A comedy of errors.
Parodies are tough. Writers must pen a fine line between the silly and cringe worthy with the clever and unobtrusive. Airplane remains one of the best examples of a well written parody film. In the video game industry, however, parody is often missing. Think of how many parody games exist in the business. To the best of my knowledge, Matt Hazard and, perhaps, Duke Nukem, fill the two biggest roles – along with the successful South Park. When Zenith, a parody of the RPG genre, set to release, I was fairly excited. I found myself hoping that, with an affluence of game time, German developer Infinigon could weave together a strong narrative grounded in humor.
Outside of a parody, then, you may ask what Zenith is all about. Zenith puts you in the boots of Argus Windell, a powerful mage of the late Empire. Having partaken in its subsequent destruction, Argus has dedicated himself to keeping the cause of its ruination hidden away. While running a potion business years after the Empire’s collapse, Argus meets a nice, young lady in search of a certain staff – the very one that Argus is hiding. But Argus knows what will happen when that staff is lifted.
The first testament to whether the game would succeed could be heard in its boisterous soundtrack and sound design. From the title menu, my speakers barked out the fairly obnoxious opening theme. Thenceforth, the sound remained at a consistently loud level, requiring either manual adjustments in the game menu or the lowering of my own speakers (as a note, I use a Sony sound base, which averages at volume level 12-15 for most games. Zenith required a level of approximately 5.). Effects were often clunky and didn’t particularly match the visuals. On occasion, a solid or pretty song would sneak through, almost doing enough to salvage the soundtrack.
As a parody, Zenith is able to take risks and play a little lazy in its mechanics. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why Zenith’s gameplay may prove choppy. Combat in Zenith is fairly simple and reminiscent of your traditional over-the-top action RPG (think a simpler Diablo). Argus can be equipped with a sword, hammer, or fist with varying elemental type – and each are set to the attack button. Likewise, Argus can wield magic, and that can be equipped to the square button. You can wield these in tandem to create different attack combinations. Additionally, Argus has a skill tree based on each weapon type that can be upgraded to improve his proficiency and combo with whichever weapon you choose. Combat, then, consists of button mashing the attack and magic buttons while often popping potions. There is a dodge button, but it doesn’t work properly and results in absorbing too much damage.
Outside of the dodging issues, combat can be quite a struggle. Enemies will swarm you, and they’ll be divided into many different types – whether that be magic wielders, melee, or ranged, and variations of each. Argus swiftly cuts down most enemies, but I found that he incurs too much damage to make the game easily navigable. And I’m not complaining about difficulty level; I enjoy a trial. In Zenith, however, I found myself taking massive amounts of damage from poor hit detection and a broken dodge system. To compensate for this, I would, in every battle, need to attack once or twice (if I was brave) and immediately dodge. In other words, I would dodge away before the enemy would initiate its attack, else I’d take damage. Boss battles were even worse, as this strategy was required to succeed (especially since potion use was limited by a cooldown duration), and this strategy would tack on ten or more minutes to an already lengthy battle.
But the biggest issue I came across in Zenith was neither its tumultuous sound levels or buggy gameplay. The killing blow to Zenith’s attempt at a successful parody was its poorly written dialogue. As I suggested in the opening of this review, writers must pen a fine line between success and failure. In Zenith, I found myself shuddering at the delivery of nearly every attempt at a joke. Sure, I thought the character models of Iris, Titus, and Claude to be humorous – hell, even their dialogue was almost okay – and any fan of Final Fantasy would probably have a good chuckle. Even the plot is decent. Unfortunately, the cringe worthy dialogue kills this game. Couple some of the most ludicrous, cheesy, and juvenile dialogue (all of this, I would wager, could be written by a middle school student) together with harsh language used solely for the purpose of an attempt at humor, and you’ve got yourself a mess.
So – would I recommend this game to the curious? Probably not. As a game, Zenith functions just enough to play. Its sloppy controls and buggy mechanics coupled with its sound issues and childish dialogue leave what little hope the story had to offer lost. The game has its moments of enjoyment, and it’s always fun to spot a parody (even the worst parodies can be humorous upon first sighting). None of the characters are particularly believable, which hinders the story telling further. A game like Zenith has a lot going against it, especially for an indie game. I look forward to what Infinigon may release in the future, as glimmers of competency could be found within Zenith. On the PSN and Xbox Live, Zenith runs a good $19.99 and costs $14.99 on Steam. For $20, Zenith’s value drops; the game isn’t terribly lengthy, and the plethora of issues within only further its unsuccessful narrative.