Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and Steam
Zeboyd Games has long been a developer with much potential and with every release their style and design has improved. I’m excited to say that with the release of Cosmic Star Heroine they have hit their stride and created one the most fun “old school” RPG’s I’ve played in a long time.
Cosmic Star Heroine follows the sci-fi tale of Alyssa L’Salle, a woman on a journey to dissect a conspiracy and discover just who is good and evil on the planet of Areanu and beyond. Both well written and fantastically paced, Cosmic Star Heroine’s story is a refreshing reminder that RPGs don’t need to be bogged down with unnecessary jibber-jabber just for the sake of padding the length. During her journey Alyssa is joined by a variety of characters including a hacker, a rock star, and a gunmancer, among others. Each character has a distinct personality that shines through in the story and in combat as each has a set of abilities that fits them perfectly.
Cosmic Star Heroine’s combat is turned based with a heavy focus on strategy and fluidity. Each member of your team has a variety of abilities to choose from (with more unlocking as you level up), ranging from standard weapon attacks to elemental attacks to attacks that cause certain ailments like poison or charm and many more in between. In most cases, each of these abilities (up to eight per character) can only be used once before they are disabled, but having a character use a defend command will allow them to recharge during battle. Along the same lines, you’ll also be able to bring up to eight items (eventually) into battle. All items are shared by your party, can only be used once per battle, and replenish following the encounter. These items can do everything from replenish a team member’s HP to buff their stats. On the surface it’s pretty standard combat for a turn-based RPG, but digging deeper allows for a variety of strategic options.
What sets the combat of Cosmic Star Heroine apart from other games of its ilk are the style, hyper, shield, and desperation mechanics. As the battle wages on, the heroes (and enemies) will gain style based on the abilities they choose to use. As style increases so does the effectiveness of your actions, so in most cases the longer the battle, the more powerful the combatants become. Hyper is another mechanic that will allow you to unleash more powerful attacks. Each member of your crew has a specific number of turns in which it takes them to go “hyper.” For example, Lauren (the rock star) will start each battle hyper and then it will take three turns to build back up, where as Alyssa will go hyper after two turns and then every three turns thereafter. When a member of your crew has hyper active they will do double damage or have twice the chance to afflict an enemy with an ailment on that turn.
Each of your crew members can also equip what’s known as a shield. Each shield effects stats differently and offers up a variety of abilities to use in combat known as programs. Think of it as special moves that other games would charge you MP to use, but in Cosmic Star Heroine they are free to use. The caveat being that each of these shield programs can only be used once per battle (and defend commands will not replenish them), adding yet another layer to strategizing.
The desperation mechanic in Cosmic Star Heroine is a unique ability that allows you to keep a dying party member in the fight. As a crew member is dealt what would normally be a killing blow, if they have enough style points, they will go into negative HP and desperation mode will be activated. Once activated, you will have until the end of that character’s next turn to either heal them and take them back into positive HP or go out guns blazing with one final attack. In desperation mode damage is increased and self-HP restoration is reduced, so prioritizing what the crew needs in these moments can add yet another wrinkle into your battle strategy. Regardless of how you choose to use their last moments, if a character ends up with their HP in the negative at the end of their turn they will be lost for the current battle. It’s an interesting mechanic that lets you use certain abilities and strategies to its benefit. For us less than stellar players, it can also be a bit of a safety net if things go off the rails.
Strategy really is at the core of the combat experience and you can make it as easy or deep and involved as you please. That being said, if you plan to tackle the harder, more brutal difficulties Cosmic Star Heroine has to offer you’ll need to be fully versed in how each of these unique combat mechanics work. Without that knowledge you won’t stand a chance. It took me at least half a dozen tries just to beat the first tutorial enemy on the hardest difficulty.
Combat and story aside, the first thing you’ll probably notice about Cosmic Star Heroine is its art direction and old school design. In the vein of 16-bit RPGs like Chrono Trigger, it is a gorgeous game to look at when exploring and in combat. It also offers up animated cutscenes that, while not bad by any means, didn’t feel quite as on par with the polish of the actual in-game art. Another bright spot in Cosmic Star Heroine is the soundtrack. Each music track perfectly conveys the feeling and mood during each section of the game and are high quality throughout.
While there are some amazing aspects to Cosmic Star Heroine, it isn’t without some technical issues. I had the game crash on me three times in the same spot (the first time losing over an hour of progress because the game doesn’t feature any kind of auto save) and freeze up on a couple of other occasions. I also got stuck behind or on objects a few times and was forced to load a previous save in order to continue. This all occurred following the release of the game’s first patch. Luckily, the game allows you to save at any point and you’re going to want to do that often. Don’t be like me and learn that lesson the hard way. While a game completely crashing is never a good thing, if you do save often it’s also not completely game breaking.
Outside of the technical issues there are other minor problems that make Cosmic Star Heroine feel lacking in polish. Small things like a number of characters simply being called “NPC” or typos in the dialog stand out because the rest of the game is so well done. I also found the difficulty to be a bit uneven in parts. There were a few times I’d find an area with weaker enemies and gain little to no XP after battling more powerful enemies in adjacent areas. Then there were times when I’d breeze through an area only to come up against a collection of enemies that felt far more lethal than the rest and then that would usually be followed by a boss fight that wasn’t nearly as difficult. All of these issues are minor nitpicks, but they are noticeable in an otherwise superb experience.
Although it does have some technical issues (which Zeboyd seems to be doing a nice job of patching quickly), Cosmic Star Heroine is still a great game. If you’re a fan of RPGs, old school or modern, you should do yourself a favor and give this one a go. With a cast of memorable characters, fantastic combat, an amazing soundtrack, and numerous Easter eggs to uncover there is so much to enjoy here. It is evident that much love went into making Cosmic Star Heroine during its three years in development and you’d be hard pressed to find a more satisfying experience as its price point. Just remember…save often.