Without a doubt, my favorite game genre has to be the JRPG. Games of this genre tend to have just the right balance between familiar and new. They are wide and expansive yet they aren’t overblown wannabe Hollywood movies like most AAA games are… for the most part.
One who has followed this blog for a while is likely familiar with my love of JRPGs, and likely knows that I took way too long to get around to reviewing this heavily JRPG influenced game. This game was requested as a review by Ryumaou Juno, a former patron of mine and still an occasional reader as far as I know. My apologies for taking so long to get to this one, my unreliability with getting requested reviews out quickly is precisely why I added much more stricter criteria for them. But hey, my incessant procrastination meant that I could have this the 150th game review to be put up on this site… unfortunately I didn’t because I had to put my Eryi’s Action review up.
But enough about my laziness. We instead have an indie RPG to talk about. Cosmic Star Heroine was developed by Zeboyd Games, who were previously most known for silly parody games like Breath of Death VII, Cthulhu Saves the World, and Penny Arcade Adventures: Episodes Three and Four. I myself have given very high praises to Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode Four due it possessing some of the best battle mechanics I have experienced in a turn based RPG, but that didn’t seem to be enough for IGN who gave it a 6 out of 10. Something something can’t spell ignorant something….
Cosmic Star Heroine is an interesting title because it is clear from the outset that this title was intended to go beyond a simple parody RPG. Instead it was something that Robert Boyd and the rest of Zeboyd Games went all out on. A Kickstarter campaign for the game was started in 2013 and and received over $130,000 dollars in pledges. While this is impressive in its own right, Cosmic Star Heroine is not an example of a Kickstarter far exceeding the expectations of its developer.
Cosmic Star Heroine’s goal was 100,000 dollars, which tells you a lot about how ambitious this title is. For comparison sake, Undertale’s goal was $5,000 dollars and LISA: The Painful’s goal was $7,000. It is quite telling just how expansive of a project Cosmic Star Heroine was supposed to be, and it is even more telling that Undertale and LISA are better games.
Don’t get me wrong, Cosmic Star Heroine IS a good game, but this is one of those things that makes me think. I certainly enjoyed my time playing this game, but I am pretty sure that Zeboyd may have been going for a bit more than just “good” with this one. Rather it came across as if they were trying to create something on par with “the classics.” They wanted to create the next Chrono Trigger, the next Final Fantasy VI, the next Phantasy Star IV, the next Lunar, the next… point is, they wanted to create something like the games they grew up with.
The result is something that doesn’t quite reach the same level as the aforementioned classics, but comes a hell of a lot closer than most indie RPGs trying to be the next Chrono Trigger. What Cosmic Star Heroine does well, it does REALLY well, but there is still the lingering feeling that something is missing from the overall experience. In order to figure what it is though, we need to take a closer look at the individual aspects of the game.
We can start with the story that clearly takes noticeable influence from the classics in its pacing. Cosmic Star Heroine is excellent at making sure every scene matters and that there is no pointless fluff or padding. It is noticeably fast paced and exciting all the way throughout, and there weren’t any particularly slow points in the game. You didn’t have any repetitive slogs through old areas, no tedious backtracking or fetch quests, and no ten minute long plot dumping sequences because the game forgot to spread its story out evenly through the game.
You are also constantly introduced to interesting characters and exotic locales, and every area is designed beautifully both gameplay wise and artistically. The sprite work is amazing, the music is stellar, and writing is top notch. While Cosmic Star Heroine may not rival 16 bit masterpieces, like Final Fantasy IV & VI, Chrono Trigger, Phantasy Star IV, Lufia II, Lunar: Silver Star Story, Dragon Quest V and EarthBound, the full game is still very much on par with the second tier SNES JRPGs like Dragon Quest VI, Lufia 1, and Final Fantasy V. Hell I’d argue it’s better than the latter most, but I was never much of a Final Fantasy V fan.
The gameplay starts out solid with what appears to be a unique battle system. Rather than simple turn based affairs, Cosmic Star Heroine uses a battle system that requires players to plan out multiple turns even in regular battle. Most abilities can only be used once until a character takes a turn to recharge, which means one can’t simply have a healer spam the same healing ability every turn. It also relies on chaining multiple abilities together to maximize damage while not running low on health.
The down side is that this takes some time to get the hang of given the amount of gameplay jargon thrown around, especially given how many characters function completely differently from each other and the amount of moves to experiment with. Experienced JRPG veterans shouldn’t have a problem getting a hang of the system though. For most of the game, the battle system make battles very interesting and requires a lot of thinking and planning.
Unfortunately, you then reach the game’s last few chapters that starts with a super tough boss battle against the main villain, one that was so difficult it was one of three points in the game where I needed to change the difficulty setting (The first was early on when I still didn’t have the hang of the battle system, and the third was the final post game dungeon where everything was so absurdly strong and poorly balanced that you either had to change the difficulty to the easiest setting or do a fuckton of grinding to even get past the first room).
Then the difficulty of the game takes a nose dive and all that strategic shit gets thrown out the window. That excruciatingly difficult and also badass battle against the main villain is followed up with another battle against his “true form” in the next dungeon, and it was pathetically easy. It is a shame because the atmosphere was intense and the music was absolute amazing, but the battle was so easy that it ended up a let down. And I didn’t even do any of the sidequests at that time.
As is customary when playing RPGs, I decided to do the game’s side quests before the final dungeon because it feels weird doing them all after I’ve already beaten the game. I think they initially intended to give every character their own side quest at some point but it feel through during development, which means you have two a few characters who have their sidequest early on and then a few more get some right before you’re about to fight the final boss.
The end game content in Cosmic Star Heroine was… weird. One would think that these sidequests would add to the backstory of the characters, and a few of them do like Sue’s and Arete’s, but the rest just seem like weird excuses to references Zeboyd’s previous games. Three of the super boss fights you have are against characters from previous games, and I quite liked the ones against Dem and Cthulhu, but I literally didn’t even remember who Lita was despite having played Breath of Death previously. The fight itself also felt a bit on the easy side for what was supposed to be a super boss.
And then there’s the subject of the game’s strongest superboss, an inter dimensional traveler known as “T” that is also shaped like a giant capital T. Unfortunately I did not think to take a screenshot of the boss and I literally can’t find any footage of the bonus dungeon online or screenshots of the boss despite the fact that other people have definitely beaten this dungeon. I couldn’t help but think this boss might have been a reference to something given the fact the game’s penchant for referencing other games, but it’s nothing I know of. There isn’t even an achievement for beating him so what the fuck?
I basically found most of the end game, including the optional dungeons, to lack the same sort of strategic balance that the game held up to that point. It instead devolves into the same overpowered attack combos with the same set of characters that end most normal fights in only a few turns and make mincemeat out of any bosses in the game. I should also note that with the exception of T, these were all on the game’s highest difficulty setting.
I couldn’t help but feel this was a downgrade from Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode Four that had a ton of party members and required use of all of them. I was already disappointed that the game did not allow you to swap out party members mid battle given that this meant starting a battle only to figure out that another character would be better for it, then needing to reset because this game does not have a soft reset feature for some Goddess forsaken reason.
On top of this, there is more than one plot point in the game that is brought up only to never be mentioned again. There’s the two ominous hooded men in Gehenna and New Rhomu called Bag Men that are said to be assassins earlier in the game then don’t do shit. There is also the matter of the mob boss Enzo who plays a major role as a villain of an earlier arc but you never get to fight him.
I think what is missing from Cosmic Star Heroine when you compare it to games like Chrono Trigger is the sense of refinement and attention to detail. You end up having these unresolved plot points, weird out of place content, a drastic drop in difficulty, and a few rather glaring bugs. Add to that the fact that the game world isn’t quite as expansive as game’s like Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger, that the characters are less developed, and just the fact that the game seems much less polished than those games and you can see what sets it apart from the classics that no one can shut up about.
Of course, this is to be expected when you compare high budget titles made by some of the most well renowned veterans in the industry to a smaller team who was given a fuck ton of money on Kickstarter. It just goes to make me appreciate both of these a lot more, and it is noteworthy that Cosmic Star Heroine still turned out as good as it is. Zeboyd thankfully doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and they are already working on their next game, so I’d say this is a mission accomplished.
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