REVIEW: Zarya and the Cursed Skull

REVIEW: Zarya and the Cursed Skull

Zarya is spending her summer vacation with her best friend Abbie, at Zarya’s grandfather’s mansion in Paris. At the same time, teen girls of her age are going missing in Paris…

Steam: Released
Type: Single-player
Genre: Casual, Puzzle
Developer: Rodz
Publisher: Rodz
Release date: 8 March, 2017

Story vs. Graphics: Different Realities

The game uses many colors for its locations, and the overall style is very bright. Even in the dungeons/old temples there is quite a lot of flora that shines in different colors. The story’s darkness doesn’t show in the locations and I found it a bit hard to take the story seriously sometimes because of the joyful overall imagery of the game – they contradict each other. Graphics are reminiscent of the early ps2-era, character models are a bit blocky like they were back then. Theirs wasn’t really anything ”special” to see in the other dimension, it looked very much like our own world with exception of finding an abundance of crystal balls here and there. I wish there was something more, something strange since we are venturing out into a world of magic. I really didn’t feel that transition from our world to theirs, the provided world was just a different European town. It felt that way especially since it was implied in the dialogue that some things work quite differently in the other dimension.

Both of the worlds look very similar

This game is based on a novel, the first in the series of five written by J.P. Goyette. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to look the novel up and see how faithful this is to the original story. I tried looking for some info about it quickly during my breaks from work, but only found references in French.

It clearly shows in the game that it’s based on a written story. Additionally, there is a lot of dialogue – pretty much more than playing the game itself. During the first two hours, you will spend time uncovering the plot that has two roads: One follows Zarya, and the other one follows two police officers searching for missing girls in Paris. Eventually, their paths will cross each other but there is very minimal gameplay involved during the first two hours. The main stages that the game offers are involved with our heroine applying for a three-day course at the sorcery school.

I don’t know when the original story was published but this reminded me many times of Harry Potter; the similar premise, the magic school, a young person who does not know how powerful she is, and what destiny she is made for. It’s a solid story, especially if you’re a fan of that kind of fiction.

How to be a mage

Controls within the game are not intuitive. Movement is done with the arrow keys to eight directions, actions happen with the X, D, C and V buttons. It especially shows while in combat that aiming is sometimes a bit of a chore. Thankfully, we have auto-aim, but only if you’re close enough. That has caused a few misses here and there since you also have to run away. There’s one particular enemy that teleports close to you and if you run right away, it teleports again. Instead, you wait for him to activate his attack, you have to run – quite far actually – out of its reach and then attack before he teleports again.
I don’t own a controller since I rarely play games that would be suited to it better than keyboard and mouse. This game does support a controller, and I would definitely recommend one if you have a controller lying around. I can see how it would make combat much smoother.

Outside combat controls work just fine on keyboard. Moving around is easy, there are some tight spots where you need to navigate and time your movements. You can manage fine with just a keyboard and mouse, so the only place you’d need a controller is during combat. Even that can be mastered after you get accustomed to the animations and specific time each attack takes. Most of the combat is done in small areas that are closed off, where you first face one enemy and then more, in a wave-like manner. They vary in size, and the smallest ones are where the controls make our life a bit hard. This is especially true with ranged enemies since you don’t really have room to dodge all the time. We do have a shield but every action in combat takes stamina, and when it ends, we are unable to attack or defend, and also our movement is slowed down greatly. Four normal attacks and your stamina is gone, so that gives us a tactical element. Since you can run around without using it up, you can even recharge during that time. It is usually much wiser to dodge the attacks than use the rest of your stamina on your shield.

This is one of the tight spots that needed tight/responsive controls since the tentacles moved

Puzzles are mostly interesting. There were a couple of times where planning was really needed. I sometimes took out some pen and paper, drew the puzzle on it and started drawing different variations until I found a way to finish it. Nothing too hardcore, puzzle difficulty stayed low enough to keep the game enjoyable even for a player like myself who isn’t a huge fan of puzzle-games. Nothing really sticks out in my mind, nothing especially memorable. Puzzle fans might find this game a bit boring since it was enjoyable to me, a casual puzzler. There are the basic maze-like puzzles; turn on switch “A” to make switch “B” turn off, guide the light source with mirrors, evade traps, choose the right path based on hints etc. The overall diversity of different kind of puzzles was good. Also your spells are used in the puzzles here and there, but they could have been utilized a bit more to create even more diversity.

I won’t spoil too much for the solution 😉

Special mention goes to the soundtrack. That is absolutely magnificent. Steam said it’s been done by professional musicians and it shows. The musical composition is good, fitting the scenes and the world perfectly. There are only a few games where I’ve stopped and listened to the soundtrack, and this is one of them.
There was a bit of screen tearing at points when the camera moved sideways, but other than that the game ran flawlessly.

Should you buy it?

This is a good and entertaining game. Easy, though, once you get the hang of the combat. It’s not straight-up my alley story-wise, but I enjoyed the moments within the dungeons. That time was casual playing at it’s best, and I also liked to explore the world. There is a lot of detail put into this game. I wouldn’t pay fortunes for it unless you are really a fan of the genre, but as a part of a bundle or perhaps during a steam sale, it’s a fun game to play through.
Just remember that this game involves a lot of reading and less actual puzzle gameplay.

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