Available On: PC, PS4, PS Vita
We’re supposed to “reach for the moon” in our goals. That way if we fall short we’ll still land among the stars. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given that the nearest star is several light-years farther away than our moon. But the point is sound.
Zeboyd Games’ moon is represented by classic, beloved 90s Japanese RPGs such as Chrono Trigger, Suikoden, and Phantasy Star. It’s a big reason I backed the game on Kickstarter several years ago. To take on some of the best RPGs in gaming with an indie budget and two-person development team is a daunting challenge. While Cosmic Star Heroine falls short in some ways, it still lands among the stars as one of the best games I’ve played this year.
Agent L’Salle and Friends
Cosmic Star Heroine is modeled like a classic JRPG with pixelated sprites, turn-based combat, and an amazing soundtrack. Each planet and alien creature is lovingly detailed; Zeboyd absolutely nailed the classic sprite aesthetic with fun animations and bright colors. There are even some optional mini-dungeons to explore and boss fights to tackle. Fully exploring each planet is a rewarding experience.
The starring heroine Alyssa L’Salle is an intergalactic super agent who, along with some friends, discovers a sinister plot within her own organization. It’s a compelling start to the 15+ hour adventure, though the overall story is one of the weakest aspects of the game.
Like Zeboyd’s previous retro-inspired RPGs, the writing is laser-focused on self-parody and light-hearted humor. The tone is more Saturday Morning Cartoon or YA comic book than dramatic RPG. That’s not necessarily a bad direction, but I would have preferred some more emotional weight. There is a shocking twist near the end involving one of your party members that works well, and I wish there had been more of those kind of moments (though the anime-style cutscenes are a lovely touch).
Like any good JRPG the plot funnels you along from one location to the next, beginning with the urban planet Areanu. Eventually you’ll acquire your own starship and travel to two other planets: the swampy, industrial Rhomu and the alien jungles of Nuluup. The spaceship represents the headquarters for your team, which includes friendly NPCs and support characters in addition to party members.
Your large roster of companions was my favorite part of the game. Ten potential party members can be recruited throughout your adventure. They range from a schmaltzy robot dancer to bestial alien bounty hunter to knife-wielding night club singer. Each has a distinct personality and neat moments in the story, from busting out of prison with Clarke to investigating a zombie attack with Finn.
You can switch party members and their abilities out at any time, which is a hugely welcome convenience in a modern RPG, and made experimenting with different combinations and builds a ton of fun.
Have Bo Will Travel
An RPG is only as good as its combat system. Cosmic Star Heroine builds upon Zeboyd’s previous games that feature a mana-less system. Each character can equip up to eight different abilities, most of which can only be used once before you have to select the Rest command, not unlike Dungeons & Dragons. As turns go by you’ll gain Style, and after a certain number of turns (depending on the character) you’ll go into Hyper mode, which is the time to blast off your strongest attacks.
The combat system lets you unleash your best combos and abilities every battle, which is good motivation to always tinker and find the best ones. You can spot enemy HP and elemental weakness at all times, letting you use the right abilities. I love that a big part of the strategy comes in the pre-battle loadouts, as party members gain twice as many abilities as they can equip, as well as Shields (which provide once per combat abilities) and weapons and accessories that provide passive buffs.
It’s a very overwhelming system at first. It doesn’t help that the attributes involve terms like “Hackitude” and “Cunning.” For a game that uses a lot of nice modern conveniences, it’s severely lacking in-game documentation and explanations beyond the very brief tutorial in the beginning.
Once I began to figure out the rhythm and mechanics of Style, Burst, and Hyper I was able to cruise through later fights with ease, even on the second highest difficulty (out of four). Combat does get repetitive at times, but thankfully you can see foes on the screen (Chrono Trigger style) and there’s an emphasis on quality over quantity when it comes to battling.
Cosmic Star Heroine has been rated T for Teen by the ESRB for Violence and Blood. Blood is a rare sight – mostly with the one bestial party member. Combat involves hitting pixelated enemies, but they disappear with nary a whimper. The story is very YA appropriate.
I encountered a few annoying bugs that caused me to get stuck in the environment, or stop responding (without freezing up) in the middle of combat. The game has since been patched and hopefully all these issues will be cleaned up. Despite a few bugs and my disappointment with the story, I loved Cosmic Star Heroine. The art style is perfect, and it provides a catchy soundtrack, unique combat system, and memorable companions. Even without the nostalgia, Cosmic Star Heroine is a solid RPG that proves that sometimes the old ways are best.