Cosmic Star Heroine was originally put up on Kickstarter in late 2013, raising over $130000 overall. It promised an art style reminiscent of that of a Sega-CD game, a soundtrack that feels like it came from that era, fighting combos and fights that are unique so that every encounter is its own challenge! They even provided a pie chart of how much money will go into each part; according to them, 25% was going to go into the music and sound effects. Perhaps because they wanted it to sound so much like a classic game?
But that was almost four years ago. The developers (Zeboyd Games) predicted that it would be ready for release by December 2014. I would complain how it’s somewhat late, but compared to the infamous Hiveswap, you can’t complain. Regardless, the game is now out on Steam and is preparing to make its way to Europe through Playstation Network. Without further ado, it’s time to discuss the game itself.
The title screen starts off quite small and with a bit of a loading time. While you briefly wait, you are free to marvel at the space background behind the logo. Once everything is finished loading, the music hits you. For me, it sounds like something straight out of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. You’re given the options to start a new game, continue (though there isn’t any point in doing so, since you just bought it), the credits, a list of important characters with descriptions and a handy area where you can study the controls and change the window size. Be warned, though! Upon changing it, the whole thing closes. Once you open it again, you’ll be able to see that the window is definitely larger. If that’s some sort of glitch or oversight, it needs to be rectified.
What can be better than a single difficulty? Four, of course. Each one is intended for different effects: easiest is for people who want more story, easy delivers a better sense of accomplishment for victories, medium is perfect if you want challenge and hard is what you’ll go for if you want to be subjected to repeated beatings. The best thing, though, is that the difficulty can be changed at any time. If you think you’ve dug yourself a deeper hole by playing on hard, you’re easily able to lower it and vice versa.
The first cutscene shows off what you can expect in terms of graphics. As you fly through space and gaze upon the numerous planets, it becomes clear that the developers did deliver on their promise of an art style that belongs to the era of the Sega-CD. Once it cuts to a scene of a city, there’s a mixture of a detailed background and a simplistic foreground. Everything moves without stuttering, though I must complain that there are some moments where the movement speed is inconsistent. Oh, and the main character of this adventure looks as if she’s from a Phoenix Wright fighting game.
A short dialogue later, and you can move with the arrow keys hold X to run. The movement is quite free; you’re able to go in whatever direction you want to except upward into the sky. If you look closely near the first set of stairs you walk up to, the name of the soundtrack artist and the company who made the game are written in graffiti. Nice touch, I must admit.
Once you climb those stairs, you learn the key basics of combat. The first tutorial teaches you about style, as everyone knows it’s important to fight and look fabulous at the same time. For every attack you make, your style increases; the more style you have, the stronger your attacks are. Most importantly, enemies have style too. Every turn, your characters gain Hyper Points: earn enough, and you can enter Hyper Mode, which grants you double damage and increased chance to inflict status effects. Then, you’re thrusted into battle. Conveniently, enemies have their HP and weaknesses shown. That’s certainly a change from old-fashioned RPGs where you had to keep fighting and pray the next hit will kill your enemy.
Tutorial number two teaches you about the numerous abilities you have at your disposal. Once they’re used, you can’t use it again unless you use a defensive ability. By this point, you have no doubt seen the stats. They’re max HP, physique, hackitude, sparke and cunning. Physique is literally your physical attack and defence merged into one, hackitude is your tech damage and also dictates what abilities you can use (thanks to shields having additional perks), sparke is magic attack and defence merged into one with additional style points at the start of every battle, and cunning is speed, item effectiveness and ailment damage/resistance. There is so much behind the scenes with the stats and yet they’re condensed into five groups for easy management.
Then, you meet another important character called Chahn. If you thought the protagonist looked like a fighting game character, your new ally looks even more so. Oh, and she wields magic guns alongside the mystical art of gunmancy. If I wanted magic and guns and had the funds to do so, I’d switch to Enter the Gungeon. That aside, her abilities let her heal teammates and target all enemies for the next gunmancy attack you use. Perfect for big crowds.
Now for the final tutorial: desperation. If you have enough style points and lose all health, there’s a chance to survive the battle with negative HP. However, there are some drawbacks. It was after the next fight I realised that there were two details that I overlooked; not only do enemies have brief descriptions underneath their names, but you also have the ability to grind for XP and gold through the main menu by redoing the battle. Amazing, right?
You make it into the main chamber and face off against the first boss, a behemoth of a man with two lackeys. You take everyone out, and you expect the battle to be over. Sadly, that’s not the case as it is revealed that the villain has a second phase (a trait uncommon for first bosses). Defeated twice, he flees; however, there isn’t time to think as it turns out there’s a bomb in the building and you’re in a race against time to defuse it before it wipes out the city.
Everything fades to black, the title appears before you. And it is revealed that you were never on a future version of Earth. Instead, it’s the planet of Araenu, an industrial world in the Zevanii system. You are now free to wander your top secret government workplace, talking to staff about how everything can go wrong, walk through your colleagues and debunk how all conspiracy groups are connected. Yes, even the space Illuminati.
One key criticism I have about Cosmic Star Heroine is that there are numerous bugs that can result in you having to close the game and restart. If the computer times out and you need to log back in, everything goes black. You’re forced to restart the game and hope that your save file leads you somewhere close to the part of the story you were in. So if your PC goes on standby while you’re in the toilet and haven’t saved for a while, hope you enjoy backtracking. Also, there are times when certain events in battle don’t happen; this results in the next turn or end of battle never showing up. These are issues that needs to be rectified as soon as possible. With what seems to be daily patches rolling out, it’s only a matter of time.
Cosmic Star Heroine is a reminder of the classic days of gaming, when guns in games were not the main focus and pleasure came from crawling through dungeons paved by many companies. Its art style and cutscenes are of the same quality and standard as that of a game from the early 90s (though the cutscenes are of a more animated nature), the music brings out the tone of each area, complementing the colour scheme and the variety of playable characters that each add something unique to each battle. Even if you lack the funds, it is recommended you take a look when you have the chance.