Wed 31 May 2017
11:14 AM

Cosmic Star Heroine first impressions

the logo!

(Disclaimer, I guess: I backed Cosmic Star Heroine on Kickstarter - the 464th person to do so - and these impressions are based on the PS4 copy I received from that. Also, I have a pseudonym in the Spy Directory. Bonus points if you can figure out which one is me.

I should also add that I have not finished the game. As the title indicates, these are my first impressions based on finishing the first planet of the game - which felt like a point by which I’ve gotten a reasonable feel for the game!)

I backed Cosmic Star Heroine in a hurry back in 2013 (2013!) based almost entirely on the premise of a sci-fi RPG from Zeboyd Games with what seemed like a number of nods towards Chrono Trigger and Suikoden. And then, I sort of forgot about it for a few years. In April, the codes from the KS fell into my lap, where I proceeded to ignore them for about a month because of some other game I was playing. Then, this past weekend, I found myself with a few hours to kill and Cosmic Star Heroine looking at me accusingly from my PS4′s installed game library, and decided to take it for a spin.

Right off the bat, I want to applaud Zeboyd Games for including two things I think should probably be baseline in RPGs (J or W or any other kind) these days:

  1. The ability to save the game literally anywhere. (This was even one of the bullet points of the Kickstarter campaign, come to think of it.)
  2. In-game adjustable difficulty.

The first one’s just a real timesaver. That second one’s especially important, though, given the brutality of the game’s highest difficulty setting. I should probably have known what I was in for when I discovered there was a trophy for beating the first fight in the game on the highest setting. On the other hand, the others could probably use some tweaking - the highest difficulty is ballbreaking, but the one below it is engaging, but not what I would call challenging. I’m pretty glad I didn’t start any lower.

Duking it out

The combat system is very technical, and throws a lot of what would have been 16-bit JRPG standbys out the window. Consumables? Gone. MP? Gone. Bosses immune to status effects? Mostly gone. Dying at 0 HP? Sorta gone. You’re left with characters who have very diverse skill sets, which are extremely customizable:

Alyssa's early skills

Attacks that inflict status effects don’t always work; however, each enemy has a type of HP associated with a status effect - Stun HP,” for instance, which is reduced invisibly by stun abilities even if they don’t work. So if you try to stun something and it doesn’t work, you’ve still accomplished something - lowering its stun HP - and eventually it will work.

Additionally, your heroes don’t necessarily get taken out of the fight at 0 HP - taking a variety of actions in combat builds your Style points, and if you have a high enough Style, you’ll go into negative HP instead of dying to a lethal blow. However, you’ll die at the end of your next turn, and you have a penalty to healing yourself, so it pays to keep a variety of healing effects around.

The only real issue I have with the combat system is that there is almost no tension between battles. I can’t quite decide how I feel about this. Each battle is like a self-contained puzzle (at first), but between battles, your health refills to full. There are no worries of how many more times can I cast Cure” or how many potions did I bring” or will I make it to that save point?” If you make it through a fight, you’re good until the next one. If you find non-boss fights kind of trivial, as I have so far, you may find dungeon-y parts of the game kind of boring.

Story and setting

Two of the promises from the original campaign were a sci-fi setting and brisk pacing that respects your time!” Cosmic Star Heroine has one of these in spades, but I feel like the other one kind of falls flat on its face.

the bridge

The game definitely has a different feel than its predecessors, and even goes harder on its sci-fi roots than Phantasy Star, which had a more sci-fantasy” feel - there are people here who imbue their fists with elemental earth or command a deluge of water to drown their foes, but the science fiction side of the setting is definitely the primary aspect in play.

And since this is a sci-fi game, the characters’ classes” are flavorful, and their skill sets all reflect that as well. Alyssa’s not just some generic hero, she’s a super-spy who fights with a metal bo that is also somehow a cannon. Her friend’s a gunmancer”: she replicates guns, teleports them to people, and fires them seemingly with … her mind? Magic? It’s not clear. She can even shoot health back into you. Rather than an offensive magician, you’ve got a hacker who literally hacks the planet, as well as being especially useful in tinkering with robotic foes.

HACK THE PLANET

My problem lies with the brisk pacing.” Now, maybe this is just an artifact of where I’m at in the game - I’ve just left the starting planet, having acquired my own spaceship, and so I have a feeling the game is about to open up to me. However, the story up to this point hasn’t felt brisk; it’s felt rushed. The first planet is so atmospheric and cool - it’s a planet of near-permanent nighttime, with a cool cyberpunk-esque aesthetic and a lot of quirky features (like Chrono Trigger’s Millenial Faire, but here it’s a freedom festival that just happens to run all the time).

There’s a lot of world-building going on here, I think, but it’s hard to say because I’m left with no time to enjoy it. From the word go,” Alyssa is rushed from point A to point B to point C with no time to really take in her surroundings; first she’s a hero spy, then she’s burned, then she’s on the run, then there’s a nightclub, more running, a festival, a fight with a giant mech, another fight with a giant mech, a secret base, the destruction of the secret base, then we’ve hijacked a spaceship and we’re off - and all of that is done in maybe two hours. Whew!

There’s brisk, and then there’s the pacing of someone’s first RPG Maker game, and so far CSH has veered dangerously towards the latter. I’m hoping it gets better later on.

Also, and this is more of a tiny specific quibble, there’s one point at the beginning of your whirlwind trip across the first planet where one character is clearly leaving just so you can add a different fourth character to the party, but their reason for doing so - it’s literally I have something I just remembered I have to do” - is so weirdly sudden and ill-explained that I half expected them to betray me upon their return. It’s abrupt and kind of jarring; I wasn’t a fan.

That said, the writing is usually pretty good - barring the pacing issues and Sue’s weird departure - and parts of it are chock full of sly nods to other JRPGs or just standard of the kind of humor Zeboyd is good at.

not quite the Day of Lavos, but.

Music of the spheres?

Huge fan of what Hyperduck did with the CSH soundtrack. This soundtrack is super cool - it’s got a lot of synth, in places it’s jazzy, at one point there’s a nightclub with a fully voiced song (half in Japanese, half in English) set to a cutscene that would not have looked out of place on something like the Sega CD. The soundtrack’s superb work and I recommend checking it out even if you never check out the game.

(Sorry the sound on this is potato quality, but it’s seemingly the only version of this cutscene on Youtube.)

In conclusion

So in the end, do I feel like I got my money for what I kicked in early on? Absolutely. I have some issues with the brisk pacing” and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a difficulty setting between engaging” and almost unfairly brutal,” but going all-in on a science fiction setting was a super cool decision. The dialogue is good, the music is great; I may not be having the best time between battles when in a dungeon’ but the battles themselves, especially bosses, are enough to keep me engaged. I’ll definitely be finishing this one, though it may take a back seat to my second playthrough of Persona 5 and my umpteenth playthrough of Nier Automata. Still, between these three, it’s been a good year for RPGs.

Even if the running theme is took way longer than expected to deliver.” ;)

everyone's ambitious sometimes

Fri 19 May 2017
3:22 PM
a quiet afternoon in TTGF Slack
Tue 16 May 2017
10:50 AM

Fake nostalgia’s a hell of a drug. http://kotaku.com/people-are-reminiscing-about-a-ps1-jrpg-that-didnt-exis-1795227061

Sun 14 May 2017
4:07 PM

My mom just joined Facebook, and under People You Might Know” it keeps suggesting magicians. Why??

Mon 8 May 2017
11:01 AM

When Blizz does a postmortem on Legion I hope one of the lessons is stop running every questline through Mythic Halls of Valor.”

Wed 3 May 2017
8:06 PM

My wife, beta reading my mom’s manuscript: We can go get dinner as soon as a chapter doesn’t end on a cliffhanger.”

Me: well, shit.”

Tue 2 May 2017
3:44 PM

Persona 5

let us begin the game

Fair warning now: I’m going to do my best to be as spoiler-free as possible, but there may be some very minor ones in here. You’ve been warned.

the show's over

It’s fair to say I was looking forward to Persona 5. It was my most anticipated game of the year for 2013 2014 2015 2016 what feels like forever. I lapped up every spinoff of Persona 4 just to continue to interact with this franchise’s captivating universe, putting up with the frail excuse of a plot in Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s story” mode and the appalling Flanderization of basically everyone’s personalities in Persona Q, but never quite getting what I needed. It wasn’t the real deal. So when Persona 5 finally, against all odds, came out in the US, I was ready. I mean very ready: I took a week off work just to play the game, and still ended up playing it most nights after work and most of the weekends in April. So the real question is: was it worth it?

Absolutely. Definitely.

What’s funny is that by taking a week away from work, and therefore from the social media I have easy access to at work, I missed a lot of the game’s early social media furor - I didn’t know about the draconian but now-loosened streaming restrictions (which is good, because I almost streamed it), and I was unaware of how upset people were over the translation. The latter did hit me at a few points, but it’s way more obvious now that I’m on a second playthrough - there’s phrasing that is just extremely awkward, and in one case よろしくおねがいします gets literally translated as Please take care of me” in a dialogue option, which is super weird but I was pretty aware what had happened.

The thing is, I really didn’t care? The voice actors, bless their hearts, did their very best with what they were given, and make no mistake, I love the new voice team. (Caveat: except for unnamed characters in the background of stories. Several of these, especially towards the end, have weird readings, and there is one anonymous student in a school scene early in the game who very clearly has the same voice actor as the protagonist’s homeroom teacher.) In the end, most of the dialogue was perfectly fine. Some was even better than average; Futaba’s dialogue is head and shoulders better than most of the other characters, both written and spoken.

I also admit I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the soundtrack. P3 and P4 both set a certain style with their somewhat out-of-the-ordinary (for RPGs, anyway) J-pop heavy soundtracks; Persona 5 was stated early on to have heavy acid jazz influences, a genre I admittedly know nothing about. That said, after playing through the game, I absolutely love it and have it on repeat in my car (yes, I imported the OST; there are a great many tracks missing from the soundtrack sampler that came packed into the special edition, as usual). It’s got just as many earworms and catchy tunes, and is probably just as good at evoking the game’s moods, even if it does tragically lack any input from Lotus Juice. Recommendations of the top of my head: Layer Cake, Life Will Change, Last Surprise, and Rivers in the Desert.

Mechanically, P-team definitely didn’t just phone this one in. It feels in every way like a substantial iteration over the mechanics of Persona 3 and 4. Dungeons aren’t random anymore (save for the side-quests-only dungeon that is), allowing for more interesting encounters and puzzles. Ambush mechanics are much more straightforward due to being able to interact with the environment. Social links that aren’t your party members have a valid reason to do them besides just improving your Persona fusion strength; learn how to speak well from a politician, and it will improve your ability to recruit Shadows to your side as new Personas (or extort yen from them, as you do). Bosses require you to do more than just survive their attacks; there are gimmicks to most of the important ones that break up the attack/heal/oh-shit-the-boss-is-charging-better-guard dichotomy in cool ways.

don't look at me like that

It’s also stylish as hell. Everything about the game is just effortlessly so fucking cool. I spent way too long on day 1 just opening and closing the main menu. This could’ve just been a simple thing - transitioning from one game state to another - but instead we’re treated to a quick animation of the Protagonist whirling into view and presenting the menu to you. Every animation, every loading screen, everything has had some amount of love and art poured onto it and it just shows. It’s smooth and gorgeous to play. I also love the fact that this entry’s set in a real location - Tokyo, as opposed to rural Inaba or fictional Tatsumi Port Island.

Definitely no complaints on the sheer amount of content here, either. As I mentioned earlier, I was around the 95 hour mark on my original playthrough, and I absolutely missed story content. My New Game Plus playthrough is another 10 hours deep, and since I’ve mostly been doing this one in the evenings, my wife has been enjoying getting to see a lot of the early story that she missed as well.

Story-wise, and I promise there are no spoilers here, I love this game for paying homage to its past while delving into a new theme. Persona 5 has huge nods, storywise and in a couple cases mechanically, to both older entries in the series (specifically the Persona 2 duology, believe it or not) and plain old Shin Megami Tensei. Heck, it’s set in Tokyo; that’s a Shin Megami Tensei series standby. The world is corrupt, fuck the adults, trust no one” narrative resonated with me more than I expected it to, which I suspect is a byproduct of living in America these days. My one gripe, and maybe it was a byproduct of the story as written, is that Persona 5 does not have the typical good ending/bad ending/true ending trio. There is, instead, bad ending/bad ending/true ending. But it works for what’s there.

Will I ever play it again? Hell, I already am. And yes, when Atlus inevitably remakes it, I’ll buy it again, play it again, and love it all over again.

Final thought: Persona 5 was absolutely worth the wait, and a little bit of screwy translation isn’t going to stop me from enjoying what is mechanically and narratively a damn fine JRPG in a franchise that I adore to bits. This was so worth the wait and I was just elated to finally have it in my hands.

Also, Makoto is best girl, fight me.

my queen

(Bonus aside: The formatting for this post was borrowed from Every Game I’ve Finished; it seemed like a nicer way to do it than the summary post I had at the end of last year.)

Sat 22 Apr 2017
9:48 PM

Persona 5 playthrough 1 finished at 95 hours. New Game Plus time! …tomorrow, probably.

Fri 21 Apr 2017
9:30 AM
09 30 53 15
Tue 18 Apr 2017
5:15 PM

Have had Behind the Mask” stuck in my head for like six hours. Thanks, Persona 5. It’s not even raining.

Fri 14 Apr 2017
3:50 PM

I love how Young Magnus is basically Chris Pine’s Kirk from the Star Wars movies, until he judo throws a bear. #thezonecast

Mon 10 Apr 2017
7:04 PM

I need to listen to more actual play podcasts to fill the tabletop-shaped hole in my heart.