Cosmic Star Heroine – Review
- Disclaimer and introduction to the review
- The review itself
I am very familiar with the turn-based RPG genre, and also one of Zeboyd Games’ previous projects, Cthulhu Saves the World. Of course, the game will be judged on its own merits, but I might use any of the inspirations as an example to strengthen my opinions. The entire game was played on Heroine difficulty, which is the second-highest difficult out of a total of four. Before I started writing this review, I’ve made sure to do everything the game has to offer aside from the post-game dungeon, though I feel the latter is truly only for the people who desire more and will not influence my opinion as a whole. The game was played on Steam, but it is also available on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Vita, and Nintendo Switch.
The soundtrack is pretty good, but especially varied as well! Just these few songs won’t do the soundtrack justice, but they’re nice to listen to while reading the review!
Usually I start these introductions with a short story on how I came across this game but for the first time in… pretty much forever, I am completely at a loss on where to start. What I can say, is that it has been a while since I last played a turn-based RPG. Looking at my reviews, the last game I actually played in this genre was Underhero back in September of last year. That had to change because it is still one of my favourite genres out there. Given that my backlog is… pretty big to say the least, I had a lot of games to choose from. However, the one that caught my eye right away was Cosmic Star Heroine. Several friends have actually told me about this game before, but I didn’t know anything about the game aside from seeing some screenshots that reminded me of the good ol’ 16-bit RPGs. Frankly, I didn’t even know beforehand that this game was developed by Zeboyd Games, a company that I’m personally fond of due to some of their earlier releases. Suffice to say, seeing that company pop up in the intro definitely got me excited. Lets see if this game is able to live up to my expectations and most of all, make me laugh out loud again with their humour in writing!
Cosmic Star Heroine was developed and published by indie studio Zeboyd Games, founded by Robert Boyd and Bill Stiernberg. Both of them had a high interest in creating games themselves–especially RPGs. Robert made a hack for a Slayers SNES RPG and experimented with the Verge RPG creation system, while Bill started learning simple programming by creating maps and levels in the Doom engine. But their chance finally came when Microsoft launched the XNA initiative that allowed anyone to make Xbox 360 games, which led to them working together on their first official title, Breath of Death VII. Forward a few more years until June 2013 when the Kickstarter for their newest upcoming title would launch, which is the game we’re talking about today. The Kickstarter was successful, allowing the team to work on the game in October of the same year with the release happening in April 2017. The game was positively received to the point that it received a physical edition by Limited Run Games, and a nomination for the “original role-playing game” award at the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards. Zeboyd Games is still going strong, with a recent release of a prequel to Cthulhu Saves The World dropping in 2019.
You are thrown into the action right from the start what serves as a good introduction. Terrorists attacking a massive building, many lives at stake and it’s up to Alyssa L’Salle to prevent anything bad from happening. Everything that you need for gameplay is also immediately taught to you in this introduction, starting with a fight against a robot doggo!
It is not really a secret that this game draws inspiration from many of its peers, including a little RPG that you might have heard of before called Chrono Trigger. This is apparent with how the transition from walking around to battles happen seamlessly, with the characters not being positioned in a straight line but just pretty much anywhere they want. And the battle UI is good overall too with how it shows the turn order on the right and every character-related stats in the top-left corner. Though I will say that I am not too big of a fan of how the battle menu is presented in the bottom left, particularly when you start unlocking a lot of abilities. I often tend to forget what an ability does by just looking at a small icon on a board of eight total. And while it shows what the ability does when hovering over it, it still remains a problem for me.
You might have noticed a particular company name graffitied on the wall in the starting area, namely Zeboyd Games. A name I am very familiar with due to their other games Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII. I am mentioning these games specifically because one of their strongest assets is the good sense of humour that made me laugh out loud multiple times, and that humour is not lost here at all. Every enemy you examine has some unique description to them, with some definitely downright hilarious. This also shows their elemental weaknesses, though I would have liked to see what their race was as well since I sometimes had issues with identifying if a bug with a glowing blue dot on its head was a robot or not. Either that or I need to study biology again, but I never ever want to go back to school so I refuse. You can’t make me.
Continuing on with the tutorial, there is a short skyward battle that… for whatever reason happens only here and never anywhere else, which is weird. But on top of the building is where we meet Chahn, a girl specialized in… gunmancy! God, I love that name. And it is epic in general! Why use classic magic when you can just summon guns out of nowhere? And Chahn is only a taste of the number of great characters that will join our cause, such as the suicide robot dancer Clarke, the cybernetically enhanced genius bug Psybe and the agent Finn who can get the hell out of my party. And not only are they unique characters from different races, but all of them play very uniquely in battle as well. Though I’ll come back to that a bit later as the combat system on its own deserves a lot of attention. Foreshadowing by the way.
A mostly linear storyline is followed for the first half of the game. Characters join and leave, though none(?) will leave permanently. The story does suffice on its own, but I wouldn’t call it anything special since it mostly just comes down to a tale of betrayal that the heroes need to act against. The characters and writing both make this story more enjoyable, with a very laidback way of storytelling. Though the game surely has its own terminology, I’ve never had the feeling that I didn’t know what they were talking about. And despite me saying that the story on its own wasn’t too special, there are quite a lot of action scenes to engage the player. I mean, at one point there’s a massive mech that you have to climb, jumping between buildings and fighting it at different heights, resulting in Alyssa taking control of the mech to engage in a mech battle against a monster of equal size. It can’t get much more epic than that.
The story does suffice on its own, but I wouldn’t call it anything special since it mostly just comes down to a tale of betrayal that the heroes need to act against.
While I did say that I feel the story gets better thanks to the characters, it’s mostly because of their original characteristics. They are definitely identifiable due to their role in the party and their way of talking, but the problem with having so many characters is that some definitely get less screentime than others. Taking our suicide robot dancer Clarke as an example again, he helps you break out of jail and… that’s it. With the exception of a few characters, not many have a direct relationship with others and therefore rarely interact with one another. They are mostly part of the crew due to… reasons, resulting in them not developing further unless they are essential to the plot. I’ll remember these characters for who they are, but not necessarily as characters that were important to the story. Except for Finn; he can get the hell out of my party.
But if it’s not their character growth that I will remember them for, gameplay will probably suffice? This is usually where Zeboyd Games shine; taking the turn-based formula and putting their own spin on it. Cosmic Star Heroine does not disappoint in the slightest here, and that is partly due to the number of characters the game has. Funny how more characters can both be a negative and a positive huh.
Every character has four different stats they specialize in, such as magical affinity or ”Hackitude”. Since the story takes place in a sci-fi setting, some characters therefore excel in fighting against robotic enemies. While these stats can be altered slightly, it’s usually for the best to just focus on what a character does well due to the skills they have. Giving Chahn an affinity for Hackitude is pretty much pointless since all the abilities she has revolve around gunmancy. And aside from these skills, there’s also the elemental affinity to keep in mind as Chahn mostly focuses on fire damage.
It is important to keep these skills in mind as there is no normal attack button, and you are forced to work with the abilities at all time. These can only be used once with the exception of a few, but taking a breather for a turn will make them all available again. Resting does not make the items and skills gained from equipable gear available again, but this does mean that items are permanent and should definitely be taken into account for your team building. There’s even a character who makes the effects of items more powerful! Didn’t expect an Atelier reference now did you?
What this all leads to is that Cosmic Star Heroine is very versatile when it comes to team building and synergy, which in turn results in a very fun combat system. Every character feels vastly different from each other and specialize in specific fields. Alyssa is a forced party member at all time so fortunately she is good to play with, but the three others are up to you when the game allows you to. For the longest part of the game, I’ve been working with a ”damage over time” team consisting of poison debuffs from Lauren, damage/heal songs from Psybe and the drone from Arate, which altogether did about 3000 damage each turn for free above normal damage.
What this all leads to is that Cosmic Star Heroine is very versatile when it comes to team building and synergy, which in turn results in a very fun combat system.
That synergy eventually fell apart due to debuffs becoming slightly less reliable. I do like how debuffs are handled in this game as they are not pure chance, but instead rely on an ”invisible health bar”. Eventually I couldn’t land debuffs consistently and Lauren’s damage output was too low, so I switched to a new team build that I would like to dub ”The Spirit Bomb”, which is where the other defining strength of the combat system comes in. It’s told to you pretty early on, but the longer a battle lasts, the stronger enemies become. This also goes for the party members, as they build up style with everything they do that doesn’t consume style to execute. The characters are also stronger on specific turns, indicated by a meter. You probably already figured out what I meant when I dubbed this strategy but yes, this meant that I was using a lot of turns to buff one character, just to use their strongest attack when the time was right to usually win the battle.
As you can imagine, most of the fun I had with this game was experimenting with different team builds. Every character is a viable option–even suicide robot Clarke, who can be turned into a massive damage dealer and good support when the cards are played right. There was only one character that I couldn’t really fit into any synergy and as you might have expected, I’m talking about ”get the hell out my party” man. Finn is the only party member that I could not be bothered with using, though I am looking forward to one day seeing a ”Finn-only speedrun”. Make it happen guys.
But even if you are not into team building, Cosmic Star Heroine has you covered due to how accessible it is for pretty much anyone. The flexible difficulty can be changed at any time, and grinding is completely optional. All the enemies you face are shown on the overworld and do not ever respawn. They should suffice more than enough for just the main game as every member of the crew levels even if they are not in the party, but you can battle as much as you want afterwards through the menu. And hey, being full health after every battle without MP to worry about is pretty relaxing as well.
There’s also a ton of side content that are by no means necessary for the main plot, but will reward you with a lot of goodies. Some even result in small character sidequests, giving them just a little bit more background. We know almost nothing about Sue the suited man, so having an optional sidequest with him does do wonders. Every sidequest usually ends with some of the strongest gear for said character as well, so you never really have to worry about not having the right gear for a character you didn’t use for a while.
Cosmic Star Heroine is a fresh sci-fi JRPG with an especially good battle system that kept me engaged throughout the entire game, constantly desiring to try out different team builds from the wide array of characters. All of them feel very different from each other with their own abilities and specialities that often compliment other characters as well. Not only that, but the battle system tests your strategic mind as well due to monsters getting stronger the longer a battle goes on, and your main form of attack going on cooldown after a single use. If this sounds overwhelming, you have nothing to fear as the title is very approachable with difficulties that can be changed at any point, grinding being obsolete and other quality-of-life improvements. But the amount of characters are also the game’s biggest flaw, as they usually have a single characteristic that does not get developed over the course of the game. Most characters aren’t even directly important to the plot and just happened to join the party by chance, which results in them having a lot less screentime as they usually don’t have a relation to any of the other characters in the party. The story is not really noteworthy either but granted, most of the issues surrounding the characters and the story are softened by the overall charm the game has, with Zeboyd Games’ trademark humour shining in the writing as always.
Final Score: 8.0/10
Thank you for reading! Sorry this review took a bit longer than intended, but I had a lot of difficulties deciding on where to start. Once I started though, it did flow pretty well into a review that lives up to my standards! I’m pretty pleased with the result, and I hope you are too.
I have a lot of articles in the work at the moment, so I’m not 100% sure what’s next yet. Chances are high it’s going to be a very long review with another article joining later in the same week, so look forward to it! In a JRPG with multiple classes, what is usually your team synergy?
I’m kind of a boring person in that regard as I’m usually satisfied with a melee fighter (preferably two swords), a white mage/healer, a black mage/spell caster and a taunter/tank. It covers all of my needs as I can dish out damage with two separate characters, keep them alive and also prevent them from dying with the taunter. If I had to sacrifice one of them it would probably be the taunter however.