When I first saw the Kickstarter for Children of the Zodiarcs I felt a mixture of excitement and skepticism. Who wouldn’t be after the dumpster fire the Unsung Story Kickstarter has been.
I know. Different companies. Different campaigns.
Did I mention I was also a backer of Might No. 9? At least we finally got that one, but look at the shape it came out in…
Well, no need to fear any longer. Cardboard Utopia delivered on their promise, releasing Children of the Zodiarcs with Square-Enix as their publisher. For those unfamiliar with the title, it’s a tactical RPG with deck building and dice crafting elements. It releases on Steam on July 18th and I’ve been lucky enough to have a press copy for a little over a month to put the game through its paces.
Children of the Zodiarcs plays very similarly to other tactical RPGs. You have a team of characters, each with their own special abilities, on a gridded map. Battles are turn based, the facing of your characters matters, and the elevation of your character, as well as if they’re attacking someone from the front, side, or back, affects the damage you do. Some maps require you to defeat all enemies to proceed, while others have objectives to meet, or just require you to survive a set number of rounds. There’s a world map with battles that move the story forward, open battles to help you grind, and tons of secrets and side quests to keep even fans of Final Fantasy Tactics happy.
Where the game differs from most tactical RPGs is the card and dice mechanics. Instead of a set list of actions, or a learnable set of abilities, each character has a deck of cards that dictate what they can do. Each turn you’ll have a hand of cards to choose from, or you can take a turn to draw two more cards to your hand up to a max of 7. There’s no magic points, job points, casting times, etc… You can play a card from your hand and it instantly resolves.
On top of the card mechanic is a dice mechanic that replaces your standard “% chance to hit.” For every card that’s played you roll a set of dice to determine the card’s outcome. There are symbols for hit, defense, magic, special abilities, etc… The more of a symbol you roll, the better the effect. This might seem a bit random, but there’s more. There’s also a dice crafting mechanism to the game.
As you level up, win battles, etc… you’ll earn new cards, level up current cards, earn new die sets, and unlock dice slots for your characters. The cards are utilized in an in-game deck builder so you can customize your character’s actions based on the cards they have. The dice crafting mechanism is a bit different. The more dice slots you have unlocked, the more die sets you can hold. Different sets of dice have different chances of rolling certain symbols. The higher the set level, the better chance of a positive outcome. The more dice slots a character has, the more dice sets they can hold for varied results. You’ll even get a chance in the game to create your own fully custom dice.
Children of the Zodiarcs combines wonderfully colorful and detailed 3D characters and environments with wonderfully illustrated character portraits, world maps, and 2D cutscenes. The voice acting is top notch and everything is accented with a soundtrack worthy of listening to on its own. The whole package feels like a lot of care was put into every detail.
Let’s get straight to business right off the bat. Children of the Zodiarcs is amazing, and one of the best tactical RPGs in a long time. It combines a lot of what has made its predecessors successful with new and fresh mechanics that actually add to the gameplay rather than feel tacked on for the sake of being a gimmick. The story is engaging with characters that you grow to love/hate as you follow them throughout the progression of the game.
The card and dice mechanics, while seemingly a bit random at first, add a level of depth and customization to the game that’s both satisfying and rewarding. Choosing the right cards for the right situation and pairing them with the best die sets to maximize their effectiveness feels like a game in itself.
A Steam key for Children of the Zodiarcs was provided free for review by Square Enix.