Time-looping has been buzzing in gaming over the last few years, but In Stars and Time really does something refreshing with it thanks to its top-notch storytelling, satisfying RPG mechanics, and unexpected yet comical player deaths.
Check out some screenshots down below:
In Stars and Time begins with hero Siffrin resting up in a field surrounded by trees as he and his allies build up to their final battle with a malevolent King that has been altering the fabrics of time to freeze the inhabitants of the world in place. Yep, you don’t have to worry about everything that happened before this, with the game essentially thrusting you right into the finale of the journey. You venture forth through the final dungeon (known as the House of Change), fully prepared to take on the King in the ultimate showdown… when a giant boulder falls on you, crushing you to death. The end… right? Well… it isn’t. The game embraces a time-looping mechanic that sees Siffrin re-awakening in that field once more and retaining the memories of his downfall, but with his allies completely unaware of anything that happened in-between. It’s up to you to get to the bottom of this time-loop and finally figure out a way to bring an end to the King’s time-twisting meddling.
We’ve seen plenty of time-looping games over the last few years, but I was especially fond of its delivery through In Stars and Time. Not only are the cast of characters quirky and endearing, but Siffrin’s acknowledgement of the oddities of each occurrence as well as the game’s creative breaking of the fourth wall help make the story all the more entertaining to see unfold. There’s not a whole lot to see across the world and most of your adventure is crammed into one small town and dungeon, but the game does a good job of delivering a creative, comical, and heartfelt tale within it all.
The core RPG mechanics of the game are fun, with combat taking a simplistic turn-based approach that’ll be accessible for both newbies and veterans to the genre. There’s an ATB-style bar that builds up for the turn of each character, and when filled, they’re able to perform an action, whether that’s hitting an attack, guarding, using an item, or performing a craft, which is the game’s take on special abilities.
“There’s not a whole lot to see across the world and most of your adventure is crammed into one small town and dungeon, but the game does a good job of delivering a creative, comical, and heartfelt tale within it all.”
Those crafts are cleverly implemented to utilise ‘rock, paper, scissors’-style mechanics, with different enemies essentially falling into one of those categories. If they’re a rock-type? Paper-based attacks are more effective, whilst scissors attacks aren’t so useful. If they’re a paper type? You’ll want to use scissors-based attacks and stay away from your rock abilities, and so forth. Everything is clearly displayed in-game to show what category each craft comes under, whilst some don’t even follow the ‘rock, paper, scissors’ mechanics and instead offer buffs, de-buffs, or allow you to switch turns with allies. It’s really intuitive and adds an extra element of strategy that’s easy to understand to the otherwise simplified combat scenarios.
There are other clever little mechanics implemented to spice things up too, such as the Jackpot Points that build up as you continually use specific craft types in battle. When you get five points of the same type? You’ll unleash a special attack that won’t only deal additional damage but also give a boost to your party. It’s a cool trick to have up your sleeve and can be especially useful through some of the game’s trickier boss encounters, with an emphasis placed on strategizing to pull off these effective combos, all whilst maintaining a steady flow of buffs and de-buffs. Despite its simplicity, In Stars and Time’s battling can be tough, so you’ll need an effective use of your party’s entire skillset to get through encounters unscathed.
Of course, the main hook of In Stars and Time is its time-looping mechanic, which easily stands out as my favourite thing in the game. There are PLENTY of different ways to die (some expected, some COMPLETELY unexpected), but each time you do, you’ll find yourself re-awakening and starting the day again with your memories intact. This means you can learn how to do things differently to succeed the next time around, with this sometimes being a case of simply avoiding a trap, approaching a character or event in a different manner, or using newly obtained knowledge to learn secrets about the world. It’s a really neat idea that also respects the player’s time, with players able to essentially skip through most text and events until something different to previous runs occurs. You’ll even unlock more dialogue options as you progress, so there’s always SOMETHING different to see.
Check out some screenshots down below:
That being said, there can still be some tedious moments where you’re forced to re-play through some parts of the game over and over again as you go through the whole ‘trial and error’ process of trying to survive. You do eventually find ways to completely bypass some of the earlier actions of each day, but yeah, there can be some moments where you’ll just want to cut to the chase.
Still, with the satisfying successes you’ll achieve as you figure out how to survive what was once a tumultuous death as well as the creative manner of the storytelling, there are plenty of things to love about In Stars and Time’s time-looping. It even implements a roguelite approach, with Siffrin maintaining the experience points and boosts he achieved on his previous runs, but your allies resetting every day. I didn’t think this was something I’d actually like for the genre, but it suited the time-looping theme perfectly and actually made progress that little bit easier each time you work through the House of Change – plus, you’ll eventually unlock Memories which can be equipped to make your life easier, which was an appreciated boost during the game’s later hours.
Shout out to the game’s monochromatic visuals too, which might seem a little basic upon first glance, but are a treat in-game (and even tie into the storytelling). Whilst the overall aesthetic is very simple and retro in style, it’s deceptively stylish and never gets boring – even IF you’ll see a lot of the same things over and over again…
In Stars and Time Review
In Stars and Time is an innovative time-looping treat that’ll keep players engrossed with its satisfying sense of progress and fun combat. It’s always rewarding to discover new ways to progress, learn more about the world, and venture forward that bit further on your journey to defeat the King, whilst the deaths you suffer add a fun twist to the formula thanks to their unexpected yet comical occurrences. And sure, the process of looping through some events over and over again can be a little tedious, but at least the game does try to streamline the process for players.
It’s just a very creative, clever, and fun experience, with In Stars and Time taking an established time-looping gameplay mechanic and giving it its own unique sense of zing thanks to its quirky RPG approach.
Publisher: Armor Game Studios
Platform(s): PC (Review), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch