Thanks to Limited Run Games for the review code
Title: Cosmic Star Heroine
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 08/14/2018
In this RPG adventure, you take control of a soldier named Alyssa and her team of friends as they set out to rebel against a corrupt organization known as the API aiming to use a mind control device to influence the world and cause chaos!
Using a 16-bit art style similar to Phantasy Star IV, Cosmic Star Heroine aims to be based on 16 =-bit RPGs from that time period, but instead of being one of the many, many Final Fantasy clones, this aims to mix elements from Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star while throwing in some modern ideas. One of the key aspects of this game is that it also adds anime intermissions not unlike those found in Sega CD/Turbo CD such as Ys IV and Valis II. Granted, these scenes aren’t voice acted and they usually only kick in to show new bits of plot, but I absolutely adore having the early CD era of RPGs get represented for a change, after reviewing so many damn Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest clones by now that I’m sick of those throwbacks.
The music’s also pretty good, since while I do find the normal battle theme to be pretty boring once you hear it over and over again, nearly every other theme in the soundtrack fits the mood perfectly, while select tracks such as the boss battle, title screen and several of the cutscene themes are strong candidates for being iPod worthy themes. If this game’s released on a physical soundtrack outside of the Limited Run Collector Edition, it’s worth owning.
Cosmic Star Heroine is a thirteen chapter adventure revolving around Alyssa and team members she recruits to her cause, progressing in a very speedy and linear fashion. After the first few chapters introduce you to the main plot, the game slowly begins to open up, with a world map that starts off limited as it pushes you through the main story, opening up halfway through the adventure to allow you to explore multiple planets, so don’t expect this to be an RPG with a lot of exploration from the getgo.
Nevertheless, the battle system is the one aspect you’ll familiarize yourself with the most, and the game does a fantastic job of introducing it to you. In the beginning, you and your allies won’t have too much to use in terms of skills or items, but the default moves you start out with cover most aspects you’d need anyway, from basic attacks and healing techniques, ways of inflicting status conditions and a powerful program attack as a last resort. The main gimmick of this battle system comes from how moves are used. You don’t use MP or anything like that, but rather each move fills up a “slot” in your abilities menu, and depending on the move or item they can either be reused a certain amount of times or their slot goes empty after one use. While you are free to use all of your abilities as they run out one by one, defending every now and then to refill your ability slots is pretty much mandatory in longer battles, although defending won’t refill your used items or program abilities, since those can only be used once per battle.
Two other aspects help keep battles interesting and balance the challenge, and those are the Hyper Mode and the Style stat, which both can turn the tide of battle very quickly if you don’t pay attention. In the case of hyper mode, it activates whenever the blue boxes underneath a character all fill up during a battle. During the turn when they’re all filled, the attack you use will be greatly increased in strength, meaning that if you combine hyper mode with a powerful attack it’ll deal ridiculous amounts of damage that can outright murder bosses on lower difficulties. Halfway through the game I used Dave’s Void attacks (available via darkness equipment you get right after obtaining him) when combined with this hyper mode to slash a boss’s 2000 HP in half, when the medium Void attack tends to do 300-500 without hyper mode. Other skills work great with hyper mode too, especially one skill that the character Lauren starts out with that deals extra damage if the opponent is at max health. Try waiting until her hyper mode activates to deal the first blow, or combine that with a Vulnerable status condition!
Then there’s the Style stat, a percentage that’s above a character that allows them to briefly survive in the negative health range if they suffer a powerful attack, depending on how high it is. The higher the stat, the longer they can stay alive before falling to their injuries, and this is raised by either staying in battle long enough or using an item or ability that helps to increase it. While the three main difficulties won’t be too troublesome to deal with if you know what you’re doing, having high style is still important for the weaker characters you’ll recruit that won’t have nearly as much HP as some others so that way you can quickly heal them back to normal.
The last thing of note to discuss are Cosmic Star Heroine’s incredibly nifty QOL features that made this perfect for several car trips I took up or even brief periods where I just wanted to play for a few moments at a time. For starters, your difficulty is adjustable via the options menu at any time, and there’s little penalty for doing so outside of reducing the amount of money you gain if you go for the highest difficulties. There’s only doubling money if you go on the lowest difficulty, but even on the normal settings the money you gain is plenty to buy what you need to the point the bonus doesn’t even matter that much. The main difference for all the difficulties comes from how much health enemies have along with how much damage they dish out, while the two harder difficulties add in some new moves for the enemies to use as well.
The hardest difficulty of them all, Super Spy doesn’t even compare to the ones before it. As mentioned before, this is the difficulty that reduces your money by half, but not only does it do that along with increasing the Style requirements for surviving with negative health, but it takes everything else to the extreme. Enemies gain an insane amount of health compared to the difficulty beforehand, and most bosses can kill a character in two hits if you don’t heal them. While the other three difficulties are fair game for switching on the fly if you feel something is too easy or hard, Super Spy is pretty much only for hardcore masters of the battle system, or those who want to play through the game a second time with a ton of extra challenge, or just for those who want to make select boss fights in this game a lot tougher if you feel that the other difficulties don’t fit your needs.
In conclusion, Cosmic Star Heroine is a fantastic RPG that manages to break away from the dull trend of copying the same RPG battle system we’ve seen dozens of times before, and not only offers a throwback to an era that not commonly paid tribute to, but also adds some new ideas to the mix to keep things interesting. Combine that with a near perfect pacing and a decent length, and you have the perfect portable RPG for traveling, with Cosmic Star Heroine having a perfect home on the Switch. My only real gripe is that the game stays linear for a good majority of the adventure, and doesn’t really offer much extra to do outside of some superbosses and sidequests near the end. There’s also the obligatory lack of achievements from the PS4/Vita versions, but since most of those did little but track the optional sidequests anyway, that’s not really much of a problem in this case. If you’re looking for a new RPG to play on your Switch, or just want something not too terribly long, then Cosmic Star Heroine is a great choice to buy.
I give Cosmic Star Heroine a 9 out of 10.