Also available on PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, and OSX
Cosmic Star Heroine is a game I went into knowing nothing about, immediately felt very conflicted about, and then fell absolutely in love with. I started playing it because Colin said he was going to start it, and I like playing single player games alongside someone else and swapping experiences. When I fired it up and saw the 16-bit-esque pixel graphics, I immediately though "Oh Christ, another damn pixel art game..." but I had kept hearing good things about it, and my friend, Aaron, had given me the Steam code for the game a few months ago, so I decided I'd stick with it. Jesus Christ, I'm so glad that I did.
It's immediately evident that Cosmic Star Heroine takes a lot of inspiration from Chrono Trigger, Phantasy Star, and Mass Effect. It's a 2D JRPG like the former two games, but it has lot of playable characters from whom to choose and a save-the-galaxy sci-fi theme like the latter. Although I didn't realize this until I was about a third of the way through the game, it's made by the same folks who made the PHENOMENAL Cthulhu Saves the World and the (supposedly but I haven't played it yet) excellent Breath of Death VII, two other pixel art indie RPGs. While having satirical rather than serious plots, those games are extremely well regarded (as is Cosmic Star Heroine), so made perfect sense to me why I was enjoying this game so much once I realized that it was the same development team. As I later found out, Cthulhu and the protagonist from Breath of Death actually make cameo appearances as optional side quest bosses (as does the Raccoon City Police Department from Resident Evil 2).
The game plays like a fairly standard JRPG with a team of up to four playable characters (out of a total of eleven) and one non-player "support" character who gives certain buffs (+25% damage to organics, +25% healing, +10% exp gain, etc). Rather than a typical MP system, the game uses a "charge" system whereby your characters' abilities each have one use, and to recharge that ability, the character must spend a turn defending. The game is very approachable and doesn't get bogged down in grinding or meticulous item rationing like a lot of JRPGs because your characters' health is always restored after each battle. The game takes place almost entirely on three different planets with an almost-endgame dungeon and the actually-endgame dungeon away from those three planets. Once a certain point is reached, one can travel freely between the three planets and hunt sidequests and fight optional bosses.
The visuals, being pixel art, don't really stand out as WOW! levels of impressive or anything, but they are definitely well done, and the backgrounds and environments definitely have unique character and charm. The game's music is actually fantastic - something that's often neglected in indie RPGs - and it's the sound design along with the writing that really make the game shine. The music is always fitting for the situation or the locale, and the writing is extremely well done with a story that keeps players interested and engaged and characters who never bore and who are, for the most part, pretty well developed throughout the game's progression. The humor in the game is one of the best aspects of the writing in my opinion, and that will come as no surprise to those who've played Cthulhu Saves the World.
Cosmic Star Heroine is definitely an extraordinary indie game. I've become increasingly difficult to impress with indie games over the years, especially those that employ the done-to-death pixel aesthetic, but this game manages to do it. It's well written, brilliantly designed, and more playable than a lot of AAA games with cutting edge graphics and 3D game engines. It's a simple game, but it's an example of simplicity at its finest. With a handful of platforms supported (not to mention Limited Run Games' upcoming physical releases for Vita and PS4), this is a game that all RPG lovers need to play. I can promise you that it won't disappoint in the slightest.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.