[Rapid Review] The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood
Posted on September 3, 2023 by Dawn in Reviews, Switch eShop
Release date: August 16, 2023
Publisher: Devolver Digital
It’s not uncommon these days to see a game with a choice-based narrative, which allows players to engage with the story on a deeper level by placing themselves in the role of the character they play as, allowing them to shape that character’s personality and interaction as they see fit with little regard for the consequences: if you make the wrong choice, you can reload and try again, or make another choice to steer yourself back to the ending that you want. But it’s rare to find a game that doesn’t clearly signpost which choices are the “right” and “wrong” ones, and instead lets you decide for yourself and force you to live with the consequences, whatever they may be. The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, developed by Deconstructeam, lets you take fate into your own hands, for better or worse, in a way that results in a highly personal experience that has as much meaning as you choose to give it.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood tells the story of Fortuna, a witch who predicts the downfall of her Coven and is sentenced to a 1,000-year exile as punishment. Deprived of her tarot deck and desperate to regain her freedom and maintain some measure of sanity, Fortuna dabbles in the forbidden arts and summons Ábramar, a Behemoth who provides her with power and guidance in exchange for a hefty price.
The story unfolds through text-based choices and deck-building mechanics as Fortuna begins to craft her own new deck for divination and begins to shape her destiny and the destiny of those who visit her. There are a total of seven endings, and unlike more traditional visual novels there is no set pathway to achieve a specific ending, with most choices being tied more to character development and relationships, rather than the story as a whole. The game autosaves frequently to stop you from reloading if you don’t like the outcome, forcing you to consider your choices very carefully. While some players will find this frustrating, it works extremely well for the game, and makes each choice you make feel especially impactful.
The other aspect of the game is deck-building. You’ll select from a background, a character, and symbols, with each of these requiring units of energy, and then arrange them in a way that strongly reminded me of arranging Clip Art for school projects: simple and yet strangely satisfying despite that, making me want to create the best possible card with the resources available. You can resize and rotate parts, and move them to the foreground or background, to bring together a finished product to your liking. The controls are unfortunately quite clunky and clearly more designed for a mouse than they are the Switch, which dampens the creative experience a little, but the game more than makes up for this by giving you a huge number of designs to choose from, all of which have their own meanings and detail that give the creation process an additional layer of complexity if you choose. Despite the limited amount of energy you’ll have to create cards, the emphasis here is on creativity rather than strategy as you will always have enough cards on hand to engage in divination, meaning that this mechanic is actually almost entirely optional, and you can choose to ignore it and stick with the basic cards you will need to create during the game’s opening hours if you would prefer to focus on the narrative.
The cards you create will be used in divination with other characters, who will ask questions, which you’ll assign cards to before selecting one of several options. The game will draw from your created cards at random, which I found to be a little disappointing, as I only ended up seeing six of the cards I made during my playthrough, which was far longer than it might have been had I not spent so much time pondering over how I was going to realize my vision of a full deck. Choices made through Fortuna’s deck also give you energy which can be used to make more cards, adding an additional factor to consider, as the choice that may appeal to you from a narrative standpoint may not provide the type of energy you need to create more cards, forcing you to choose between growing your deck and pursuing a particular outcome. You will eventually acquire the ability to recycle cards and regain the resources used to create them, but energy is a limited resource even after you’re able to do this, and I frequently found myself trying to choose options that would allow me to create more cards, whilst simultaneously trying to avoid ruining my relationships with the game’s characters.
It creates an interesting and engaging dynamic that makes The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood a uniquely personal experience, and repeatedly emphasizes Ábramar’s warnings that your choices are going to have a profound impact on events. The game touches on some very heavy themes (including suicide, gender identity, and self-harm) that some players may find uncomfortable, but does so in a very sensitive and mature fashion, and gives you some limited ability to opt out of discussing them too deeply through dialogue choices if you would prefer. The game’s cast is rich and refreshingly diverse, but none of them are forced on you after their initial appearance, and it is quite easy through your choices to avoid further interaction if any of them aren’t to your personal taste.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is about making the most of the hand you’ve been dealt, and it makes each choice that you make feel meaningful. The deck-building, despite being clunky and awkward on the Switch, is robustly detailed and offers an excellent amount of variety and potential for creativity, and even if there is no guarantee you will actually see the cards utilized in the game it’s extremely satisfying to engage with. The game handles some very sensitive and potentially controversial themes in a delicate and mature fashion, and allows you a high degree of autonomy over Fortuna and the characters she interacts with despite the fixed story beats and frequent autosaves that prevent reloading in the event of unfavorable outcomes. For better or worse, once you’ve made a choice you’re stuck with it, inspiring caution and also the possibility of multiple playthroughs if you’re the kind of player who likes to see every possible outcome. If you can overlook its fiddly controls and can live with being locked into your choices, this is a game that is more than worth your time, and one of the more unique visual novel experiences to be released on the Switch.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.