The thing is, these examples are not classed as role playing games, or ‘RPGs.’ No, RPGs fall into their own little genre identified by magic potions, stat points, levelling up and pointy ears/gigantic beards/scantily clad nymphs (delete as applicable). I'm going to be honest here and state that my experience with RPGs isn't as extensive as some other members of the Junkyard team, and I'm happy to admit that I've never finished Skies of Arcadia or Time Stalkers. The latter because it’s about as interesting as watching a group of pensioners play boules down the park on a Sunday morning.
Orion's Zia and the Goddesses of Magic was released at the beginning of September 2016 and is the latest new title to grace the Dreamcast, so let's take a look at what this curious little game is all about.
To reiterate everything I bleated about in the preceding paragraphs, the most refreshing thing about Zia is the very fact that it isn’t a shmup and it isn’t a puzzle game. Granted, we had the superb Leona’s Tricky Adventures a few months back, but the lion’s share of releases for the Dreamcast in recent times have squarely occupied the two mentioned genres. Not that I’m complaining, you understand; the vast majority of the post mortem releases have been of stellar quality, with puzzlers such as Wind and Water: Puzzle Battles and Fruit’Y scratching an itch; and shooters like Sturmwind putting most ‘official’ titles to shame. No, Zia is a true homage to the RPGs of yesteryear and the visual style instantly brings back memories of 16-bit games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and other contemporaries.
recent interview here), I almost immediately dismissed Zia as a cookie-cutter game built with tools like GameMaker and pushed out the door in the quickest time possible, simply to make a fast buck. It seems like every Tom, Dick and Harry are trying to jump on the Dreamcast bandwagon at the moment, happy to fart out any old shite just because the fervent community will lap it up. Yes, I'm a cynic...so shoot me. After playing Zia for a considerable while though, I must concede that I was totally wrong. Zia is a thoroughly enjoyable homage to the RPGs of the 16-bit era, and while far from perfect, kept me engrossed for longer than any ‘official’ traditional Dreamcast RPG ever has.
First off, Zia sounds fantastic. The music is utterly brilliant and not at all what I was expecting. The various environments you will traverse all have their own mood music and these tunes range from upbeat pop-style jingles, to dark and foreboding dirges. Also, keep an ear out for the ‘mountain’ music which sounds a lot like Timber by Pitbull and Ke$ha. Don’t ask me why I know the name of that song, I just do. Moving rapidly on. The story is typical RPG fayre in that you play as the titular Zia and must rescue the 10 goddesses of magic from their various prisons around the land. You do this by finding them, battling through the labyrinths surrounding them and are then rewarded with a new ability - usually a new attack spell. This leads me on to one of the best things about about Zia - the battle system. While it is turn based, your various offensive and defensive moves are executed by combinations of button presses and you get these button combos by reading the spell books bequeathed to you.
There are some nice visual effects such as transparent mist, snow storms and pyrotechnic effects during the battles; but everything looks a little static otherwise. Waterfalls don’t flow, curtains by open windows don’t flap, fires in hearths are simply static sprites of flames. Now I think of it, there are no contextual environmental sound effects either, so no footsteps on wooden floors and no crunching as you walk through snow. It doesn’t really detract from the the overall experience, but it’s the little details that make a good game a great game. I don’t want to be overly harsh for the sake of being overly harsh, as Zia does look perfectly fine for the type of game it is aiming to be and the locales are varied and perfectly serviceable. It’s just that sometimes it’s actually hard to tell what can be interacted with and what is a part of the scenery. This is especially true in the subterranean areas where often you cant tell if the thing you’re looking at is a boulder or a staircase to another level.
Now, while there is no comparison between these two titles when it comes to budget and scope, the one thing that I instantly recognised as missing from Zia was a map - something I rely so heavily on while playing through Geralt of Rivia’s (fairly pornographic) quest. This is almost inexcusable and makes traversing Zia’s world much more of a chore than it should be. I can’t even count the number of times I found myself taking a path thinking it might lead somewhere, only to find another dead end. On top of this, there’s nothing to actually find in the game world. You do have an inventory of sorts, but it is very rudimentary and there is no currency and there are no shops where you buy disposable items. They are simply not part of Zia’s remit. The point I’m trying to make is: if there were secret things to find and equip just by getting lost and happening across a chest or a hidden area, then great. But this isn’t the case and the lack of a map will invariably lead to frustration more than anything.
You can purchase Zia and the Goddesses of Magic from the Orion web store here, and alternatively the game is now also available on Steam. Also be sure to check out our developer interview with Orion here.