I’m a sucker for a good RPG, especially when they remind me of the classic titles I enjoyed in my younger years. I spent so much time with games like Suikoden, Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star when I was younger and it’s rare you see modern RPGs capture the same kind of vibe these days – naturally then, Cosmic Star Heroine caught my eye the moment I saw its first screenshot.
Cosmic Star Heroine is a Kickstarter-funded RPG that looks to offer an experience much like those that gamers would’ve enjoyed in the 16-bit era. It succeeds too, but not without throwing a few ideas of its own into the mix that helps it stand out as a thoroughly enjoyable adventuring experience.
Cosmic Star Heroine’s hero Alyssa L’Salle is part of the ‘Agency for Peace and Intelligence’ – a so called heroic organisation who look to protect the world from any threats. Of course, not all is as it seems, and Alyssa soon finds herself outed as a spy and on the run when she discovers their true intentions. This sends her on an adventure across the galaxy as she looks to assemble a crew of her own and clear her name.
The narrative is a little guilty of feeling a bit overdone and clichés are in abundance, but it still manages to entertain. There’s a colourful cast of mismatched characters to meet and their subplots are intriguing, and despite offering a sense of familiarity throughout, I never found myself bored with the game’s tale. It’s helped along by the light-hearted humour, as well as the constant references to video games and pop culture. It might not be a narrative masterpiece as far as RPGs are concerned, but it’s certainly a lot of fun.
Cosmic Star Heroine’s combat takes place in real-time, with all of the battling taking place in the same spots you just happen to be exploring in the environment. This is actually something I’ve seen a lot of modern RPGs attempt, but it’s always left the environmental design of levels feeling too open and bland – thankfully, it works perfectly here, with it feeling more akin to Chrono Trigger than anything else. It eliminates the need for random battling too and, despite being an old-school RPG fan, it’s something that I found refreshing.
Battles are turn-based, with each character equipped with a specific set of skills that each offer something different with a good blend of attacks, defensive manoeuvres and buffs on offer. You’ll unlock more skills as you progress and level up too, so your team’s abilities are always changing. When you use a skill, you typically have to recharge it before you can use it again. You can recharge your skills by resting, which adds a bit of a tactical edge to battling where you can’t just go on continual bursts of offense but actually have to take a moment to rest up your characters too. Don’t worry too much though – resting increases your character’s defence momentarily, so it won’t leave you in vulnerable positions where enemies can wreak havoc upon you.
It’s a neat system that eliminates the need for MP and adds a much more tactical twist to affairs outside of simply grinding your best skills. Each enemy has vulnerabilities to certain attacks from your characters, but the fact that you can’t just keep using the same ones over and over not only encourages experimentation but also ensures that you think your actions through carefully. There’s a decent party of character available for you to select between, so figuring out who works with each other most effectively and when is best to use them adds to the fun.
Whilst the skill-recharging is a neat idea, Cosmic Star Heroine also throws in another clever mechanic with the game’s ‘Hyper’ system. With this, every few turns (it varies for each character) you’ll take on a Hyper state, which doubles your damage and gives you more success in inflicting status-ailments upon your foes. Saving your most effective attacks for when you’re Hyper will certainly be vital to success, so you’ll need to be tactical and think ahead – especially since some attacks will need to be recharged to actually use them.
There’s also ‘Style’ to take into consideration, which increases your attack power progressively based upon the skills you’re using. Each one increases your Style a little bit more, so fighting in a more varied way and utilising specific skills will see your characters become more powerful. Alternatively, you can use all your Style up in one go to unleash a powerful ‘Burst Attack’ that, much like the Hyper state, provides a hell of a boost to your effectiveness.
There’s quite a bit to take in as far as battling is concerned, but it all works really well in offering a system that stays varied and entertaining throughout. Cosmic Star Heroine’s encounters can be a little bit guilty of dragging on at times, but the fact that there’s so much room for tactical thought and planning ensures you’ll never grow bored of them. In fact, it all comes together to make for one of the more interesting battle systems I’ve seen in an RPG for a while.
Given that Cosmic Star Heroine’s battles take place in real-time and that each environment’s enemies don’t respawn, you won’t be spending a lot of time in the game grinding to level up. In fact, on the regular difficulty you can easily just work through everything that the game throws at you on the conventional path through the game (it’s pretty linear, you’ll see what I mean) and have next to no problem in reaching the end credits. It’s all well-paced, but there’s no denying that the game is guilty of giving the player too much direction to their goal as opposed to encouraging exploration or extended battling.
There are side quests to venture off and complete, but in all the game is a bit guilty of being simple in design and even a bit too easy. It’s even the case with combat, with the player able to immediately restart a battle after death – you can save anywhere too, so the stakes are definitely a lot lower than your typical RPG. The varying difficulties on offer can help rectify this issue a bit, but I think most players will definitely find that Cosmic Star Heroine certainly isn’t the most challenging RPG out there. Fortunately, it’ll only take around thirteen-hours to complete the game, so at least this never grows to be a problem that would typically exhaust the player given the epic size of other games in the genre.
One thing I simply have to mention is that Cosmic Star Heroine allows you to put together your own base in a similar vein to Suikoden, except it’s not in a castle but rather a Spaceship – feels a bit more fitting though, right? Here you can build up your own army made of the world’s colourful cast and even utilise the skills they offer to help you out throughout the main game. Not everyone who joins your crew can go into battle with you after all, but at least they can offer support in other ways.
I loved Suikoden when it came out on the PlayStation, so I was really glad to see this sort of thing here. Admittedly, it’s not as in-depth as the system found in Konami’s famed RPG series and there are certainly some flaws, but the feeling of establishing your own base and filling it up with inhabitants felt satisfying throughout and added an extra ounce of personality to Cosmic Star Heroine’s gameplay.
Visually, Cosmic Star Heroine looks great, with the sprite work looking fantastic throughout and the environments full to the brim with vibrant colour and detail. The same goes for the enemies, who’re well designed, full of imagination and always a treat to encounter – especially in the more epic-sized boss battles. There’s a good blend of sci-fi and more natural looking surroundings to explore as you venture across each of the game’s environments, and it all comes together nicely to make for a very attractive game. The audio design is impressive too, with the soundtrack fitting in perfectly with the tone of each scene or area you find yourself in. Honestly, presentation-wise you’d easily think this could be a Square Eni- I mean, Squaresoft game on the SNES.
Cosmic Star Heroine captures the vibe of classic 16-bit RPGs perfectly, with its impressive visuals, its colourful cast, and it’s intriguing combat coming together nicely to make for a jolly and entertaining adventure.
A slightly underwhelming plot as well as its simple and linear design do stop it from propelling towards RPG greatness, but in all it’s easy to recommend Cosmic Star Heroine to fans of the genre. It’s a charming throwback to the role-playing hits of the 90s that’ll bring more than a few nostalgia-fuelled smiles to the faces of gamers.
Developer: Zeboyd Games
Publisher: Limited Run Games
Release Date: 14/08/2018 (Nintendo Switch) Out Now (PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC)
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC