Virgo Vs The Zodiac is a turn-based RPG about a rogue Zodiac sign looking to bring back a Golden Age, with players helping her battle the other signs in order to make this happen. These powerful cosmic beings won’t back down from a fight, though, meaning to bring players to their knees through moves that can end a fight in a handful of turns.
With no ability to grind levels, a decisions system that affects combat abilities, and equipment that shapes skills, Virgo Vs The Zodiac offers a complex battle system, one that Siliconera reached out to the developer to learn more about during their crowdfunding campaign.
Why this tale of zodiac signs fighting one another? What gave you the idea for the game’s story?
Moonana, developer of Virgo Vs The Zodiac: Before even considering making games, I worked with astrology. I read a lot about it and studied it deeply, and while doing this, I noticed how perfectly symmetric and organized the astrological system is, and how well it would fit into a game. 12 signs, 12 personalities, 12 mythological beings, 12 bosses!
When coming across the possibility to make a game, I thought that this theme could fit very nicely in an RPG. When playing tabletops RPGs, I liked to play as the absurdly righteous paladin (and I loved Warhammer 40k), often thinking to myself how these characters would be archetypical virgos. Thinking about traditional RPG classes for every sign, I already had a lot of designs in mind, and then it all came out so easily when I started developing them that I thought I needed to see this coming to life! It’s very easy to get inspiration through astrology and astronomy, as the skies have been studied for thousands and thousands of years. There’s just so much to it I don’t think there’s any other font of inspiration that’s so rich.
Having the 12 Zodiacs in mind, I thought it would be nice having them fighting each other. The Virgo archetype would criticize everything against their ideals, so nothing seemed better than to have this archetype as someone trying to dismantle the system. Other Zodiacs could fit in as good protagonists as well, but they would require a backstory that could fit this kind of zodiac-smashing goal, and Virgo only needs her archetype, which is why I believe she fits much better!
Virgo’s actions aren’t exactly based on being a good person. What drew you to tell this story from the perspective of a villain?
It’s much more fun to write! Villains are my favorite characters in most games because they are drastic, they actually accomplish things in clever manners and create grand plots! The most iconic villains of all media are also very charismatic in some way or another.
When playing RPGs, I never enjoyed the silent protagonist route because I felt so distant from the game when they interacted with other people. Virgo is the exact opposite of that, which makes her very refreshing to write! To define her goal was an early focus of mine, and heroes often lack a clear goal that isn’t just stopping the villain. Villains are initiators in most games.
The world wants to stop Virgo because she has a goal that is against their goals, rather than wanting to stop her because they need to stop the "evil". We all know that "evil" is very relative. Other than that, Virgo is also an earth mutable sign, which signifies that she has her own purpose, but can change her way of thinking along the way. I also gathered a lot of inspiration from the game OFF, if anyone caught the similarities!
Zodiac Qualities will shape the game based on player decisions. Can you tell us more about the thoughts behind this system? Some examples of ways players may shape the story?
A grand theme around the game is "fate", and how you can shape Virgo’s fate! Since the very beginning, replayability through story and gameplay were very important for me! As I started developing the game, I came across the possibility to use Elements like, fire, earth, air, and water. Initially, I thought of them having a strong/weak relation to one another, but I didn’t want the Zodiacs themselves to fall into the ‘one element’ thing. How could I differ Capricorn from Taurus considering they’re both earth signs?
I think that 3 is a good number in game systems. It’s the classic rock, paper, scissors, so I thought of the Qualities system on it, since it works a triplicity: Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable! In astrology, as well as being tied to an Element, a sign is also tied to a Quality, this way Capricorn is a Cardinal Earth sign while Taurus is a Fixed Earth sign. These categories never repeat, which is very useful for creating systems. Taking into consideration the fact that the MC is a mutable sign, shaping her choices sounded reasonable and coherent with the theme.
In the end, the Elements were exchanged for Qualities in a way to decide damage. It would be weird if Virgo, also an Earth sign, had access to Water abilities to combat Fire signs and stuff. But since she IS a Mutable sign, having her switch around feels much more natural.
The system quickly went on to define the story routes of the game, as I always intended the game to have its story component tied closely to gameplay. I believe this makes people more engaged in both at the same time.
With the ability to color-code keywords in combat and descriptions to tell which kind of quality/stat they used, and thinking of rewards for choices, I thought making every choice tied to a quality/stat was simple at its core but presented a deeper analysis in how to answer to choices "correctly". There are no good or bad choices, only those that either suit the personality you strive to create or those that would work better with your stat build.
How will these qualities affect combat? Why tie personality into fighting styles?
Basically, they function like Types in Pokemon. Each enemy has a Quality of their own (sometimes two) and they would receive increased/decreased damage based on a triangle, much like Water is strong against/resists Fire and so on. Cardinal, the courageous, are stronger against Mutable, who are the versatile ones, and strong against Fixed, who are the determined.
Unlike Pokemon, though, each Quality has a stat to represent it offensively. The player needs to increase their Ambition by several means (equipment, consumables, choices, exploration) to raise Cardinal damage, for example. Each stat also raises some other aspect of damaging. Patience (Fixed) raises basic attack damage, Versatility (Mutable) raises counter-attack damage and Ambition goes with Purge skill damage.
Either way, I think personality has a lot to do with how your fighting style would be if you were given choice. Think of RPGs in general, and those friends who like to play specific classes on any game they’re given that chance to. This is a key part when thinking of designs for the other Zodiacs. How would the archetype behave in battle? How can I channel those personality features the zodiac has for each sign into a combat stance, weapons, and battle flow?
My thought process with the boss fight from the demo, Capricorn, went by the archetypical traditionalism (the Japanese attire and katana), the impactful actions and determination that won’t let a Capricornian do things ‘just to try it out’ (her analytical first stage), and the Time-based motiff due to Saturn being a ruler for the sign of Capricorn (and considering Saturn is the Roman god of time).
This makes it easier for me to create these concepts. Making Virgo be able to switch and define herself throughout the game while keeping her superior tone only follows a Mutable-based Zodiac sign’s attitude.
You’ve done away with random battles and replaced them with specific, challenging fights. How does that change the way you create combat in an RPG? What’s different, from a design perspective, when the player cannot grind levels?
It was initially very difficult! I wanted the game to tie in story and gameplay through the whole gam,e, so it was a necessary thing to do, but to balance it out is rather challenging.
The biggest trouble is damage taken, as it can easily be adjusted in a traditional RPG but I needed Virgo to be very fast-paced, and that means highly-damaging skills that won’t take long to do its job. If you increase the defense on some enemy that takes 10 hits to die by 10%, it’ll take 11 hits and that’s not too much. But if someone in Virgo dies in 2 hits, you need 50% increase in defense just to add an additional hit they can take. And that also meant increasing it’s DAMAGE by 50%, because I initially thought of having the three main stats also increase defense to the respective Quality.
This kind of forced certain builds for certain places in a not very obvious way. You can clearly see that throwing grass on a fire-elemental won’t do much, but how to easily convey that kind of stuff to players still learning about the Qualities? It also made all stats do WAY too much at once, which meant a huge scaling problem once you got, for example, 120 Patience and 25 of other stats.
I then decided that Damage could only be reduced by certain equipment and active use of Defensive abilities in battle. There is a hidden ‘Armor’ stat in game that’s only increased/decreased by certain skills, for example, but that could be manipulated by the player. I want them to feel fragility in battle instead of brute-forcing their way through, eating all hits and spamming attack, at least not on the Zodiac difficulty mode. Stress-free mode is still there for a much more forgiving combat experience!
This, however, obviously steamlines the experience and takes away from player-factored difficulty, which I try to replicate with skills granted by equipment. Your build choices will mean a lot more, and to create items/skills is a very fun activity to do!
As the game progresses, however, +1 on stats won’t mean much due to the availability of optional areas, items, and stuff like that. This is also intended, as the start of the game features rather low damage/health numbers all around. Players need to feel their power increasing more often early on to keep themselves engaged and willing to switch builds around and play with their choices.
Equipment heavily factors into combat. Why this system of interchangeable moves using equipment? What does this freedom do for the player?
This system is, believe it or not, inspired by Dark Souls. In all Souls games, as you switch weapons and shields you get different moves. A shortsword can do a thrust attack which is good against certain enemies, while a broadsword does only slashing moves. This is kind of the "skill system" of that game, and to bring this to a turn-based RPG, I did so by adding useable skills to pretty much any equipment piece!
Since Virgo is mostly based on a magical girl, I took a lot of liberty in considering which moves would be available to which pieces of gear, such as Ribbons. It’s all too magical, but the game’s still got a slightly down-to-earth approach sometimes, such as with the Sabbot boots you get. They’re heavy, and because of that, give you the Stomp ability.
Now, after the crowdfunding goal of the Crafting System, this will only work on "unique" items. Players will be able to add whichever skill they want to each piece of equipment through crafting!
For the second question, it all boils down on the base philosophy of the game: to make all mechanics highly significant. While it would be easier to make and balance a level-based skill learning system (especially for designing classes!), it’s also something that gives less joy to players, I believe. I, myself, feel thrilled when I find a new TM in Pokemon, or can equip a new spell in (modded) Torchlight 2!
Equipment only offering passive stat boosts is great when you can add them in 3D models on your character as you can literally SEE the difference they gave you. But, since that is something completely absent in Virgo (mostly because of being 2D), the best way to make equipment significant is to give them active usage in battle!
You’ve mentioned that some of the zodiac signs can be spared. Why include this element of kindness when playing a villain? Can you tell us about how this may effect the game and story?
While Virgo is literally going versus the Zodiac, her main goal is to bring back the Golden Age, regardless of costs. Battling other Zodiacs is a cost for her, rather than an objective.
Since Virgo is a perfectionist, the least time and energy she ‘wastes’ on something that isn’t her quest, the closest to balance and symmetry she is. This also brings in a more lore point of view too, on the question about static/story-based enemy encounters, as Virgo wouldn’t want to waste time spilling blood that could potentially taint her! (In the earliest version of the game, "damage" was always referred to as "taint" but it was too many new words for old concepts at once!).
In game, some will be spare-able. These choices will be very tightly based on the story at that point and context (saying anything here would be a spoiler!), but they would weight a lot on other Zodiacs as well. This will very likely affect the endings heavily, and, in fact, all other simpler choices you can make in the game will shift you slightly towards a different ending.