Platforms PC, PS4 (reviewed)
Developer Zeboyd Games
Publisher Zeboyd Games
Release Date April 11, 2017

Review code provided

Cosmic Star Heroine is an SNES flavoured JRPG-inspired game set in a sci-fi world that casts players as Alyssa L’Salle, a top secret agent for the Agency of Peace & Intelligence. During the course of a missions Alyssa uncovers a terrifying conspiracy and is forced to go rogue and fight against the agency she once called a home. Luckily she’s not alone. Alyssa is joined by a varied and colourful cast of characters, each of whom you’ll need to save the day.

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Cosmic Star Heroine pulls the same trick that games like Doom and Wolfenstein: The New Order have managed before it – taking a classic gameplay genre and adapting it for the modern era. The game takes a ton of features that worked from the JRPG’s of the SNES-era, bins the outdated elements and splices its own gameplay ideas into the DNA. The result is a game that feels simultaneously familiar and fresh. It starts with the soundtrack, which might seem like an unusual place to start a game review, but it’s immediately noticeable.

HyperDuck SoundWorks’ score is sublime right from the moment it blasts you with awesome tunes in the start menu. It’s reminiscent of the kind of 90’s gaming Cosmic Star Heroine draws its inspiration from whilst running the full gauntlet of styles and moods. From the incredibly catchy battle theme to jazzy exploration music, creepy environmental tones, some truly awesome musical set pieces and everything in between – Cosmic Star Heroine’s soundtrack is an absolute delight.

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The fantastic soundtrack aside, combat is the true star of Cosmic Star Heroine. The game adopts familiar turn-based battle mechanics, but with a focus on taking advantage of enemy weaknesses. The game also ditches any kind of MP/SP system, giving playable characters a pool of moves that they can use whenever they like. The catch? You can (mostly) only use each move once and must spend a turn defending to replenish a characters’ moveset. This is coupled with the hyper mode and style systems.

Characters enter hyper mode every few turns (and at different speeds), which grants their next attack double damage. Style is earned every time a character uses an ability, meaning their attacks will generally get more powerful the longer a battle goes on. All of this comes together to create an incredibly deep combat system that requires strategic planning and tactical thought. Each character will also eventually unlock more abilities than they can equip, giving you a degree of flexibility in defining their roles.

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While it can be a bit daunting to wrap your head around at first (the tutorial is woefully inadequate at communicating the battle system’s intricacies), it’s incredibly enjoyable once you’ve gotten the hang of it. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in timing your attacks and buffs just right to deal huge amounts of damage. Cosmic Star Heroine keeps you on your toes by never letting you complacently mash the attack button, constantly throwing new party members at you to keep you constantly learning new tactics.

There are some issues, however. There are a couple of abilities that can be learned in the mid-to-late game (depending on how quickly you level up) that are hilariously overpowered. Throwing all your damage buffs onto a character with one of these moves will generally wipe out most enemies. You’ll also need to crank up the difficulty to really be able to make use of the combat system’s many nuances, otherwise it’s fairly easy to breeze through most fights without too much thought.

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From the moment you hit “new game” you’re pretty much thrown straight into the game, with a quick tutorial to catch you up to speed and a boss fight within the first 15 minutes. Cosmic Star Heroine moves at the speed of light, a JRPG built around quickly getting you from one moment to the next. Sure, the game rewards patient exploration with goodies and features more than a few optional side quests, dungeons and secret boss fights, but this is a game that wants you to get where you’re going as quick as you like.

It’s in this breakneck pace that a few of Zeboyd’s own, smaller ideas come brilliantly into focus. Little touches like characters healing between battles so you never need to worry about dragging half dead characters into a fight. Items are single use, meaning that you don’t need to invest your hard earned cash into hoarding every potion you find (but you can only use each one once during combat). And you can save anywhere you like, rather than need to go looking for save points.

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This speed serves the gameplay really well, allowing the game to flow. Where this pace has its drawbacks is when it comes to the story and its large roster of protagonists. Cosmic Star Heroine’s main characters are poorly served by the length of the game. While they’re fairly entertaining, with some pretty fun interactions and dialogue, they’re never really allowed to grow. Some of them have their own special side missions, but even these don’t really do much to give characters any depth.

The fact that this is all wrapped inside a fairly generic story exacerbates the game’s lack of any real impact. While the cutscenes are well drawn and lovingly reminiscent of classic RPG’s, the story is certainly lacking. There’s just enough here to keep you moving from planet to planet, but little else. Cosmic Star Heroine’s narrative certainly has potential, but it’s squandered by an overly bloated cast that never really gets a chance to shine or develop.

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It also doesn’t help that the various environments are really quite bland. While there is a bit of exploration, the game is mostly linear, seeing you march through same-y environments that never really stand out. The occasional rudimentary puzzle attempts to break up the otherwise linear forward march, but they never amount to much more than walking in the opposite direction to find the button that will unlock the door. The pixel art looks pretty good, but the environments do start to bleed together after a while.

Summary

Cosmic Star Heroine is a fine RPG. What could have been a nostalgic throwback to the golden age of RPG’s is instead a thoughtful and well designed modern take on classic titles. The game builds its framework based on SNES inspirations, then fills in that framework with a variety of its own ideas and modern touches (and the most kickass soundtrack of the year thus far).

While the story and characters are bland, the real star here is the game’s fantastic combat mechanics. Cosmic Star Heroine takes a standard turn-based battle system and flips it on its head, throwing enough depth and strategy into the mix to keep players engaged for its entire running time. The combination of systems and cool ideas make this a great RPG that certainly doesn’t need to rely on nostalgia.

8v2


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