A Retro Space Opera That’s Out of This World
As a working father with two children under the age of three, the Nintendo Switch has been something of saving grace when it comes to getting in some time to game. Being able to to enjoy Nintendo’s offerings from the comfort of my sofa while the little ones partake in a viewing party of Little Baby Bum (do NOT Google that, you’ll thank me later), has been the sole reason for me being able to keep up with the current generation at all. So whenever I catch wind of a game I would have otherwise missed being ported over to the Switch, I get as excited as my kids do while they watch their god forsaken show. One such game is Cosmic Star Heroine.
Developed by Zeboyd Games, Cosmic Star Heroine is a JRPG-influenced title which recently made its way to the Switch after initially being released in 2017 on Steam and on the PS4/Vita. Right on the onset, you are introduced to Alyssa L’Salle, a no-nonsense API Agent who is known throughout the galaxy as an all-around badass. Her amusing banter is quite refreshing when compared to the cliche amnesia-ridden heroes of the JRPGs during the 16-Bit era. Over the course of the game, you are introduced to a motley crew of party members including: Chahn – a Gunmage and Alyssa’s closest friend, Dave – a top-tier hacker that scares easily, Arete – a leader of a terrorist organization, Lauren – an indie band singer (and yes, you will hear her sing and it’s magical), and many, many others along the way. At different points in the game, your party members will be swapped out, broken up, and reunited, allowing you to really experience each one without having to ignore anyone. No character felt like they were sidelined as Cosmic Star Heroine plays up on each party member’s build and moveset. Traditional JRPG jobs/classes take a backseat to allow for more fun and fresh abilities. Everyone just meshes so well together and their strengths are underscored by Cosmic Star Heroine’s greatest innovation – it’s combat system.
Inspired & Evolved
Unlike the JRPGs it was inspired from, Cosmic Star Heroine’s combat mechanics are unlike anything I have ever experienced. Instead of being able to spam “Attack” or “Magic”for example, each ability has a limited amount of uses before it needs to be recharged. Abilities can only be recharged by choosing the “Defend” option. So don’t expect to get by on the same ability when fighting a group of enemies. Cosmic Star Heroine is all about strategy and using the right combination of abilities and knowing when to defend. But the innovation doesn’t stop there. The game also employs a Hyper Mode and a Desperation Mode. As you pick and choose between your abilities, a Hyper Meter will fill up underneath your character’s Health Meter. Once it’s full, your next move, be it an Attack, a Buff/Debuff, or a Heal, will be more potent than it would normally be. Desperation Mode on the other hand is a mode your character enters when they have lost all health and have dipped into negative HP (yes, that’s a thing). In Desperation Mode you are have one last ditch effort to heal yourself before you say bye-bye. Oh, and did I mention Style? During combat you gain Style which is signified by a percentage above your Health Meter. The more Style you have, the more damage you deal. Pretty neat huh? All in all, party members can equip up to eight unique abilities and will constantly learn new ones as they level up (at an incredibly brisk pace, mind you). I found myself messing around with these ability permutations a ton over the course of my playthrough, which made late game confrontations all that more exciting.
Outside of swapping out abilities, you’ll constantly comes across new weapons and gear to try out. The game always makes it a point to provide you with the best equipment while also giving you enough options to play around with. Weapons come in a healthy variety and while some may be stronger than others, ‘weaker’ ones often have a few auto-buffs that make them worth taking into battle. Items are handled a bit differently here too. Instead of stockpiling a metric ton of potions to heal, Items in Cosmic Star Heroine also work on a recharge system adding yet another layer of strategy to the mix. It all blends so well with the game’s presentation and story.
Cosmic Star Heroine has a wonderful brisk pace about it. I found myself going from beat-to-beat, battle-to-battle at at incredibly satisfying rate. The game doesn’t force random battles on you (thankfully) and has all enemies laid out for you on the screen. It really helps keep the game moving along and doesn’t break up the story it’s trying to tell. Speaking of which, the story is really something. There is a buttload of drama to be found in this sci-fi meets spy thriller. Taking a cue from the likes of Phantasy Star and Lunar and a healthy bit of Blade Runner throw in for good measure, Cosmic Star Heroine starts off innocent enough with you and your team busting a few terrorists and saving a few hostages. All in day’s work, right? But what starts off as a typical day for Alyssa and her posse, quickly spins out of control when one of their superiors has hatched a sinister plot to gain control of the world. I got to give Zeboyd Games credit where credit is due – you really don’t see enough science fiction in a JRPG. Fantasy setting are cool and all, but stumbling into an abandoned factory that covered in streaks of blood and sprawling with mutated meshes of flesh and metal is really something special to behold. It also helps that soundtrack is of the highest quality and the expressions on the 16-Bit sprites communicate a wide arrange of emotions. Take all of this and add a decent amount of pixel-perfect cutscenes and you have an experience that shines brighter than any star in the galaxy.
Cosmic Star Heroine is a must-have title for both fans of the JRPG genre and newcomers alike. It is an atmospheric space opera with very clear influences of the Sega Saturn’s best role-playing games. With a combat system unlike any other, a gorgeous retro aesthetic and a stellar soundtrack, Cosmic Star Heroine is a product of pure passion. You can tell that the two-man team of Zeboyd Games gave this game their all. While there might be a few shortcomings when it comes to character development, Cosmic Star Heroine brings some much innovation to the JRPG formula while keeping the heart and soul of its 16-Bit muse intact.