2017 was an amazing year for indie games and AAA developers. From Horizon Zero Dawn to Hollow Knight, there was plenty for all kinds of gamers to enjoy. Amidst the chaos, it’s easy to miss the smaller releases throughout the year. That’s why I’m putting the spotlight on Cosmic Star Heroine.
Cosmic Star Heroine (PS4, PC) is the result of a Kickstarter project by Zeboyd Games. It’s an homage to classic RPGs, in particular, Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star. But it doesn’t fool itself into thinking that it is Chrono Trigger. Cosmic Star Heroine has its own identity and is better because of it. The two developers from Zeboyd Games have a good understanding of what made old RPGs fun to play.
For starters, the game is self-aware. It doesn’t try to tell a sombre and monotone story, devoid of variety. There is actual humour. What a shocker, right? At the same time, the jokes don’t overpower the rest of the game. Cosmic Star Heroine strikes a near perfect balance in its tone. It isn’t melodramatic like most JRPGs, but it isn’t a parody either.
The characters can feel a little flat at times, but they are well written. They have interesting personalities, which are more than just the usual stereotypes. The cast isn’t just a copy and paste job of the Chrono Trigger characters. And thank goodness there are no stupid love triangles here. Or any romance from what I could tell.
Cosmic Star Heroine uses a turn-based combat system, but it’s still enjoyable. The system is similar to the conditional turn-based system from Final Fantasy X, which is arguably one of the best. If you’re going to be influenced by a classic game, you might as well take inspiration from the best. Of course, Cosmic Star Heroine adds its own ingredients to the recipe.
Items and Special Abilities must be recharged after use in battle. The player is encouraged to carefully plan out their strategy, instead of abusing the most powerful attacks. The battles are also designed around this mechanic. All enemies have weaknesses which you have to exploit. On the harder difficulties, this is the only way to win. The driving force behind the combat is to build up high damage attacks. Buffs and support abilities have a proper use for once.
Every time you die, you have the option of restarting from the same fight. I like this option as it means you don’t have to re-watch cutscenes for difficult bosses. You can also do the same against regular enemies to avoid having to walk all the way back. This makes the game convenient, without taking the challenge away. I always hated how I had to re-watch cutscenes in older RPGs. I didn’t have to worry about that when playing Cosmic Star Heroine.
I also want to highlight the excellent “hi-bit” graphics. I know that many people are getting sick of the pixel look that indie games have. Personally, I haven’t had my fill yet. And every now and then someone does an amazing job, like Heart Machine’s phenomenal action game, Hyper Light Drifter. While, Cosmic Star Heroine isn’t quite on that level, it’s still gorgeous. It’s a little hard to put into words, but there’s a charming flair to how everything looks. My favourite location is the first planet, Gehenna. The cyberpunk neon-lit town is a sci-fi staple that I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of.
The soundtrack is always something I look out for in an RPG and Hyperduck Soundworks have delivered a “sound” OST. The battle themes are energetic and give a rush of blood, as they should. The normal battle theme is a difficult one to ace. It’s the one that players will hear the most, so it needs to feel somewhat refreshing after 100 listens. That was the case here. I never got sick of hearing the battle music. The other tracks from around the game aren’t as memorable, but they are good pieces of music all the same.
Cosmic Star Heroine has a great approach of paying tribute to classic titles. The most important aspect is that it maintains a personal identity. I wasn’t thinking of Chrono Trigger when playing Cosmic Star Heroine (except for the festival). I was thinking of what new surprises and twists that this specific game had. There was an excitement and anticipation that other tribute games, like I am Setsuna, don’t generate.
If you missed out on Cosmic Star Heroine last year, then don’t make the same mistake again. I know that Lost Sphear is out and about, but trust me, this one is a better investment. A fun story that doesn’t take itself too seriously with new types of characters. Classic turn-based gameplay with some fresh elements. The perfect modernisation of my favourite genre.