Zodiac Preview

I opened up my eyes, I saw the sign.

It's a miracle that Zodiac even exists. I mean, let's go through the game description slowly. Zodiac is a console-styed JRPG… that's turn-based… and made for Vita and iOS platforms… and developed in collaboration with Japanese video game luminaries like composer Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics) and writer Kazushige Nojima (Final Fantasy VII). [EDIT: Artist George Kamitani (Muramasa: The Demon Blade) actually isn't a part of the team, despite the art looking very similar to Kamitani's work.]. Any two of those things would be rare enough, but all of those together? It's beyond impossible, and yet here we are.

Beginning with a gorgeous cinematic that wouldn't look out of place from Final Fantasy Tactics, the demo I previewed behind closed doors at GDC 2015 showed off the year and a half of development by Kobojo, a relatively unknown development team based in Dundee, Scotland who specialty is mobile games. That is, until CEO Mario Rizzo realized that the team's expertise could be better suited for an ambitious project like Zodiac. As you might expect, getting the aforementioned developers on board was a tough sell at first, particularly because they were more surprised than anything else that a European studio would even be interested in making a full-fledged JRPG given the genre's declining interest in Japan. However, it would seem that the Zodiac has impressed them (and other Japanese developers who have yet to be named) enough to put their names on it.

The details behind the backstory of Zodiac are still vague at the moment, but your party will be roaming beautifully-drawn 2D landscapes either on foot or while riding a panther-like gryphon. To answer what is probably one of your first questions about the name Zodiac, It would seem that the game's fantastical world is governed by twelve gods each representing the familiar dozen of astrological signs. It's likely that you'll need to either gather the power from all the gods or free them from corruption, but that's just conjecture.

Zodiac also refers to the job-based class system that rotates around twelve basic roles represented by the familiar dozen of astrological signs, whether that's a potion-wielding alchemist, a rogue, or a warrior. Your character, created from scratch, has the ability to switch between these classes at will, reminiscent of the protagonists in the Persona series, and earning enough levels in a certain class or a combination of them will unlock even more classes. (So, yes, it's the job system from Final Fantasy.) Many players will likely have their character level up in very specific classes, but it's quite possible to grind enough to maximize every class and be prepared for pretty much every situation.

That said, your character only fills one of the three spots in the party system, which smartly incorporates asynchronous multiplayer elements. (They're also planning synchronous multiplayer elements The second character in your party is selected from a rotation of various fixed NPCs in the story, and can be changed out at checkpoints strewn throughout the 2D map. The last character offers even more options, giving you the ability to pick among all of the avatars created by your friends and other players. Every player selects a primary class for their created character, which in turn becomes an avatar that other players can use in battle. Better yet, your avatar earns experience whenever it's used in battle by other players.

Combat revolves around your standard turn-based affair, though every character begins battle at max health to lessen the difficulty for less experienced players. However, there will be three difficulty levels and defeating monsters on the higher settings have better drop tables, much like in The World Ends With You. Character abilities don't use magic points but do require a cooldown timer before they can be used again. Choosing the right actions and minding the turn order are key.

Zodiac's pricing model is not yet been finalized given that it could range from free-to-play on mobile platforms to one-time purchases on Vita (and other platforms that remain unannounced). There's even talk of planning content out episodically, though it's not certain whether each piece will cost money to purchase or if they will be free updates so long as you have paid the game in full at the start. At any rate, it has that touch of Valkyrie Profile and Dragon's Crown that should get any JRPG fan extremely excited.