In our Montopia review, we mentioned how often we see attempts to mimic the colossal success of PokÃ©mon. With sequels to the mammoth franchise on the horizon, now is as good a time as ever to cash in. Zenforms: Protectors, made by a one-man team, is an impressive project that strongly resembles the collectible monster powerhouse both in gameplay and visuals. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s an interesting complement to the monster collecting genre that deserves a look even if it’s just to appreciate the effort put into crafting such a game.
Zenforms are the monsters in question that you’ll be training here, monsters that grow from crystals forged in the center of the planet, Gaia. Gaia crystals form at the planet’s core and sprout up from the ground. These crystals are harvested and then manufactured into items known as ZenCrystals with which humans nurture and train Zenforms. Groups of humans known as “Protectors” are trained to collect and aid Zenforms in their evolution through four different forms: newborns, children, adolescents, and grands. Children of all ages aspire to become Protectors to interact with what Zenform society looks upon as the “energy of the earth.”
Another lonely day on the playground.
You play as an aspiring Zenform trainer who’s starting his or her first day of Protector school. You can choose a female or male avatar, customizing skin tone, expressions, clothing, and even the mood your character will be in to set the tone for certain interactions with NPCs. From there, you’re set to begin your journey. Living with your sister Shauna in the state of Caladan (Cozade Town, represent!) you’re eager for the first day of school to begin, where you’re awarded your very first Zenform. You have your choice between Rinba, Slino, or Freno, all of which resemble the three elemental starters of PokÃ©mon both in looks and in abilities: water, fire, and grass.
Battles are an attractive yet sluggish affair. You may root around in the tall grass to find new Zenforms to battle, or face other Protectors, as will normally be the case. When faced with an opponent, you can access the battle menu to choose an attack, swap out Zenforms, or use items. Fleeing is an option as well, but not recommended unless you’re not concerned with growth of your monsters. Rather than switching to a battleground format, both monsters are featured against a central backdrop– among flowers and whatnot– and when it’s your turn you choose which attack to use.
Like a mythological dog fight.
The touch menu displays all the available attacks, though simply tapping the name of the move won’t work. You need to select between standard moves or to “gamble” with them, which uses up SP and could provide a higher chance of critical attack. More often than not, you can get away with a standard attack to coast through battles, which possess nowhere near the amount of edge-of-your-seat speed or aggression most monster training games seem to associate with battles. It’s a clean system, but almost too clean to make the game exciting. While it works, it seems more like an afterthought than what should be the meat and potatoes.
The Zenforms themselves aren’t terribly fascinating, but at the very least they’re imaginative– especially the various forms that grow from one simple Newborn. They’re derivative and lack the variations seen in PokÃ©mon or even Digimon, but they get the job done. In fact, most of the aesthetics of the town and even character sprites give us a case of deja vu. The sprites, however, waddle quite awkwardly as though they’re all overweight– something that isn’t especially appealing.
Fortunately, the environmental design, slick menus, and lettering make up for it. It’s clear a lot of love went into establishing a brand new world (a quite large one, at that) in which you can battle and collect these strange little monsters. The story leaves much to be desired, relying on familiar tropes and character archetypes riddled with typos and odd dialogue choices, but it takes a backseat to what eventually becomes engaging monster collection.
The morality system and “mood” system intrigued us at first too, but didn’t seem to impact much in the grand scheme of things this time around– as the beginning of the game states, however, there are more updates being produced that will release for free to lengthen and extend the game’s life, so perhaps we’ll see improvements across the board as Zenforms: Protectors evolves on its own.
Still, this is an ambitious project we hope to see grow and take on its own appearance, finding a niche that doesn’t follow so closely in other established games’ footsteps. It potential, so with subsequent updates we’ll be anxious to see this Newborn grow into a Grand. Check it out if you’re hankering for some more monster collecting action.