Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) are inherently not ideal for mobile platforms. They often feature deep, engrossing stories and combat that requires careful thought. When you’re trying to play a game on the go, the above game description just doesn’t work on a smartphone.
This is where Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey comes into play. While the game is far from perfect, and its bite-sized, episodic downloadable content model might turn some off, Kobojo has accomplished something I thought was impossible: the studio has successfully translated the turn-based RPG to mobile in a way that makes sense.
Growing up, JRPGs were one of my favourite genres. Games like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger captured my imagination, but it has been a long time since a JRPG – especially after I was scorned by Final Fantasy XIII – has sunk its teeth into me.
While I’m only a few hours into Zodiac, I have a feeling it might be the first game in the genre to catch my attention in years.
On the visual side of things Zodiac is unfortunately hit or miss. At times the game is stunningly beautiful, especially when it comes to its vibrant, detailed environments. But the game’s character design feels strange and overly stylized, which is disappointing given the impressive art direction featured in Zodiac’s anime style cut scenes.
The game’s controls and gameplay are relatively simple and adopt a stripped back approach to the traditional Japanese role-playing genre. Moving your character around is accomplished by tapping on the screen and the same goes for interacting with characters and other objects. Including an on-screen gamepad is an approach mobile RPGs (Square Enix’s generally not very good Final Fantasy mobile ports for example) take to navigation, so it’s refreshing to see a role-playing game adopt a control scheme that makes sense.
Zodiac’s combat is turn-based and streamlined. Instead of taking the text-based command approach most JRPGs feature, Zodiac has the player tapping and dragging icons located beside their character, and then dropping them on their foes. Each of these icons represents a different attack and some have special effects, such as raising your character’s defense or causing additional damage. Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey’s character upgrade system is streamlined and very simple to follow, yet still offers enough depth to satisfy hardcore JRPG fans.
The only thing missing from Orcanon Odyssey is one of my favourite aspects of the genre – exploration. The game amounts to a never ending grind of progressively difficult battles. But in the Zodiac’s defense, the adventure aspects of role-playing games don’t work very well on mobile, so in some respects, this is a trade-off that makes sense. Breaking the game into smaller missions that can be completed in a few minutes is a significant part of what makes the game work on mobile.
It’s also important to note that the writer of Final Fantasy VII, Kazushige Nojimia, and the composer of Final Fantasy Tactics, Hitoshi Sakimoto, have both been heavily involved in the Zodiac’s development, which bodes well given how influential those particular two titles are in terms of the history of JRPGs.
Zodiac is far from perfect, but if you’re looking for a classic Japanese role-playing game fix on your iOS device, the game is one of the best available right now on mobile.
Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey is available on the iOS App Store for $5.79. Zodiac is coming to the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita at some point in 2016. It’s unclear if Kobojo ever plans to bring the game to Android. Two more similarly priced episodes of Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey are planned for release at some point in the near future.