Before getting my hands on Zodiac, I had never played a lengthily developed title on an iOS device. For me, an iPad has always been a thing of work, never really having considered it as a substantial gaming platform. However, my eyes were opened to the power of Apple’s tablet as well as the potential for developers as I played through an alpha version of Zodiac: the free-to-play mobile RPG title from Kobojo.
Zodiac presents a beautifully hand-drawn and animated 2D world that joins the hands of legendary Japanese RPG creators and European game developers to create a pristine and immersive game of combat and adventure. On the iPad’s retina display, Zodiac’s graphical proficiency is astounding: the environments are masterfully designed and constructed to create a truly unique world, populated with a vast array of developed playable characters and imaginative beasts of physical and elemental strength. Zodiac also runs effortlessly on iPhone, with the team working around the limitations of a small screen by designing a minimal user interface, allowing for less clutter and more beauty on screen.
Navigation comes through the form of touching the screen in whichever direction you wish to travel – your griffin and mounted character swiftly following your fingertip. This method of control feels fresh, especially to regular console gamer, and opens up the title to platforms other than mobile devices such as the PlayStation Vita.
Combat in Zodiac is turn-based with Kobojo’s own twist. With the order of attacks changing based on cause and effect, as well as allowing for attacks on multiple enemies at once. Battle effects are also present such as burning, poisoning, confusion (etc), resulting in a more dynamic combat system. Despite feeling a bit slow at points, combat was a generally rewarding and entertaining experience – it’s ample in difficulty and fair in its challenge to the player. Bosses and mini-bosses were a stand-out in the demo, each one being utterly unique in design and skilfully animated for fluid movement on-screen.
Written by the Kazushige Nojima, the creative mind behind the plots of several Final Fantasy installments, Zodiac can certainly be considered a story-driven affair. Described as 60% science-fiction/steampunk and 40% Asian high fantasy, the plot of Zodiac is told from the perspective of adult characters with the wish to take away a lot of the “teen angst” found within some of the Final Fantasy titles. RPG fans will appreciate the betrayal, deaths and plot twists which have become staples of the genre, as well as the fully animated cutscenes and intervals of “party chat” to aid in character building and relationship formation. The story mode will apparently take around 10-12 hours to complete, but that’s without fully exploring all areas and not taking into consideration the expansion packs which are planned to be released annually.
It’s important to note that Zodiac will be free-to-play when it lands on iOS devices in the later half of this year. The desire for Kobojo was to create a game which was open to all players, with the option to purchase material items such as consumables, weapons, etc. During the introductory presentation, it was said that the entirety of content at release will make up less than half of the total content planned to be introduced via free monthly updates as well as the paid expansion packs.
It feels safe to say the future is looking bright for Zodiac. The sheer talent behind its development, based in both the East and West have provided the basis for an addictive RPG, not to mention the huge support they’ve had from Apple and the attention attracted from it’s showings at the Tokyo Game Show and Games Developer Conference. I’ll be keeping my eye well-trained on Kobojo as they charge into the mobile and mid-core market, with their beautiful title expected to take centre stage later this year when it’s released on iOS devices worldwide. Watch this space.
Make sure to check out my interview with Kobojo’s CEO, Mario Rizzo, as he discusses the creation and development of Zodiac as well as the trials and tribulations the studio have faced while cultivating their foray into the mobile market.