As influential as the Greek Zodiac is to Western culture, it’s surprising we have so few games that draw upon the rich lore of the stars. Developer Moonana’s Virgo Versus the Zodiac unapologetically uses the celestial signs as a foundation to build a beautiful world steeped in symbolism, waiting to be explored and destroyed.
Virgo Versus the Zodiac’s setting is broken into regions where each goddess represents a Zodiac of the respective realm. Each of these realms is a reflection of common traits associated with that sign, both positive and negative. Players take control of Virgo, who only focuses on the negatives of each realm and sets out to conquer them all. Along with your gingerbread companion and a few other followers, you cut through hordes of other Zodiac’s devotees before attempting to force each goddess to bow before you and relinquish their crown. Virgo’s ambition, once all the crowns are gathered, is to become the supreme leader of all and usher the world into a new Golden Age.
While this might seem like you’re merely playing as a villain, it’s a bit more complicated than that. There is no simple good or wrong Zodiac, which in turn, made all the characters infinitely more interesting. While I didn’t necessarily agree with all the characters and their motives, I could see why each made the choices they did. This also applies to believers of each realm. Typically they blindly follow their Goddess, but by no means does that make what they’re doing wrong or worthy of punishment. This was always on my mind as I purged each town of what Virgo refers to as “heretics.”
Virgo does have some flexibility with her moral decisions, as you are allowed to show mercy to some enemies, and do some kindly acts along your journey. Depending on your choices, you can alter the ending of the game.
Fans of Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga will be pretty familiar with Virgo’s battle mechanics. Battling is turn-based, with your party having four offensive and defensive options. Melee is your standard attack, which only harms enemies closest to you. “Ranged” attacks can reach any enemy on the screen. “Area” damages all opponents, and “Guard” defends your player against enemy attacks.
I found the guard mechanic the most interesting and useful out of the four. Your guard gauge is next to your life meter; as long as this guard gauge is present, you will not take damage. If you are attacked while guarding, you also have an opportunity to counter. Counters give you particular offensive and defensive chances you previously didn’t have. Defending is a vital part of the battle system and, if neglected, could mean quick defeat.
If you are are a habitual button tapper during most RPG battles, you are in for a rude awakening with Virgo Versus the Zodiac. Battling requires quick response and timing. When an enemy attacks, you have an opportunity to deflect a good portion of the attack if you time a quick time event just right. On the other hand, if you wait too long, you can miss the opportunity entirely and get some critical damage. The same applies to your team’s effectiveness offensively.
Each fighter in your party also has a dedicated action button that will only work for them and their time-sensitive moves. This was a little bit of a learning curve, but I liked it and knew whenever I messed up, the fault was entirely my own. There is a setting choice for both the difficulty and speed of quick-time events. Be warned; If you set anything higher than the lowest settings, you are in for quite a challenge.
Virgo Versus the Zodiac features a paper, rock, scissor mechanic in the form of “ambition,” “versatility,” and “patience.” There are symbols for each, but I recognized them more by their color-coding. That being said, I always forgot what was effective against what. Each weapon and gear you acquire has one of these elements, which can lead to a lot of customization. You can heal your team with “consumables” like tea, coffee, and lemonade.
Each consumable raises one of the three attributes. It’s a reasonably complex system, but even without understanding 100 percent of the intricacies, it’s easy enough to understand the basics to get by. You also have the choice of forgoing some battles as there are no random encounters, but I never passed an opportunity to fight. The battling is super enjoyable and never once felt old.
Virgo Versus the Zodiac has gorgeous art direction, with sleek, simplified pixel art and pretty pastel colors. Each Zodiac is presented with a cute unique design fitting of the Goddess. Characters in each realm are whimsical and usually have a goofy thing to say to the highly aggressive Virgo. Even random objects around you may be more than they appear. I consistently found myself examining and clicking on everything I could to explore more of this weird world. So much of this cutesy presentation makes some abruptly dark moments even more surprising and hits harder because of it.
Adding to this mood is the stunning soundtrack with moody dark synth music. Along with this creepy undercurrent, there are some surreal and trippy moments scattered throughout. As often as characters are silly, others are menacingly cryptic and off-putting.
This ambiguity and mystery motivated me to find out as many answers as I could. Sometimes the uncertainty left me feeling a little confused plot-wise but never enough that I felt overwhelming clueless. I’m sure people who are familiar with astrological signs and meanings will pick up on little references and deeper meanings that went entirely over my head. Regardless of one’s familiarity with the zodiac signs, anyone could jump in and enjoy.
Virgo Versus the Zodiac tells a compelling story with tight, fast-paced combat and presents it in a wonderfully unusual and emotional package. Sure, you might be playing as a villain, but the intentions are there to bring about a better age to this fantastical world.
Even though the plot can be a bit cryptic, Virgo Versus the Zodiac’s encapsulating art direction and the engaging battle system was enough to hold my attention through this unique adventure. No matter your sign, there is something here that everyone can appreciate.
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