Saturday, 28 October 2017

Cosmic Star Heroine

Cosmic Star Heroine is a step back into the world of 16-bit JRPG's, but with a eye to the future of streamlining the mechanics for modern era players. This retro turn based party jaunt is deftly illustrated to invoke nostalgia, but also to unnerve the player into thinking the old ways have somehow been refreshed and renewed. This structural contrast is only enhanced by the 1980's science-fiction cyberpunk futuristic theme of the game.

Developed by Zeboyd Games (veterans at turn based party RPG's such as Breath of Death VII, Cthulhu Saves the World and Penny Arcades Precipice of Darkness) kickstarted the game in early 2014 with an estimated delivery in December 2014. A total of 6,400 people backed it for around $132,689. This is obviously a genre that fans want.

After a some lengthy development, the game was finally released in April 2017, and I'm so glad it made it! Onto console as well!

Cosmic Star Heroine is a JRPG with all the usual emo pontification and nonsense removed. It delivers a straight laced but clever Sci-Fi / cyberpunk / spy story hosting unique likeable characters with endearing personalities and tailored skill sets. There is a diverse cast of eleven characters on offer with a maximum of four in your party at any given sequence.

The tactical choices available are numerous, with a variety of elemental attacks, stuns, disarms, poisons (for organics), hacks (for robotics) to name a few. The characters have specialised weapons, affinities and elemental preferences, whether they are melee brawlers or ranged attackers, you can mix and customise your party to provide a tailored composition for efficiency or survival.

I am really drawn to "Gunmancy" the magical art of summoning firearms and laying down a hail of fire. 

One of the more appealing features is that the turn based combat simply opens into the existing area where you engaged the enemy. This does away with the immersive jolt of being whisked into a separate almost unrecognisable area to deal with each battle. You actually fight, in the place you've just been travelling through. It doesn't have a massive impact on the tactical game, but it does shift the flow of combat to a much smoother experience.

There are no random battles, you will see the enemies in the world, before you choose whether to fight or not. Each of your abilities can usually only fire once, unless you recharge your skills which takes a turn. The mechanic plays into a rotation mindset where you have to plan the sequence of characters skills to drop in the most co-ordinated way, to hopefully boost each others effectiveness and also to cover the downtime and outages caused by the recharge. There are two other interesting combat features that play into this cyclic method: "style" which builds as you use your abilities, and which makes subsequent actions more potent or spend it all in a burst attack! and also "hyper" again on another almost bio-rhythmic cycle of boost and bust, builds up over a couple of turns, and when it comes to fruition affords double damage on your attacks or a better chance that your spoiling actions land. Juggling these three mechanisms whilst marrying your attacks between different characters in the party setup is the key to dominating the enemy. 

Some of the action is choreographed well and drops surprises on you in terms of scale and presentation. One of my favourite early moments in the game is where you battle a giant robot, and then pilot the robot yourself. This pushing of the expected boundaries into areas where all you can do is lean back, say "Wow!", and marvel at the spectacle of it all. The unexpected novelty coated in the comfortable familiar 16-bit paintwork is truly worth the price of admission.

The pixel art is stunning, it's hand crafted with animated cut scenes, intricate cyber-streetscapes and harsh sci-fi complexes. The planetary exploration never feels like a chore, its an adventure in just how to craft something using older technology to captivate the player.

Soundwise its an over the top homage to 80's cyberpunk electronica and it really sets the tone for the game as a whole. You can listen to the HyperDuck SoundWorks previews on Soundcloud.

The game is a real pleasure to play, as long as you enjoy party based tinkering and working the unique combat system in clever ways to triumph over your enemies.

However, be warned, it will give you a thirst for Cyberpunk and you'll spend the rest of your year searching for other games that will deliver the same dystopian buzz.

For everything Cyberpunk be sure to check out Neon Dystopia, a news and opinion site that keeps you up to date with the latest and greatest cyberpunk content.