With Fallout 4 moving closer towards a first person shooter with RPG elements, I’ve not really played a proper RPG in a long time. Enter Zenith, an action RPG game developed by BadLand Games and published by Infinigon. You’re dropped in a world where you play as Argus Windell, an arcanologist initially on a quest to recover a lost artifact that your king covets more than anything in the world.
First positive is the first thing I noticed about the game – the soundtrack. It is fantastic. There are a couple of issues I found, particularly with it not looping correctly, but it is still a brilliant soundtrack. It’s got a great mixture of songs, that are all wonderfully clear and very well performed. Which probably shouldn’t be a surprise – if a game had bad music it’d be slaughtered for it everywhere – but it still was a little surprising for me that an indie studio was able to produce something that sounded so phenomenal. It doesn’t ever feel short either, there are a lot of different tunes that play through every setting and they work perfectly to build up the tension, or amplify the humour in a situation.
Humour is something that is very prominent in the game – the writers knew exactly the theme they wanted to try and put across and delivered it perfectly. Zenith is a game that seems almost choosing to be a comedy before it is a game, and it is very obvious they were taking the piss out of traditional RPGs with Argus’ statistics – Health, Mana, Armour, Resistances, Strengths and Sarcasm. The latter of which is permanently set to 999 – setting the tone immediately for a hilarious adventure. Every cut scene and every interaction with various NPCs dotted around the world leads to some magnificent situations. The whole time you’re playing it you’re guaranteed to laugh at some of the funniest lines you’ll see in a game, as it is engineered to be a game that knows it’s not necessarily going to be competing with the big boys in the genre, but it’s definitely not scared to use them for brilliant comic relief in the game.
I’ll admit straight away that I’m not well versed in battle mechanics of action RPGs – but Zenith makes it wonderfully simple. You can set spells to be on the triangle and square buttons, and use the X button to strike an enemy. Pressing X multiple times will result in a combo attack, which you can improve upon with skill points, and yes, okay, it’s probably simple compared to some of the other ones out there, but for me, someone who hasn’t played many games like this, it was nice to be able to just pick up and play without a tutorial or anything. I was also impressed with the ability to switch out spells and the variety of spells there were around the game. It was nice being able to specialise in certain spells and hoard the gear that would make you a supreme fire demon or able to use the Earth to do your bidding.
Infinigon Games definitely want you to know that they had a hand in the development of Zenith, as they are plastered on the loading screen image. And believe me, you will be seeing a lot of this screen. I didn’t think much of it when I started – it did pop up quite abruptly in some cases, but it wasn’t quite as frequent at the start as it was after a little while. In the Final Fantasy games – a series the game takes aim at in it’s sublime jokes – when you go into a battle, there is a little transition blur, or something akin to that to let you know you’re going into battle. In Zenith, this is replaced with the loading screen, so whenever an enemy stumbles toward you, you’re hit with a loading screen that lasts a good minute or two. The battle, then takes place, and is normally done with in around a minute if you’re competent with the mechanics, and followed up with another couple of minutes of loading screens. While the world map isn’t littered with enemies, and you can see them coming so it is possible to avoid them, there are occasions where you’ll have no choice but to sit through ten minutes of staring at their boring, deafeningly silent loading screen.
Another massive issue for me is the lack of an auto save. The game has the occasional save crystal on the map for you to use, and that’s mostly okay, but it can be quite a while between the save crystals, and I couldn’t find a way to save on the world map. In fact, my attempt at saving on the world map had me open up the start menu and accidentally press “Main Menu”, which, without confirming whether or not it was a mistake, took me right back to the main menu. Without saving. Leaving me with a wasted half hour or so as I trawled through a fairly tricky dungeon again. I do think this is a fair criticism as auto-save is almost a given in games these days, but I would also agree with anyone that would say I’ve gone a bit soft, expecting it. The games I grew up on – Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto – none of these had auto saves, and they were terrific. So I can definitely see the argument against what I’ve said.
I said at the start I haven’t played a proper RPG in a while – and although Zenith isn’t a true RPG, it definitely satisfied my craving for beating up various fantasy beings. It also benefits from being one of the funniest games I’ve played in a very long time. I think even though it’s quite easy to make me laugh in general, this game would make anyone giggle a little. There are definite downsides, though some can just be attributed to being spoiled lately with big studios cramming as many features as they can into every title, which would be challenging for a smaller, indie studio to match. And even though they are ‘just’ an indie studio, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell with all the amazing stuff put into Zenith. Wonderful writing, great graphics and magnificent music all come together to make this game one that any RPG fan should have in their games library.