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E3 2015: Kobojo’s Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey for iOS is perfect…for now

Sections: Conferences, E3, Features, Hands On / First Looks, iDevice Apps, iPad, iPad Air, iPad mini, iPhone, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, iPod touch

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One of the more encouraging things we saw at E3 2015 this past week was the number of iOS games that will not be freemium. RPGs, war sims, puzzle games…a surprising number of them are going to ask you for only one payment, then let you play unencumbered.

That won’t be the case with Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey, an incredible-looking game coming from Kobojo. It’s a JRPG from the creators of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Tactics.

Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey

We were able to spend quite a bit of time with the game at a post-show event, and I loved every second of it (once I figured out the turn-based battle system, anyway).

But then I received the wrong answer to an important question. It’ll be free to play, with micro-transactions, as that’s what’s popular in Japan.

Ooof.

I’m not opposed to micro-transactions in principal. They make sense in many casual games, and they can be done in a manner that is fair and non-intrusive. But with a game that has the pedigree of Zodiac and the gameplay and visuals of a console title, just the thought of in-app purchases immediately taints my perception of the game.

And that’s a shame, because nearly everything else is so right. I mean, look at this:

I played Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey on the iPad, and the visuals above are exactly what you’ll get. In that opening cinematic, those aren’t even the characters you’ll be controlling, and yet they’re still given that much care. That’s because the story is being told through these kind of cinematics (47 in all). So, there’s a new Queen; let’s go fight!

Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey

The latter half of the trailer shows the turn-based combat graphics, but they took out the selection system. When it’s a particular character’s turn to fight, a crescent of combat options will appear before him or her (or it). You drag that option overtop the person you want to attack (or buff, if it’s your own party), and that action is executed. You’ll quickly discover a strategy that best utilizes the skills of your diverse (and interchangeable) party, or you’ll lose. I’ll admit that my battles took much longer than they should have, but once I figure out what skills were effective against what enemies, I was able to pick up on the flow of combat.

Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey

As such, I’m as excited about Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey as I am about any game that came out of E3, but I’m still nervous about dealing with in-app purchases. In the half hour or so I spent with the game, I can’t see how they’ll work. I hope they’re not for armor or weapons required to advance, as that kills games like this; I’ll just stop playing. Maybe they’re more cosmetic, and that’ll be fine. I’d even be okay with paying to unlock new chapters, provided the total amount doesn’t exceed what would’ve been fair for a single up-front purchase to begin with. But in that case, just let me pay for the whole thing at once.

This is a conflict mobile game developers haven’t been able to settle. On one hand, I had a half dozen iOS game developers at E3 tell me with pride that their games are pay to play. On the other hand, developers such as Kobojo continue to embrace the IAP method, usually with some sort of vague apology. I’ve been told that microtransactions are what’s popular (and profitable) in Japan, so that comes over when those games head west. That wouldn’t explain Kobojo’s decision here, though, as they’re headquartered in Paris, France.

But listen, I can’t emphasize enough that Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey looks to be an absolutely outstanding game. RPG and turn-based strategy game fans should love it, and I would’ve stayed awake for the entire red-eye flight home from L.A. if the beta testing had already opened. Whatever IAP method Kobojo settles on, I hope they’re able to find one that doesn’t interfere with the gameplay or story, or that creates walls that gamers such as myself won’t bother hurdling. The odds are against them, and that would be a horrible disservice to the incredible talent they’ve teamed.

Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey is due later this year for iOS, Android, Vita and PS4. Why no Xbox support? Well, from what I’m told, it has something to do with their in-app purchase policy.

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