Fortuna lost it all: her tarot deck, magic, mastery over fate, and freedom. Exiled to drift aimlessly through outer space in a curiously cozy floating prison, visual novel adventure The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood has players guide the aggrieved witch through her eventual return to the practice of magic, with all the resultant delight and/or destruction such a path may wreak. For veteran indie studio Deconstructeam, The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood presents another engrossing exploration of choice and consequence, with narratively impactful tools that give new meaning to the term “deckbuilder.”
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood resonates with echoes of Deconstructeam’s back catalog, mixing the claustrophobic mechanics and colorful worldbuilding of The Red Strings Club, the perilous freedom of choice and stakes from Gods Will Be Watching, and the substantive moral investigations of the experimental short work collected in Essays on Empathy. The result is a game which feels like the cumulative result of the studio’s journey that yet welcomes risks and weirdness, like its unique art-creation game tools, or the complicated progressive plot structure which all but requires an additional playthrough to adequately digest and understand.
Phenomenal Cosmic Power In A Tiny Living Space
As implied above, The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is an adventure game with one primary setting. The imprisoned witch Fortuna has served her time on this cute two-story walkup asteroid, punished for shadowy reasons by the current ruler of her coven. Two centuries into a thousand-year bid, she’s finally fed up with waiting, opting to forge a forbidden pact with a demonic behemoth negotiate her freedom and return to magic from house arrest.
Fortuna’s magical abilities center on her fortunetelling capacity using a tarot deck, and no deck means no magic. The demon Ábramar offers her a fix: why not simply create her own instead? For players, this translates to crafting individual cards using composite art assets and elemental currency, both of which are accumulated via The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s character interactions and other incidental means.
Literal Deckbuilding From The Ground Up
The game’s basic creation tools can be fathoms deep or as rudimentary as one prefers. Regardless of what the cards end up looking like, the potential meanings drawn from each come from the qualities which form the three pillars of The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s cartomancy: Spheres, Arcana, and Symbols. Spheres are the environment and setting of the card image, Arcane choice delivers the central figure or personification at the core of the card, and Symbols are additional details and props, often visualized as weapons or tools. At first, cards are created at scripted moments, but players soon control the construction of new cards, with their fate-altering tendencies bringing unpredictable chaos to the story and, on a second playthrough, allowing some space to somewhat “stack the deck.”
Having sufficient freedom to design these cards might encourage even non-artists to dabble more than they might expect. It’s therefore a little frustrating that The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s art mechanics have some creaky qualities. For instance, positioning the card’s Sphere is vexing, especially for certain Spheres which don’t offer an attractive card-sized background. Individual assets can be oriented through stacked invisible layers (a la Photoshop) and then twisted or resized within reason, but the resultant mix of pixel density can look a little unintentionally weird. For any favorite designs, though, the game handily offers an export tool to save cards as PNGs built right into the start menu, and indie game fans will recognize a few surprise references therein.
Fortunetelling Friends and Frenemies
When cards aren’t being crafted, they’re being used, and Fortuna quickly makes good on her name. Her new homespun cards’ powers of influence are even more precise and potentially destructive than her former tarot deck, and discerning whether her fortunes are god-like directives or merely nudging philosophical insights form key tensions in The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s story. Part of this feels like an interrogation of free will through hardball questions and judgments pitched to a cast of curious characters, though ample time is spent revealing and/or defining Fortuna’s own past alongside the witch world’s bureaucracies and political ecosystem.
Breaking her silent centuries, Fortuna’s former sisters-in-arms soon start to visit her cozy asteroid to spend time and indulge her magical intuitions. Some members of The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s cast are thrilled to have Fortuna back in their lives, others feel duly threatened at the notion, and others have murkier intentions that play out over the six-hour runtime. Some witches have agreements to proffer or secret tragedies to be coached through, with Deconstructeam’s flair for nuanced dialogue, intricate worldbuilding, and playful video game weirdness manifesting here in full.
Sound and Sequence
While characters do not physically move very much in The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood and the scenery remains fairly static, Fortuna’s asteroid features several diversions. She can hop upstairs to see if a witch has left her unique familiar clutching an invite request, head downstairs to craft new cards with accumulated elemental energy, or slip under the covers for a quick siesta. While in bed, she can also study magical texts to learn more about the world and its systems, and even play some abbreviated interactive fiction games; these are unexpected and beautifully composed bite-sized gems, all of which were designed by different developer kin of the studio.
Accompanying this fortunetelling and decision-making and stair climbing is composer Fingerspit’s magnificent soundtrack. Her work has always been an integral part of Deconstructeam’s games, but The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood features what must be her lengthiest and most immersive musical contributions to date, with individual leitmotifs for the diverse cast and dramatic variations that accompany each plot beat or follow tonal shifts in conversations. The compositions seem to follow a similar behavior to the slow build and shifting variations in tracks from Essays on Empathy’s original entry, De Tres al Cuarto, and comprise what is surely one of the year’s best soundtracks so far.
In an interview with Screen Rant two years ago, Deconstructeam’s Jordi de Paco mentioned how, “…if we present a situation or a question that the player needs less than five seconds to go through, it’s not worth adding.” The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood features this design ethos in full force, with countless circumstances prompting pause and the story’s apparent mutability rewarding attentive play, even when none of the fortunes or dialogue options seem up to player preference. Everything, from how Fortuna chooses to compensate Ábramar for their magical assistance to the destinies of the witches she helps or thwarts, deepens the investment in the main character and her world. Its best moments feel magically personal, and the inability to save and reload past scenarios prioritizes careful decisions and makes a playthrough feel dramatically authored (although unrepentant save-scummers can quit and restart the game to unravel their most recently made decision, sometimes).
Final Thoughts & Review Score
If The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood has a key obstacle to its execution, it’s the focus on a single setting where player imagination does a lot of the heavy lifting. There are stories and encounters described or enacted in the game which exist entirely in text form, scenarios which may not resonate with those who require that every point of interest be directly visualized on the screen. It’s a game which mostly tells and only occasionally shows, a dynamic which is quite demanding of the player’s trust and investment.
Then again, this is exactly how isolation works. The world continues on outside the window at breakneck pace, leaving only stories and memories to cling to in the aftermath. The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is about the forgotten, punished, and lost finding their footing once again, reclaiming authority and placement in their world. Do they feel vengeful towards their captors or betrayed by the lost connections who now casually darken their door with a smile? Do they punish themselves for their actions, or blame it on the broken system they now seek to change? Don’t allow the colorful outfits and smiling faces to fool you, as The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood can form a rather insidious narrative dependent on player input, to make for an entirely original and rewardingly rich adventure.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood releases on August 16 on Steam for PC and Nintendo Switch. A digital PC code was provided to Screen Rant for the purpose of this review.