The latest game from long-running indie developer Zeboyd Games, Cosmic Star Heroine is the third in a series of original role-playing titles from the company. Having first created Breath Of Death VII (which I enjoyed heavily and still recommend) and later Cthulu Saves The World (which I have not yet finished for some reason, but may still have an old save file), the company then worked with the team at Penny Arcade to develop some games based on their brand. Penny Arcade was never my thing, so I skipped those two titles and eagerly awaited for this title which came in the form of a Kickstarter announcement. To make a long story short, a video in which two guys were talking about how much they loved Chrono Trigger and wanted to make a game in that style was more than enough to grab my nostalgia soaked attention, as I pledged fifteen dollars for a DRM-Free copy of the game which also came with a steam code. As I’ve no use for steam, I merely gave that code to one of two friends that had to guess a number (it was 42 by the way) and he actually surprised the hell out of me by getting it dead-on. I sent a few messages regarding the DRM-Free copy, which was up immediately the next day to my suprise and shows just how committed that Zeboyd are to their fans. They also had the PS4 version up and running in no time as well, I would say no more than a delay of a few hours, instead of the week long delays that happen with other development teams, some of them having far more manpower and notoriety behind them. That should tell you something about not only the team, but the product itself and how much they believe in it. So how is the game? To be honest, it actually managed to exceed my expectations.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. I did not exactly expect these guys to release another Chrono Trigger. There are some very peculiar and unique experiences that made that game what it was, and I daresay that those experiences cannot be replicated in a way that would ever warrant another installment to that franchise. Instead, we have a game that borrows from titles like Phantasy Star, Star Ocean, Chrono Trigger and perhaps even a little bit of Charles Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden. I even noticed some Deus Ex and Cyberpunk influences, maybe even Ghost In The Shell in so far as the design of the cityscape and characters in some instances. At first, though I immediately loved the Hyperduck Soundworks soundtrack, I felt that the title lacked proper polish, shading, sprite shading and other instances that I feel a more professional company with millions to spare would have raked into it. I’ve also been spoiled by the art and sprite smoothing in Rance VI (which I’ll have another review for a bit later). Even so, there is an awful lot of work and detail put into the game, even if it is a bit rough and shows it’s indie edge. That’s fine. Some of it also felt a bit RPG Maker, but I don’t have a problem with that as some of the best horror titles I’ve ever played were made in that very engine. The game itself was made in Unity, so I don’t know how this could have happened – but it is a style that works and that’s ultimately what is important. My last complaint is that I felt the characters were a bit small, or perhaps that the camera needed to zoom in just a little more. I remember a similar approach in levels of Evoquest 2 (another title I highly recommend, but have gotten stuck in) that seemed to pull this off a bit better. Hilariously, the turn-based JRPG levels in said title actually mirror the latter half of the second chapter in this one, sans some minor differences. I’d consider it an odd coincidence and will leave it at that.
When we first started out in the role of the grey-haired Alyssa, I noticed a very masculine feel to her face portrait. It’s also the same one used on the developer’s Twitter account, which made me at first think it was a male character. Later, I noticed that this masculine sense sort of fit, because she was very much a femme fetale and the kind of ass-kicking female that we might expect for this title. Oh, sure – there’s a lovely scene of her in bed where she resembles not even an inch of male stature, but when it comes to a mission, she saddles up and puts on her best game face. Alyssa’s main element seems to be that of water, which is very useful as I believe I’ve battled nearly enough robots to have filled one of Wily’s castles in just the first few hours. That includes a fifty-foot tall giant mech robot. Yes, I said just the first few hours – and that’s when I started to “get” Cosmic Star Heroine. I began to notice tiny nodes of attention to detail, like rewarding the player for searching every nook and cranny of a building or map by providing secret locations, items and weapons to those who are willing to check everything on the screen. There were many times through the playthrough where I thought to myself, “Hmm… maybe I should go down that road instead of exiting the screen here” and there I might find some more enemies guarding a chest, or perhaps an out of the way chest that I never would have seen otherwise – and never would have grabbed, either. It’s worth mentioning that not all of the items were indeed useful, but perhaps later in the game I may find some worth for what I’d picked up.
Getting back to the characters, we also have a gunmancer (which is a very cool idea by the way, and it’s executed surprisingly well) by the name of Chahn and the hacker, Dave. Yeah, Dave. It makes me think that the devs were just kind of racking their brains trying to figure out what they were going to name this guy and all of a sudden someone on the internet says, “What about Dave?” So there we have it, Dave the hacker. At first, I didn’t think Dave was going to be all that useful, but when Dave recieved more abilities and I found out how imperative in battle that some of his skills were, (he really is more of a support character, so healing, buffs and status effects are the name of the game here) I quickly changed my tune. Later on, we get a musician character that seems to echo Chrono Cross’s Nikki. We even get to watch a full performance before she joins the party and is just as useful as the hard-hitting bald muscle who leaves just before. In all honesty, so much happens within the first few hours of this game that it’s comparable to the non-stop action in Garth Ennis’s Preacher books. You don’t want to stop playing, because you don’t know what is going to happen next. When I first got into a Deus Ex style headquarters, I assumed that this was going to be my base of operations for the whole game – but that didn’t happen. Then after I was on the run for a while and beat up an overgrown bucket of bolts that wanted my head for a bounty, (and not the other guy that also wanted the reward on my head, that’s another story) I ended up lifted by nostalgia when I walked into The Freedom Festival, or dare I say, “The Millenial Fair 2017 Edition.” Oh, yes – that Chrono Trigger feel was there in spades and I was more than happy to see it. I never did attempt to face the cat in the arena though, even though most say it is much more powerful than it seems.
The battle system is a bit unique. It is not an active battle like Chrono Trigger, but follows a similar setup. You have a turn order bar on the right, and on the bottom you will have a list of skills and abilities. Some of these you can use repeatedly. But others you will have to “defend” in order to use again and build up style points. To be dreadfully honest, I still have no idea what the style system is and have been making my way through the game pretty well without it. I’m playing on “Agent” which is the normal difficulty, and finding it a fair challenge. In any case, obviously enemies will be weak to certain elements and you’ll have a mix of elemental and melee type attacks. Enemies will also literally walk up to your characters to cause damage and you will do the same. This is refreshing as it shows the simple dedication that these developers have for just a few more frames that show the battle happening, rather than someone waving a weapon in the air and damage miraculously being done to an opponent. If it was easy enough to inflict pain on a fellow by punching the air around me, I would have done it by now. All joking aside, the battles are pretty fair and once you’ve leveled up enough, become quite easy. The amount of HP that some enemies have can be staggering at first, until you’ve gotten the hang of the battle system and can easily knock them out cold. There is also a shield system, which imparts different abilities to the characters that equip them and gain new abilities and features overtime. These come with “programs” which are shield based abilities that can be used the same as your style skills. They can be very helpful, like “void bullet” which has been able to deal 400-500 HP at one time, and allowed me a strong advantage in what appeared to be some difficult fights. There are several different types of enemies in the game and you’ll be able to see them gathered around before you even choose to fight them. You can save anywhere, so make sure that you do so before you end up in a battle that you might not be able to win.
The storyline of the game seems interesting enough, I feel that the antagonist is a relatable and unique kind of villain, more so the kind that feels he is doing the right thing for all of civilization. Obviously, your party feels different about this; but there’s no doubt that he feels it is the best and most efficient method for bringing about peace. Our own leaders have thought similar about their own misguided steps.
In any case, this mix of nostalgia, humor, cheese and grits is just what I needed and didn’t even realize until I gave it another go after having a sleep spell in the beginning. In less time than it took me to actually get through the opening and tutorial of Persona 5, I had already traveled to an alien planet, destroyed a mutant monstrosity in an abandoned research facility where discarded robot denizens could actually merge with each other and reanimate dead tissue, unraveled a massive conspiracy, paid a man in a shelter an exhorbitant amount of money to build his own shop, watched a full-length music video performance in a nightclub, ended up on the run from the law, battled a fifty-foot mech robot piece by piece and then jumped into that robot to fight a Kaiju Sentai/Power Rangers style and finally, I discovered a massive underwater base which is I’m guessing the home of the real resistance… it’s like the kid’s face on one of those old Nintendo commercials when his hair is sticking straight up and there are ashes all over his face as if he stuck his finger in an electrical socket – Whoa. Now I’m playing with power, huh? If this is just the first few hours, then what’s next? Really, I can’t wait to see.
The game is available on both Steam and Humble (DRM-Free) for a mere fifteen bones. You can also grab a copy of the soundtrack on the Hyperduck Soundworks Bandcamp page, (link below) and you’ll want to because it’s awesome. As a music reviewer, I was delighted by all of the unique instrumentations which range from rock and jazz to electronica and more. It really feels like a video game soundtrack should, and that definitely keeps you playing. I haven’t heard all of the pieces yet – I haven’t even finished the game. But as of right now, Cosmic Whore Heroin (excuse me, that would have been a VERY different game) err… Cosmic Star Heroine will have very little competition this year when it comes to best indie RPG of 2017. This was definitely worth my money and the wait. Make sure to give it a try if you’re looking for a nice retro-throwback that still feels current.