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Move over, James Bond!

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    Cosmic Star Heroine

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    Move over, James Bond!

    Cosmic Star Heroine (CSH) review

    The Game
    In this throwback style, crowd-funded RPG, you play Alyssa L’Salle, the top agent at a futuristic spy agency. The game starts out with Alyssa on a mission to save some hostages from a terrorist organization. It throws a few simple tutorials at you, gives you a teammate, and lets you wallop the bad guys. Naturally, Alyssa’s missions quickly become about saving the world as opposed to just a few hostages.

    Alyssa is a natural leader, and quickly picks up allies in her quest – each specializing in different areas and elements, as is standard for this style of game. You’ll explore various locations on a few different planets, with a relatively brief main quest. There are some side quests and optional bosses as well, if you know where to look and talk to the right people at the right time.

    CSH has an appropriate length for the price – I happened to pick it up on sale for $2.49, but I believe it was $7.99 normally. A casual play through will last 8 -15 hours depending on the speed and thoroughness of the player. I beat all of the optional content and the main game in just over 12 hours. What’s more – this game is fun the whole way through, without any sections to be dreaded. There are also 4 difficulty levels – the first one is really far too easy, the second difficulty is easy, and the most difficult just seems unnecessarily hard. On that difficulty level, the player will need to grind for levels or face many game-overs while using trial and error to map out the best way to beat a tough fight.

    The Good
    This game does a lot of things right. The story is solid – fairly well-written, with the right amount of self-awareness. There are lots of entertaining discussions to be had with random NPCs, the party’s playable characters, and even with the bad guys. One thing that struck me about this game is the excellent use of both fixed and optional parties. For example, early on, you are given a couple of characters and you don’t have any options. A few hours into the game, you get some free will in your party choice. After that, you can mostly bring along whomever you want, but there are a couple sections where the game forces a particular character or party.

    CSH did a great job with pacing. Story, exploration, and combat are seamlessly woven together, and you’re never stuck doing one thing or another for too long. Many RPGs have trouble pacing the game correctly. In some games, you’ll spend an hour on story, then 5 minutes in combat and then more story. Or sometimes other games open up side quests right at a time that would be better to continue with the main story so you don’t lose focus. This game blends everything very well, a few battles here and there, some story, then you’re on to the next mission. You’re free to explore in between missions, but there isn’t an overwhelming amount of things to do and there is no harm in backtracking to an earlier area to see if something new popped up.

    Combat is fun and fast paced. Alyssa is excellent in combat, but not extremely overpowered like the main character of some other games (like Earthbound). There is a bevy of abilities in this game, although many of them are relatively worthless. With so many combinations, combat can be entertaining if you like to experiment with different teams and builds. Although some characters are a head and shoulders above the rest, they can all be useful in the right situations. Another nice thing about the combat is that you can see the enemies in advance and there are no random battles. There are a fixed number of battles in each area, and once you clear an area, you can use the menu to refight a battle to gain experience and money, as well as practice your team setup. The glory here is that when you’re backtracking through a previous place, you don’t have to take the time to fend off the weak enemies.
    There are other great features as well. For me, it’s the little things – menu navigation is quick, saving is quick and can be done anywhere, there’s an option to skip cutscenes, and dialogue scrolls quickly. The music is solid even though the visuals are not fantastic. Each playable character feels like they belong on the team. The list goes on and on.

    The Bad
    Thus far I’ve had nothing but good things to say – so why isn’t this game a 10/10? Well, there are a couple of moderate issues that prevent this game from being a masterpiece. Firstly, there are a few bugs and glitches out there. One was very minor – sometimes the menu navigation panes wouldn’t load correctly, which was easily fixed by backing out. The only other one I experienced was that the game will freeze if you approach certain battles from the wrong direction. This only happened to me twice, and after that I was careful to be sure that I approached enemies from the "correct" direction, as there is a natural flow to most every screen in the game. It is also important to note that there were numerous bugs when the game first launched, some of them game-breaking. These were patched fairly quickly, but it definitely impacted those who played this game on or around the launch. I picked it up about 4 months after the release, so fortunately I didn’t experience any of the major issues.

    Another problem with the game – combat balancing. Full disclosure – I only played on the 2nd difficulty level, and I’m sure the next difficulty level would have been more of a challenge, but ultimately the issues still exist. With the game’s combat gimmick of ‘hyper mode’, characters do double damage. That’s already a huge bonus, especially if you’re hitting a weakness. But throw in multiple damage buffs that all stack together, and you can have incredibly high damage output. So basically, you buff up for 1 or 2 turns and then unleash, and even the optional bosses don’t stand much of a chance. After about halfway through the game, most battles can be cleared in 2-3 turns. Granted, you can ignore these and just attack away and grind out the battles, but I feel like the balancing could have been done better. Part of the problem is that you can end up using 2 characters for most of the game and neglecting the others. Between Alyssa and the two companions with the best buffs, the third character is basically just a filler.

    This game is really very good, but I felt I had to mention those two aspects that may detract from the game for some people.

    The Conclusion
    I can’t recommend this game enough. For the nostalgic, you might feel like you’re playing Chrono Trigger or Earthbound again for the first time. It isn’t as epic as some of the classics, but it is a very entertaining game that I’ll probably be picking up to replay every couple of years. It plays so quickly and fluidly that it should be entertaining for both veterans and newcomers alike.

    Final score: 8/10

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