us of Final Fantasy VII. It may be the perspective, the sparse polygon count, or perhaps elements of the design itself, but this game certainly harkens back to RPG greats of yesteryear. There is the familiar theme of an upper class living a life of luxury, while the rest are forced to live out their lives in squalor. And there is a dash of Oliver Twist thrown in there for good measure.
The narrative is told through text both in between missions and during them. It's not overly immersive, and it's not voice acted, so it's a little difficult to really connect to the young thieves you're managing. Some of the dialogue is a bit silly and reminds us of the character specific banter in recent Fire Emblem titles (although there is nowhere near as much of it).
Instead of relying on, say, the weapon triangle of Fire Emblem, Children of Zodiarcs features a card system whereby each character takes a deck of cards into combat. You start each map with five cards on hand, and you can have a total of seven, but hand management revolves more around not running out of cards than anything else in our experience. Cards have primary effects but can also trigger secondary effects such as granting an extra action. This, in turn, is determined by the roll of a set of dice (you literary roll the dice and the game uses a bit of physics as they roll around and hit each other), you'll equip as many as six sets of dice and these will allow you do deal extra damage, heal a bit, or draw an extra card. It's a very elaborate system and there is an element of chance here that will no doubt frustrate some, while others will embrace the unpredictability.
There is no permadeath to consider here, but if you lose a character you're likely going to struggle as much of the tactics revolve around crowd control and making sure you never face too many enemies who can all attack you during one round. You're quite fragile in that sense (you can't take much damage), and making sure you're positioned so that the enemy can't just focus on one of your group, while at the same time making sure their attacks are capable of dealing damage to multiple tiles don't come into effect. As such it's a balancing act of not letting your characters be isolated, but also them leaving them grouped in a way where the enemies can deal damage to multiple units. The enemies are governed by the same system of cards and dice, but you're unaware of what they've got on hand. As you learn more about the different enemies, their potential hand is something you need to consider as well.
You move through a world map with linear missions, and there are also skirmishes that allow you to level up a bit or unlock further sets of dice. It is quite important to make sure you equip your best cards and dice, so deck building as well as crafting dice soon become a key factor in your success.
Overall, we were left impressed after spending a few hours with Children of Zodiarcs. The story hopefully kicks into gear as we continue on, but there is certainly enough interesting gameplay mechanics here to keep us entertained as we wait for the story to excel. The game is due out this summer on Steam and PS4.