Come one, come all to an amazing spectacle brought to you by the Amazing Zen Studios! Behold the sights and sounds of the wonderous world of Circus Electrique!
“Named for the greatest show in Victorian London, Circus Electrique is part story-driven RPG, part tactics and circus management game, and completely enthralling – all with a steampunk twist. When everyday Londoners mysteriously turn into vicious killers, only the circus’ dazzling lineup of Strongmen, Fire Blowers, Clowns and other performers possess the unique talents necessary to save the city!”Zen Studios
Circus Electrique combines turned-based RPG, and tactical placements, with card collecting elements as well as, in a sense, a circus simulator. This is not a high-budget, graphically impressive RPG. This actually gives the game an exceptional charm. RPG fans looking for old-school gameplay with unique twists and elements, keep reading!
Cue Circus Music
The main character Amelia is a journalist who finds herself visiting the Circus Electrique, run by her uncle Randy, the ringmaster. During one of their events, it causes many of London’s population to become violent. This affliction is called “The Maddening”. You play as the circus performers tasked with protecting Amelia as they progress through the story and find out the mysterious occurrences stirring in London.
The start of it all is a slow burn and adds some cliché moments that all stories have. It does however have some very detailed tutorials. Most of the introduction to the game and story will show you elements of gameplay little by little until you make it to your second boss battle. Although being hand-fed these tidbits of features, it doesn’t slow down how the game normally progresses. The story does also get progressively better.
Upfront and to the point, Circus Electrique is slow when it comes to action. It is strongly turned-based, using up to 4 characters in each battle. Although this can be a shortcoming to some, there are many redeeming qualities that make up for it.
You can hire a variety of classes to join your battles, each with unique skills, stats, and talents used for circus performing. Yes, you read that right. You will be managing circus acts by combining a selection of characters properly to maximize performance quality and entertainment. Some of the following are classes to play with but are not limited to:
- Clowns: Healing, Devotion buffs, ball throw attacks.
- Strongman: Damage buffs, defense buffs, hard-hitting attacks
- Fire Blowers: DOT/ trap attacks, AOE fire throws.
- Escape Artist: Damage buffs, positioning moves, defensive skills
Some performers prefer working with other types while disliking others. This chemistry can affect the overall score you obtain after each battle, which ends the day and shows your performance evaluation via newspaper articles. These performances are fashioned to earn money, reputation, and resources for crafting consumables and upgrading your circus.
If that wasn’t enough gameplay elements for you, you can upgrade performer stats and skills every time they level up. Players can also fully heal their characters by keeping them in a sleeping bunker. They will, however, not be available for battles until you remove them at your own convenience, whether they’re fully healed or not.
Cirque de gameplay
The preceding explanations of gameplay were just the basics. I think what really stands out, and the most important elements are the key battle elements and story beats. Circus Electrique offers a unique component in turn-based battles that players normally see in tactical RPGs. That portion is tactical positioning.
As previously mentioned, players can select 4 characters for battle. The catch is that each character’s skills only work at certain positions. Those skills only affect enemies and companions that are positioned in certain places as well. (They’re aligned 4 in a row as well) This brings a significant strategic element to every battle. I found myself moving characters and positions around every battle to either experiment or strategize my plan of attack.
There are a variety of buffs, debuffs, healing, area of effect attacks, and singular target attacks to choose from. It can be frustrating and challenging at times when enemies use skills that change your character positions during combat. You can move them back but at the cost of one of their turns.
Another interesting element that is important to consider during each battle is the Devotion system. Think of it as a morale meter for each of your characters and opponents that can increase or decline depending on actions, skills, and choices made throughout the story and battles. If your devotion is high enough, you can unlock skills to use during battle or they may be of no use to you.
If devotion reaches zero for you or an enemy, they leave the battlefield. This can help during tough battles where damage output simply isn’t enough of a strategy. Devotion even determines performance quality during circus shows!
Jumping through flaming hoops
I feel the biggest letdown is the expedition sections of gameplay. A simple map presents almost like a board game to travel from points A to B, C, D, etc. There are many paths to take but players can only decide to make one move before moving on to the next day, then set up yet again another circus performance.
You can view the entire map to plot out your travels, with many different choices aside from battle nodes.
- Circus Enthusiast node: Use a character from your battle group to raise a fan’s spirit. If successful, you gain items, money, and even reputation.
- Chest node: Open a chest and see what’s inside!
- ?? Node: Side story with choices. Make the right choice, you may receive a reward!
- Pen node: Extra story content and dialogue
After you take your decided route, don’t think you can ever go back and see what other routes could have been better. After a district is completed, you can go back and try your luck on another route to level up your group and fight other stronger opponents for a challenge. I will however admit I found a loophole when making decisions. If you think you won’t like the outcome of a particular node choice, you can always save beforehand and load the game back in to change your mind. This also helps when joining battles since losing your characters means perma-death.
Is this a show-stopper?
Yes, I have some negative criticism about level design and slow progression. Yet, I really recommend Circus Electrique for any RPG or strategy fan. It has a great steampunk/19th-century film art style with a good story, incredible character design, and fun gameplay mechanics. Since you can go back to try your luck with other paths and extra, challenging enemy battles, replayability is worthwhile when you find your favorite performers to develop. Circus Electrique comes out on September 6, 2022. Join the circus!
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Circus Electrique for the Xbox Series X provided by Zen Studios and Saber Interactive.