An all tenor chorus comprised of nothing but man-elf eating giant spiders.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way welcome to my review of Zenith! From Infinigon, Zenith is “..an action RPG that combines that feel of golden era RPG games with a generous dose of humor and parody.” and boy does it. From ‘ARGUS….PUNCH’, to giving the Italian Orc family's Don petunias around “his groin region”, to the rat race’s Great Awakening of two years ago (which you conveniently enabled), to giving a cat literal exploding diarrhea, or using an elephant as a center of gravity to magically launch explosives, to re-enacting the invisible bridge scene from Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark to expose a ridiculous cover story, Zenith covers all the major plot points you want to see in an RPG game.
You play as Argus Wendell, Arcanoloygyst and Wizard of the Temperus Imperium and it is your job to find old, powerful crap and use it to change the Empire’s favors in their war against the Elvish Homogeny. Turns out you are pretty good at your job and find the ancient Temple of Temperus which houses artifacts that are linked to the royal Imperial bloodline. No one really knows that this link is or what it will do, but the war is going badly enough that the risk is deemed acceptable. From there everything goes downhill and we find Argus in a variety of mishaps.
Zenith plays as an isometric RPG with arcade beat’em up style combat and a dash of customization to spice things up.
Using your mouse and keyboard, or controller, you guide Argus in fighting against the minions of….something that wants to kill you. It’s as simple as point and click and Zenith makes no attempt to be anything more than that. Your stats are Health, Mana, Sarcasm (starts at 999), Armor, Affinity and Resistance. Affinity and Resistance correspond to the three elements (earth, fire, ice) and the higher they go the more damage that element does and the more you resist damage of that type respectively. There are 6 item types (bracer, chestplate, boots, necklace, ring, circlet) that have randomized stats and optimizing your gear’s elemental affinity will increase the amount of damage you do. There are three types of weapons: fist, sword and hammer that correspond to the three types of elements and each weapon has a chain-combo animation that you can level up in the “Attribute” menu and add new finishers to each weapon for each elemental type. Your spells, and as far as I can tell scrolls (which is a secondary spell) are also affected by affinity. My biggest complaint with Zenith is its lack of a quick inventory menu or a mini map. There is NO map in the game (except for the overview map once you leave the first major location) and the only way to access your inventory is to hit Escape and select it. While not exactly difficult, it seems odd that there isn’t a way to bring it up in game.
Visually, Zenith reminds me a lot of Fable.
The graphics are definitely sub-par, but the lack of finesse seems right at home with Argus&Co. and doesn’t subtract from the experience. Combat is at best clunky and awkward and at worst a hippo dancing ballet. Aiming is incredibly difficult and it is very easy to attack in the completely wrong direction. I would guess using a controller remedies this. Because of the spammy nature of the game you can often find yourself performing an entire combo facing away from the enemy. While this is definitely a nuisance, it doesn’t hinder the feeling of the game but rather adds more comedy to it. From the ‘Argus Punch!’ line to the casual one-liners Argus occasionally throws out, Zenith excels at being ridiculous on a visual level. Likewise, the audio isn’t perfect and is often overly loud or out of sync. I can’t help but feel it’s intentional because often some audio clips are completely over-done with zero reaction (i.e. a massive explosion right next to people who show zero emotion towards it). The music in the game perfectly captures what Zenith is all about. When fighting a boss, epic-power metal rifts blast out from your speakers to get you pumped up for a fight that is really repetitive and not at all exciting. These bosses kill you in a few hits so you’re stuck running away and chunking magic at them to bring them down. While this is probably too meta, I still feel like this is perfectly in line with the theme of the game. Zenith openly makes fun of fantasy cliches and the idea of a “boss” in Lord of the Rings doesn’t exactly see Frodo on the winning side.
Where Zenith does shine is dialogue and its own self-depreciating humor.
It constantly refers to movies, famous stories or characters, even other games through dialogue, NPC’s, events, and the environment. It even gives a generous nod to the absurd fashion sense of Final Fantasy characters, and their weapon choices. The characters are all cliches, even Argus, but because of how comical everything is here, they come across as believable. The Emperor is a jolly, if a bit naive, leader who is counseled by the bickering leaders of each Imperial Order. The head of the Temperus religion is concerned with heresy and Argus trolls him over his uptightness, and his boss, the leader of the Imperial Mages, joins in on the fun. Argus’s love, Brekka, is a Mechanomage who fuses magic with technology. She created a golem that is reminiscent of the Imperial Guards in TES: Oblivion and a magical artillery cannon that shoots an elephant full of explosives at a demonic portal. My favorite scene was Argus and a troupe of adventurers getting into the secret cave where the ancient Sceptre is stored away from the great enemy, the Unexpected. In a very Lord of the Rings reminiscent location (Wall of Moria) you are presented with a stone door lit up in blue light full of flowy script with stars and a tree in the center. The girl you’re traveling with recounts how the clues on the door possibly refer to ancient gods or secret societies with their own language, and how she and her troupe hired linguists, archeologists, and historians to decipher it but weren’t able to. Argus walks right up, says “Watermelon” and the door opens. When the girl asks “Why did you use Watermelon?....It’s so anticlimactic” Argus simply says: “To keep idiots like you out. What good is a password if you put clues to figuring it out on the door you’ve locked?”
The one thing that struck me as odd is the lack of voiceovers or narration. While the exaggerated text dialogue does a great job conveying the humor, a few good voice actors could really take this material and make it theirs, and would drastically improve what is already an excellent story. The light-heartedness overshadows the actual dark nature of the game's’ story, but this contrast only makes the Zenith that much more endearing. As all this horrible stuff happens in the world Argus’s humor and wit are able to make it all seem hilarious. All in all though, the story and banter between Argus and his acquaintances are well told and worth taking the time to read.
Zenith is one of those rare games that combines a bunch of great attributes and a few awful ones but still comes out like a hundred bucks. Nothing “bad” about this game really hinders it and it could be seen as part of the charm. Think Conker’s Bad Fur Day. The gameplay was solid, the graphics were good for the day, but what all drew us in was the dialogue and story. That and we were 12 and the game kept referencing poop. For Infinigon this is a great step forward and I look forward to their next project. Zenith is a great game if you’re looking for a nice smash fest with an all tenor chorus comprised of man-elf eating giant spiders.