Virgo Versus the Zodiac Review
Virgo Versus The Zodiac is a sci-fantasy JRPG that borrows more than a few pages from the Mario RPG games. Set in an alt-Milky Way with anthropomorphized stars and zodiac signs, the premise is as bizarre as it is unique. As Virgo, you must battle the other Zodiacs (and their minions) to seize their crowns and restore the Golden Age.
The game begins by throwing you into the fray: you and your companion are already in Capricorn’s realm, there to steal both her blueprints and crown. For the first few hours the game never quite tells you why you’re doing what you’re doing. Instead, it strings you along with bits of lore, painting a fuzzy picture that gets clearer the further you go.
Fate Is Upon Us
The narrative loops in similar fashion throughout most of the game. Virgo and Ginger (as well as her other companions) must invade the realms of different Zodiac signs. These realms usually embody the ‘main’ characteristics you’d expect from the different signs: Virgo is obsessed with organization, Capricorn is ambitious and greedy, Taurus is lazy and gluttonous, etc. They display these characteristics in excess, as a vice rather than a virtue or something neutral. If you’re familiar with Persona 5’s palaces, the realms in Virgo Versus The Zodiac have a similar tone.
For those with even a passing interest in astrology, it is amusing to see the different Zodiac signs and their stars rendered in ‘human’-form. While Virgo’s quest is villainous in nature, it’s hard to sympathize with her enemies. After you complete a realm and return to your base, you can view memories related to the characters you saw. It’s a good way to show how Virgo related to them before her quest, and before the Zodiacs degenerated.
There are a handful of choices you can make throughout the game, such as deciding to kill or spare someone. These choices can impact your attributes and the outcome of the story, both in its ending and as you play it. You can’t always be certain about the consequences of your actions, though: at one point in the game I chose the option to spare someone’s life and it actually led to me killing them. If you are aiming for a specific ending or playstyle, this type of uncertainty can be frustrating. Even so, it’s a welcome addition to a genre that too often gives you zero agency over its story.
While the story kept me engaged until the end, it was the character interactions that I liked the most. Each character is almost a caricature of the traits they’re supposed to represent, and for the game’s universe, it works: from clingy, needy Ginger to the tsundere personality of Virgo, the character’s conversations were the game’s writing at its best. It manages to strike a nice balance of violence and whimsy. The only aspect of the writing that I didn’t much like was the excess of object interactions. Most of them are funny, but the amount of objects you can interact with slows the game down.
The different elements I mentioned before also play an important role in combat. There are twelve different qualities divided into three astrological groups: Cardinal, Mutable, and Fixed. Each of these fit into a sort of triangular, rock-paper-scissors system, where one type is effective against the other. You can tell what type of enemy you’re facing by their dominant color, although it’s not always easy to know whether they’re green or purple. This could be a bigger issue if you’re colorblind. With each piece of equipment embodying both an active skill and one of these groups, it’s important to keep a balanced loadout.
Beyond this direct effect on how much damage you deal to a certain type of enemy, there are also a number of related sub-stats. This is a JRPG in the fullest sense, with stats for your critical chance, speed, guard strength, and many others. It’s not a matter of simply using the right quality, though. Drawing from the Mario RPG series, the combat plays out in turns with QTE to decide your hits or misses.
This starts off relatively simple: press A before a gauge empties, preferably within the lighter section, and you’ll succeed. If you time it perfectly, you increase your damage or decrease the damage taken. By the second chapter, however, you’ll have several other types of QTE: mashing until a bar fills out, pressing a button as a bar passes through a section, doing the correct sequence of directional inputs, etc. Different skills and characters have different QTEs, and the variety is good at keeping you at attention as you fight. The game’s base difficulty provides a fair challenge, but those who find it too (or not enough) difficult or quick can change the settings accordingly. Being able to quickly restart battles soothes the difficulty, as you don’t need to waste time in case of failure.
Characters have two sets of abilities—purge and defend—which they use in different situations. When actively attacking, you can choose between your four purge skills. When an enemy attacks you while your guard is up, you can counter-attack with one of your defend skills. This also applies to your foes. It adds a fun back-and-forth to fighting, where you need to choose when to go full-out and when to hunker down and protect yourself.
The game features a linear leveling system, though there’s no choices involved and it’s just your character getting stronger. Aside from that, players can find, craft and improve dozens (hundreds?) of different pieces of gear. With each character being able to equip eight items (and a palette swap), managing this can quickly get overwhelming. Fortunately, gear in Virgo Versus the Zodiac functions as it does in Dark Souls. While some of it is better, they’re balanced around being of similar strength if at the same upgrade level. The game’s generous with its crafting materials, too, so you don’t need to worry about upgrading something and then not using it.
The constellations are aligned
Like any JRPG worth its mettle, Virgo Versus the Zodiac features plenty of side-content and minigames. Each realm has several characters you can help in some way. Aside from quest rewards, some of these will join you back on the Akasha. The Akasha, your base, gathers all these NPCs: there, they’ll sell you things or talk with you. The base gets livelier the further into the game you get, and it’s an interesting way to see things from the perspective of your enemies’ minions. While most of the mini-games are one-off things, for each realm there’s also a shoot ’em up section that’s surprisingly fleshed out. It’s not much difficult but it does offer a nice break from the usual gameplay.
Visually, the game is fine. The detailed pixel art is at its best in motion, when you’re going through the flow of combat. With over 60 tracks, the soundtrack does a good job of conveying the emotions of any given scenario. You can give it a listen here.
Throughout my 17h playthrough there were some moments of frustration. Other than what I’ve already cited, the game doesn’t communicate too well the points of no return inside a realm. Without an auto-save feature, you depend on manual saves, and as it doesn’t have a quicksave feature, you’re often stuck past points of no return. The QTEs sometimes don’t mesh well with the background, making it hard to know the correct prompt times. The balancing also suffers a bit as the game progresses, becoming easier as you get more gear and party members. These are mostly minor issues that didn’t impact my overall enjoyment of the game, but they were frustrating nonetheless.
The unconventional story, setting and characters really help set it apart from the many other JRPGs out there, as does its fresh take on turn-based combat. The quick and varied QTEs turned the usual slowness of turn-based combat into quick, reflexive action, and as I played it I often thought of how I wish other turn-based games would draw inspiration from Virgo Versus the Zodiac. Despite its minor flaws, there’s an impressive amount of polish and attention to detail here. At less than twenty hours, this is an easy game to recommend both to longtime JRPG fans and those who want to get to know the genre.
Virgo Versus the Zodiac can be found on Steam here.