My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!
#4 Cosmic Star Heroine
There are lofty goals and then there is aiming your sights at the greatest RPGs of all time. When Zeboyd Games went to Kickstarter in 2013 they conceived of an old school, 16-bit RPG that would feature the compelling story and combat of Chrono Trigger, the base-building, party gathering of Suikoden, and the sci-fi awesomeness of Phantasy Star. Who could say no to that (I certainly didn’t).
While Cosmic Star Heroine is somewhat hampered by its indie budget, it is a damn fine retro JRPG that successfully draws many of the best elements from all those inspirational classics.
The story stars Agent Alyssa L’Salle, a pseudo-space cop who discovers that someone within her own organization is up to no good. With the help of some memorable friends and fun newcomers she eventually joins up with the local freedom fighters, exploring multiple planets and uncovering more sinister details.
Other than a nifty twist toward the end the storytelling is the softest ingredient, leaning heavily on style and humor, which thankfully the game does very well.
Ten party members is a crazy huge number for a 15-20 hour RPG. Some are a bit more underdeveloped than others, but they all have distinct styles and themes, from the break-dancing, schmoozy robot to the bestial alien bounty hunter.
Combat resembles the Grandia games (as well as Zeboyd’s previous retro RPGs) more than any of the actual 16-bit RPGs. There’s a D&D-like initiative tracker, and everyone has more than half a dozen abilities you can equip and customize, as well as Shields that offer even more abilities. There’s also an interesting system involving building up Style and entering Hyper mode. It’s challenging but fun to work out the most efficient timing and unleash your most powerful attacks at the right moment.
In a perfect world developers like Zeboyd would be given twice the budget to create a larger, deeper RPG using their exact same design philosophy. What this two-person team (three if you include the stellar soundtrack) accomplished is nothing short of astonishing. Cosmic Star Heroine wonderfully (and appropriately) embodies the classic quote: “Aim for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”*
*Yes I’m aware that the stars are much farther away than the moon. It’s still a nice quote damn it.