Zodiac Brings Console-Style RPG Goodness to iOS and PS Vita

An independent studio Kobojo has brought in famous Final Fantasy talent to create Zodiac for iOS and PS Vita.

Kobojo may be independent, but they’ve recruited top talent to help develop the game. Kazushige Nojima – scenario writer of Final Fantasy VII – and Hitoshi Sakimoto – composer of Final Fantasy Tactics – have lent their talent to Zodiac and there are more famous faces to be announced. Of course, Kobojo employees have come from impressive backgrounds as well with many having worked on Everquest and Grand Theft Auto.

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I was able to sit down with some of the team members to check out the Kobojo the first time it was shown off North America. What struck me immediately was how beautiful the game looked running on an iPad. The game uses a 2D, hand-painted art-style that is all but extinct outside of Japan in the entertainment industry. While Zodiac does feature an original soundtrack, there is no voice acting. This might change between now and release, but for now don’t expect to hear your characters speak.

Zodiac was shown on an iPad and not a PS Vita. The lack of buttons on an iPad turned out to not be a problem, as the user interface has been specifically designed for touch devices. You’re always atop your Griffin in the open-world, controlled by pressing and holding down on the screen. Along the way you’ll notice purple clouds, which initiate enemy encounters when touched.

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The battle system is traditional: a party of three vs. a monster party. Character actions are displayed as giant bubbles that you tap, and then tap on an enemy to use. It’s a rather intuitive interface that will likely lend itself well to traditional controls, such as on the PS Vita. My only gripe is that, as of this build, there are no action descriptors. I had no idea what each action did unless Kobojo told me. This will be remedied for the game’s release, as the team just didn’t have enough time to add the descriptors for the current build.

An issue that any mobile and handheld developer has to deal with is device battery life. The PS Vita is notorious for having a weak battery and even iOS users will see their battery vanish when playing graphically intensive games. There’s also the fact that most people playing on these types of devices don’t want to sink hours into each play session and JRPG battles tend to last a while. Kobojo is tackling each issue head-on. In terms of battery, Zodiac utilizes minimal effects and its 2D art style is hardly a battery sucker. In terms of each play session, Kobojo is limiting enemy encounters to 3-5 minutes. Boss encounters, however, could last anywhere between 15-20 minutes.

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Zodiac is experimenting with multiplayer. The final release will allow players to send your customized character to join a friend’s party and even allow two players to play through the game together. Unfortunately, Kobojo did not have any servers set up to show off the feature.

Zodiac is set to release on PS Vita and iOS, but more platforms are in consideration, with the team already deep in talks with Sony about bringing the game to PS4. Reception for Zodiac in Japan has been fantastic and the team wants to get it on as many platforms as possible.

There’s a lot of potential here, especially since JRPGs specifically designed for PS Vita and iOS are rare. The game isn’t done, and features still need to be added, but JRPG fans have something to look forward to. Zodiac will launch later this year on the Apple App Store and the PlayStation Store with no retail release planned. A beta for iOS kicks off sometime in the near future.