IMPRESSIONS: Children of Zodiarcs on Switch

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

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I’ve been a fan of Children of Zodiarcs since I demoed it what feels like forever ago, but was actually just a few years back. Back when I played it, Zodiarcs was just for PS4, and I thought I would never get a chance to play it on my Switch. Sure, it was reviewed on the oprainfall site, but not by myself. Just when I had about given up hope of a Nintendo port, I stumbled upon an announcement in the eShop, and was utterly delighted! And thanks to the fine folks at Cardboard Utopia, I managed to secure a review copy. And while I don’t want to rehash too much of what was already covered, I will give my impressions of how this tactical RPG played on the Nintendo Switch.

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First off, I largely agree with the points made by Henry in oprainfall’s review of Zodiarcs. That said, I want to expand on some things. Though I agree that the plot isn’t the strongest point in Children of Zodiarcs, it’s still just mysterious enough to be compelling. You get little glimpses of the world bit by bit as Nahmi and crew pull off brazen heists and avoid getting caught by the long arm of the law. The story focuses a ton on poor versus wealthy, which is a concept that feels especially timely these days. Either you have money and live in the lap of luxury, or have none and are thrown away, to make your life from scraps in the slums. My biggest issue is that the story makes the cardinal sin of telling instead of showing. I wish we got cutscenes illustrating the disparity between the two classes instead of just being told about it. It still works, but it packs less emotional punch. Thankfully, Children of Zodiarcs has really engaging and quirky characters, and they go a long way to alleviating my complaints. But you’re probably not just playing Children of Zodiarcs for the plot, cause its strongest point is the gameplay.

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After demoing the game, I compared it to a mixture of Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem. Though that’s still largely true, I feel it’s a disservice. Reason being, Children of Zodiarcs has a very unique and delightful combat system, and I don’t want to imply it’s borrowing too heavily from those classic series. It’s very easy to pick up, hard to master, and I loved learning the nuances of it. Every ability is a card, chosen from a deck you curate for each character. When you attack, you roll dice, which affects the power and utility of that ability. Maybe you’ll power up the base power, heal yourself slightly or unlock an optional effect. Maybe you’ll roll a cursed dice which makes your ability less effective. There’s a lot of complexity but it’s brought together very seamlessly. I only had some confusion regarding dice levels and which dice are used for attacks, but even that was made pretty clear after I talked with the devs. As you level up, you’ll unlock space to equip additional dice, and the more you have, the more chances you’ll have to make your rolls count. You can even spend time crafting new dice, modifying tiles on equipped dice by scrapping unwanted dice. As for dice level, it just affects the upper limit for the bonus modifiers on the dice.

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I really, really enjoy the combat in Children of Zodiarcs. It’s just complex enough to provide a meaty challenge without feeling unfair. Each character has a distinct style, though you have some leeway by modifying their decks. Nahmi is a berserker thief, and she can focus on offensive abilities or be more sneaky. Or take Brice, the vampiric mage. She can focus on discarding enemy cards or go all out and reap souls with powerful magic. Keep in mind I played on the normal difficulty, where you can grind to out-level foes. You’re also able to take on random encounters to help boost your team, which is very helpful early on. There’s also a harder difficulty, where your levels are always the same as your foes, and frankly I’m not sure I could handle that much difficulty. Thankfully, even on normal it’s a sufficient challenge. Sure, there could be more enemy variety, but there’s enough here to keep things interesting. And if you ever get complacent, just remember even the lowliest enemy can wipe you out if you’re not careful. Thankfully I discovered the mid battle saves, which were a godsend on the harder battles I’ve faced. They stopped me having to reload from the start screen whenever I screwed up, which is wonderful. Cause even the strongest members of your team isn’t meaty enough to take on a unrelenting scrum of foes.

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Though I don’t want to argue with our site’s review of the game, there’s some things that require a bit more nuance. There was brief mention of side quests, and how they use characters that aren’t part of your main team. While that’s certainly true, and while it’s a shame you cannot modify the decks of these characters, there’s one key detail that was left out. One of those characters is Reize from Shovel Knight! Yes, the young hero with boomerangs is a regular part of those side missions, and I loved that about Children of Zodiarcs. I don’t want to go into too much more detail about his partners, other than to say it’s a very motley crew. So much so that I’m as invested in how those side mission stories play out as I am the main story.

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It’s true that the Switch version of Children of Zodiarcs isn’t much different from the other versions. However it does contain post-release patches such as a speed up feature (which I use all the time in combat) and no-grind mode. I’m also happy to relate that it plays really well on Nintendo Switch. I played it solely in handheld mode, and found it ran smoothly and only encountered one small glitch. During one battle the display of my attack cards were so big I couldn’t read the screen properly, but thankfully it only lasted for a short time and then seemingly fixed itself. Other than that, the game has played very well with minor load times. Though I was a bit irritated with the symbol size on cards, especially regarding Xero’s various attacks. Not a game changer, but it could use a bit more polish.

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I’m very happy that I finally got a chance to really dive deep into Children of Zodiarcs. While I haven’t beaten it yet, I have played long enough to justify my early impressions of the game. It might not be the deepest plot or the longest adventure, but it’s a great ride. It’s easy to pick up, has an accessible UI and is loads of fun to play. I’m impressed with Cardboard Utopia, and cannot wait to see what their next project might be. Hopefully it’ll even be a return to the world of this game, cause I have a feeling there’s more stories to be told here. If you enjoy tactical RPGs and prefer playing on your Nintendo Switch, you absolutely need to check out Children of Zodiarcs.

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.