It seems that over the past decade or two, there’s been a trend toward making complicated technologies simpler and more accessible to the general public. Building a PC has gone from a complicated enthusiast-only venture in the 90s to a nearly plug-and-play project anyone can do. Services exist that allow anyone to create their own websites without needing to know anything about HTML or CSS.
The same is true for gaming. If someone is interested in creating their own game, they don’t necessarily need to have any coding knowledge or experience, thanks to the existence of game creation engines like RPG Maker or Ren’py. Sure, you have the option of tweaking these engines with custom code, but anyone can sit down and slap themselves together a playable game with no experience using tools like these.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that what’s created in these engines will actually be good; you’re just provided the tools, what you do with them is up to you. On the other hand, the stigma that all games coming out of these engines are automatically bad seems to have fallen by the wayside recently, especially with well-regarded releases such as To The Moon or Doki Doki Literature Club being created in these engines.
The game we’re looking at today had its beginnings in a game creation engine, RPG Maker MV to be specific. After releasing a demo back in 2017 and receiving positive feedback, the developers moved to a new engine for their full release.
Developed by Moonana and published by Degica Games, Virgo Vs The Zodiac was released on December 12th, 2019, for PC.
At Any Cost
In Virgo Vs The Zodiac, each of the twelve astrological western zodiac signs are personified, and they each rule over their own kingdoms and realms in the galaxy. You take control of Virgo (of course), who is on a quest to collect the crowns of the other Zodiac to restore the galaxy to the “Golden Age,” and she will do so by any means necessary.
The storytelling here is a blend of oddball humor and dark moments. On the one hand, Virgo’s partner is a sentient gingerbread man that everyone wants to eat. On the other, Virgo just straight-up murders someone within the first hour of the game.
This dichotomy doesn’t often feel weird or out-of-place, though, as many of the players in this story are very morally grey. Virgo is definitely no heroine, focused single-mindedly on her quest of restoring this “Golden Age” and is willing to cut down friend and foe alike to do so. The other Zodiac aren’t particularly good people either, as your adventures to find them often lead you through their realms, showing you the various ways these leaders have oppressed their citizens.
While I can say I enjoyed the core plot and its ambiguous characters overall, some of the dialogue was occasionally difficult to follow. This game really dives into its zodiac theme, making use of astrological terms and jargon without defining any of it. Many of the Zodiac’s personalities are based around astrological qualities – Cardinal, Mutable, and Fixed Signs – without much of an explanation of what they are. Dialogue choices revolve around these qualities, with your choices determining the ending, so I would’ve appreciated if the game explained these details a bit more.
The Best Offense is a Good Defense
The core gameplay is done in a fairly traditional JRPG style, with a heavy focus on timed button inputs for attacking and defending. Nearly every action taken during battle pulls up some kind of quick time meter, meaning that fights here aren’t ones you’ll be able to sleep through.
There are a couple of unique twists, though. First, and key to this game, is a defense and counter system. Alongside each character’s normal HP is the “Purity Meter,” which increases when electing to defend for a turn, decreasing each turn thereafter. Purity acts as a shield that will be damaged before HP, and if a character is attacked while they have Purity, they are able to immediately counter-attack. The trick, though, is that enemies can guard, gain Purity, and counter your attacks as well.
Secondly is the implementation of the Zodiac astrological qualities mentioned earlier. Everything has one of the three qualities: attacks, defenses, core values of every character and monster, literally everything revolves around the Zodiac qualities. The qualities work in a rock-paper-scissors style system, with each being strong to one and weak to another.
Luckily, though, they’re color-coded for your convenience. Characters’ and enemies’ core quality and equipment quality can be seen just by the color of their respective sprites.
This balance of defending, maintaining Purity, and counter-attacking, while using Zodiac qualities to your advantage quickly becomes the core of Virgo Vs The Zodiac‘s battle system. Just trying to brute force your way through each battle just plain does not work in the long run.
With all of these systems in play, I can say that I never got bored with the core gameplay here. Every battle requires its own strategy, and even fights against what appear to be trash mobs are potentially deadly if you don’t focus. Also, surprisingly, despite the defensive gameplay focus, battles never felt like they dragged on for too long.
Also of note, there are no random battles in Virgo Vs The Zodiac, nor are there random trash fights wandering on screen for you to engage. Rather, every single fight in the game is scripted. There are some fights you can elect to ignore, but every battle feels built for a purpose, to test your strategies rather than your raw stat numbers, and I greatly appreciate that this meant I never had to worry about grinding.
Speaking of stats, the one real nag I had about the gameplay here was in its equipment system. Each of your eventual three characters can equip eight weapons: four basic attacks and four counter-attacks. Every weapon adjusts your stats differently. Every weapon has its own perks and drawbacks (some may poison enemies, others can steal health from them, or maybe even set you on fire if you use them). Every weapon has its own quick time mini-game when used.
In short, the equipment engine is just a sheer overload of choice. While, yes, if you dive in it does let you customize your characters to play the way you want, there’s just so many pros and cons to consider with each piece of equipment that it becomes overwhelming. There were points where I felt like I was spending more time considering and comparing my equipment than actually progressing through the game.
Who Need Anti-Aliasing?
Virgo Vs The Zodiac is designed with a pixel artstyle, and an incredibly attractive one at that. The sprites have wonderful detail, which becomes important to the gameplay as their designs indicate their Zodiac qualities. Animations are surprisingly fluid and detailed as well.
Character portraits during dialogue, though, are somewhat hit-or-miss. Done in an anime style, some look great, while others just feel off. It’s hard to explain why though, as I can’t really put my finger on it. It’s like some designs were rushed while others had much more time put into them.
The soundtrack is completely electronic, almost MIDI-like at moments. While much of the music here fits the aesthetic of the game well, I can’t say that it matched my personal tastes well. One point in its favor, though, is in variety, what with there being over 60 tracks in the game.
Overall, Virgo Vs The Zodiac is a fun and occasionally intriguing story with an addictively fun battle system, that suffers from some bloat here and there. I can appreciate how deep the writers went with the game’s astrological themes, but neglecting to define much of its jargon made some moments difficult to follow. The equipment system, while allowing for some extensive customization of your party, comes across as overwhelming in the number of factors you have to consider for each item.
Despite those issues, though, Virgo Vs The Zodiac is still a solid experience, and a great JRPG that just popped up out of nowhere at the end of the year. If you’re looking for something to play through during the holidays, this is a title definitely worth considering.
Review copy provided by Degica Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.