Inspired by the great 16-bit JRPG’s of old such as Phantasy Star and Chrono Trigger, Zeboyd Games’ Cosmic Star Heroine is the latest in a long line of Kickstarter funded projects to enter the wild. With a vibrant and diverse cast of characters, as well as very unique battle system, Cosmic Star Heroine certainly delivers on it’s promises of capturing the essence of classic JRPG’s whilst trimming the fat and issues that such classics hold close.
The bog-standard video game narrative has you play as Alyssa L’Salle, a super spy for the galactic ‘peacekeeping’ government known as the API. After uncovering a conspiracy from within, you and your party are tasked with saving the day. Whilst not pushing new boundaries with its story or being a straight up parody, the world building and subtle humour woven throughout make this IKEA-flatpack narrative something special. Characters such as Z’xorv the alien bounty hunter and Psybe the cyborg insect not only showcase the variety in aesthetic design, but also that each character has a distinct set of skills and strengths to be used in combat.
The combat itself is one of the best turn-based battle systems in recent years, and like classic JRPG’s there is a lot of depth to uncover. Rather than consuming chunks of an MP-style bar to activate abilities in battle, the majority of abilities are locked after a single use until the next time your character defends, whereby all abilities are refreshed and ready to be used again. Another neat twist that Cosmic brings to its combat is the ‘Hyper Bar’, a gauge that fills up on every turn until the character enters hyper mode, where they will do extra damage until the turn ends. This means that in order to optimise the damage your character deals whilst in hyper mode, you want to make sure they have their best attack ability ready to use and not already locked due to using it early. At lower difficulties, understanding these systems and how to maximise their efficiency isn’t entirely necessarily save for a few boss battles, but on the ‘Heroine’ difficulty and above, you’re going to want to delve deep into these elaborate systems for challenging and rewarding scenarios. Another departure from classic RPG battles is the lack of random encounters. Cosmic Star gets rid of the monotony of grinding through low-level areas that so many games are a culprit of, meaning that every single encounter has a purpose, wherever it be in progressing the narrative or blocking a path to some rare loot and weapons, making each battle seem justified.
Playing on PS4, however, brought a significant amount of bugs and glitches, including multiple instances where my game soft-locked or just straight up crashed after beating a certain boss battle. Fortunately, these bugs have now seemingly been fixed through two patch updates, including fixing the overly-sensitive X button when progressing through conversations that kept starting the conversation from the beginning again if I wasn’t careful enough. Just remember to constantly keep saving your game every opportunity you get, as there is no auto-save to rescue you from having to re-tread a two hour section of the game, a lesson I learnt the hard way early on.
With a sweet and brisk 12-15 hour story, Cosmic Star Heroine is a must for fans of classic JRPG’s and newcomers alike. Like how Shovel Knight before it took the 8-bit platformer and reinvigorated it for the modern age, Cosmic Star Heroine is a testament to what made 16-bit RPG’s so great, whilst getting rid of all the filler that weighed them down. Despite it’s game-breaking bugs that I luckily haven’t encountered since the most recent patch, this sci-fi romp offers enough new twists to a well-established genre whilst still evoking nostalgia for the classics.