We've seen turn-based strategy games and card-based RPG battle systems but here's a game that combines both. Children of Zodiarcs is a promising love letter to classic SRPGs with a few tricks up its sleeve so deal the cards, roll the dice, and let's check it out!
Children of Zodiarcs should feel right at home for anyone who has ever picked up an SRPG such as Vandal Hearts or XCOM. You play as a ragtag group of orphans who eventually go on an adventure grander than they ever thought possible. As they uncover the mysteries of their land, they'll regularly find themselves in battle. These battles are played like your typical grid-based SRPG where all of your allies take their turns then the enemies have their fun. The battle maps are usually small which creates more intimate encounters than other games in the genre. Where it gets interesting is its use of cards and dice. Cards act as a character's abilities. Upon executing one, you roll dice that determine the ability's outcome. You may do more damage, heal a bit, or have the opportunity to draw more cards or take another turn. In the end, the card-based combat blends with the nostalgic gameplay rather well to pave the way for some engaging encounters.
The world of Children of Zodiarcs takes place primarily in a city. As a result, many of the battles occur within streets surrounded by buildings or inside of cramped structures. I found this to be quite irritating even after playing for hours because it's hard to tell if an ally or enemy is hiding in a corner. Also, the character sprites don't differ much from each other which creates a sense of ambiguity. I wish that allies had a blue icon underneath them and enemies had red ones so you could distinguish them easier. On the plus side, the character artwork is well done and the audio is absolutely fantastic. The orchestral score is impressively captivating and the sound effects make combat feel much more impactful than most of its genre contemporaries. It's definitely one great-sounding game.
Between battles, you can manage your party via an intuitive menu system. Although characters don't have equipment to configure or complex skill trees to master, the set of available options is rather interesting. For starters, the most important part of character growth is levelling up which increases party members' base stats and grants them additional cards, dice, and dice slots. Anyway, using the Deck Builder allows you to select which cards will be in play for each character. Optimizing this doesn't take long but it's worth checking out between battles. Next, Dice Equip lets you equip which dice to use and Dice Crafter gives you the opportunity to recycle old dice to improve new ones. Configuring the dice is important as it allows you to minimize negative results and maximize positive ones.
Even with this intriguing party customization system, there's no avoiding having to grind in Children of Zodiarcs. This is because there are difficulty spikes that can jump so high that you may need to play about a dozen skirmishes before you can even have a chance. The developers could have implemented this tough degree of challenge to make up for the fact that the campaign is incredibly short. With only 20 battles to master, you sure don't get to explore the world of Children of Zodiarcs much. As a result, the entire game ends up feeling all too brief and unvaried. That being said, you can always try to master side missions and elite skirmishes and grind until your party is super-strong but that all depends on if you don't find that sort of extra content repetitive like I do.
Children of Zodiarcs is a noble effort at a fresh take on classic turn-based SRPGs. Although it doesn't quite live up to many of its genre predecessors, there is a solid enough foundation to satisfy strategy RPG fans looking for a new game to add to their collection.
- + Card-based combat combines well with the intimate turn-based strategy battles
- + Spot-on audio effects and great music
- + Interesting party customization options
- - Very short and mostly unvaried campaign
- - Visuals can be ambiguous and crowded
- - Difficulty spikes force you to grind