Zeboyd Games, known for many retro-inspired RPGs such as “Breath of Death VII” and “Cthulhu Saves the World,” released Cosmic Star Heroine on Steam in 2017 after successfully running a Kickstarter to fund it. Since then, Cosmic Star Heroine (CSH) has found its way to many other platforms and now to the Nintendo Switch. CSH takes a lot of inspiration from classic RPG titles such as “Chrono Trigger” and “Final Fantasy,” but does it do enough to set itself apart from the games it aspires to be like?
Story & Writing
The story in CSH centers around a strong female lead by the name of Alyssa L’Salle. Alyssa is a secret agent and part of an agency tasked with protecting the galaxy. Without getting into the plot too much, Alyssa learns early on of a conspiracy and is forced to go rogue with a cast of memorable characters to save the entire galaxy from destruction. The story is very fast-paced and shifts dramatically over very short periods of time. For the most part, it is pretty predictable, but it stays energetic and is quite a bit of fun. One minute you are exploring an alien world and the next minute you are fighting a giant monster in a mech suit.
You can tell the team at Zeboyd enjoyed writing the story in CSH as it never takes itself too seriously and has some fantastic dialog and easter eggs throughout. In fact, the dialog is written in such a way that you will find yourself seeking out every NPC to speak to them, which in some cases, is actually necessary to continue the story. In the end, the story feels like a culmination of many ideas, ranging from movies to other games, and is full of RPG tropes, but the pacing and writing is very enjoyable and only helps to build upon the cast that is presented to you.
Prior to actually playing CSH, I had heard people compare it to the SNES RPG Classic Chrono Trigger, which is especially dangerous to do. After playing and finishing the game, I can safely say the game is not trying to be Chrono Trigger all that much, but is instead inspired by it. Sure, there are definitely things in CSH that are like Chrono Trigger, such as the way you interact with enemies to battle and how your characters look and move around the world map. In fact, the art design, sprites and graphics are like Chrono Trigger, but the actual battle system, story, and gameplay end up feeling very different than that of Chrono Trigger. CSH is a retro-inspired RPG designed for a gamer like myself, older with far less time to game, and I very much appreciate that. CSH offers a grind-free experience with different difficulty levels to choose from if you are looking for a challenge.
At first, when you jump into CSH you might expect a typical JRPG battle system, one where you encounter enemies and are then given options like “Attack,” “Magic,” “Items,” etc. That is not the case with CSH, and ultimately what you have is a very complex, strategic battle system with an amazing amount of depth in terms of how character skills mix and interact. It’s not quite the same kind of interaction as Chrono Trigger’s character abilities though. It’s actually a bit hard to describe and an aspect of the game that took me a while to get the hang of. The game, right at the start, gives you some tutorials about the different pieces of the battle system, but it will take you a bit of time to really grasp what all is happening. When you finally do, it’s a very rewarding and enjoyable battle system.
There are 11 different playable characters as the story progresses. Each character comes into your party with a different mix of skills. Items are available and shared across the members of your party during battle. Then, depending on the shield you have equipped, each character can access different Programs with different effects. Most skills can only be used once before they have to be recharged. There is a specific option every character has to defend and recharge. Each character has a large set of skills they learn as they level up, but only 8 can be equipped at once. As you go through each area of the game, enemies have weaknesses against elemental effects, and you will find yourself needing to plan who is in your party very carefully. Skills range from attacks to party heals to style increases (more on style in the next section) or status effects. Mixing and matching skills during battle can lead to some really creative strategies and is especially important in the higher difficulty levels the game provides.
The battle system is also extended through what is called “Style” and “Hyper Points,” both of which are shown by each character in battle. As attacks are made, the character will gain style, which will help increase the effectiveness of skills/attacked used as the battle goes on. Enemies gain style also and become deadlier as the battle continues. Each turn gains the character a Hyper Point, and once the bar fills, the character goes into “Hyper Mode” and begins to glow a differen color on their next turn. Hyper Mode leads to double damage on the next attack. This might sounds complicated, and it is, but once you get the hang of it, you can unleash some nasty attack combos that make for a really enjoyable battle system. The battle system is the best part of CSH, and encouraged me to take on every battle possible as I played through the game. Toward the end of the game, enemy HP levels are really high and understanding how to make the most of your attacks and skills is crucial to your success in the game.
Graphics & Music
As I mentioned before, the game definitely takes some of its art direction from Chrono Trigger, which isn’t a bad thing. The character sprites are all very well done, each with a very distinct look. Enemy design is top-notch and full of variety. I personally loved the variety of enemies in each place the story takes you, and a few times was very surprised at what I was about to fight. The planets and areas you can explore are very interesting and full of intricate details and animations. You will want to explore every single inch of the worlds you drop into. Cut scenes are also done in a retro-fashion more akin to something you’d see from a Sega CD type game. The aesthetic of CSH works due to its vibrancy and life.
As far as the music in the game, it goes right along with the retro-futuristic style of the game itself, full of very atmospheric tunes all the way to straight-up jazz music. While the main battle track specifically is catchy, there’s quite a variety of music as you make your way through the game. None of it is bad, and some of it’s amazing, meshing very well with everything else the game has to offer.
Overall, performance on the Nintendo Switch has been solid. The controls are precise with a very stable FPS and no lag. Load times are extremely minimal. The only issues I’ve seen during my playthrough involved music and sound effects not loading on occasion. One of the characters you meet midway through the game has a drone with her that periodically makes attacks. For me, just about every attack the drone made did not have a sound effect. I know for certain that one of the attacks did have sound, but the others didn’t. In another place, when I entered a new area no music loaded for the area until I changed screens and came back into the area. These are super minor issues that can likely be fixed in a patch.
I’d like to mention a number of little things that go a long ways in making the game even better. Sometimes the details make a world of difference. First off, every item and weapon in the game gives you a nice description of what it does and who it’s for the moment you acquire it. That’s super handy and instantly gives you the ability to go equip the items and weapons instead of being left to guess what it does. Next, and this is really minor but also handy, every NPC you run across in the game is non-blocking, meaning you can walk right through them. No more waiting for an NPC to get out of your way when you are trying to enter a building or go somewhere. I appreciate the thought put into little additions like this.
Cosmic Star Heroine is a charming retro-inspired game that sets itself apart with its deep battle system. Don’t go into this game expecting a unique storyline, but instead know that it was made with a lot of love and care by people who are obviously fans of SNES-era RPG’s. Cosmic Star Heroine does a ton of things right and provides many hours of entertainment at a budget price.