I know what the deal is here: you took one look at that title and started having second thoughts. Yes, Cosmic Star Heroine is kind of a goofy name. Trust me, the game’s a lot better than the title would imply. What we’ve got here is one of the best callbacks to the glory days of console RPGs. You shouldn’t turn it up just because it sounds like a My Little Pony fanfic. Trust me on this one.
The titular Cosmic Star Heroine is Alyssa, a super-spy working with the Agency of Peace and Intelligence. She’s good at stealth, one-liners and smacking bad guys around with a combination bo staff/laser gun. She’s also good at uncovering uncomfortable truths about her employer, so suffice to say you don’t get to stay an officially sanctioned super-spy for long. You’ll travel to different planets, explore ruins and fight off people and monsters alike in your search for the truth.
The adventure plays out much like the classic RPGs of the 16-bit era, particularly when it comes to combat. You’ll run around exploring areas, collecting loot and switching into combat mode when you run into something unsavory that’s out to murder you. Battles take place using a turn-based system similar to Final Fantasy X; you can see a timeline showing when enemy and allied turns are coming up and you’re meant to plan your actions out in advance.
Success in Cosmic Star Heroine revolves around synergizing your characters’ various abilities. For example, your average attack might do piddling damage…but it’ll do a lot more when the enemy is debuffed, the attacking character is in one of their periodic Hyper turns and they’ve been supported by an ally. Piddling damage multiplied exponentially by setting up beforehand quickly adds up, and the sense of fulfillment generated by landing a really effective strike makes Cosmic Star Heroine feel really great to play. There are several difficulty levels and I played on Hard, which provided just the right balance of challenge to make the game feel tough without being too punishing.
Customizing your characters’ gear, mastering their abilities and learning how everything fits together is a treat. Every time someone new joins your party or you find a new skill-granting shield, it’s like adding a new tool to your toolbox, and I found myself itching to get back into battle to try out my new skills. (My favorite party member ended up being Chahn, a sort of martial artist/wizard type who uses a bizarre gun-summoning fighting style that’s so implausible I couldn’t help but laugh. She’s great.)
The presentation here calls back old-school RPGs as well, unsurprisingly, and the game in general brings to mind the classic Lunar series. That goes for the writing as well, which has a sort of classic Working Designs-style wit. If you told me that the Japanese version of Cosmic Star Heroine was a more serious affair, I’d laugh at you and insist that this version was superior, just like I would in the 90s – that’s how authentic it is. The music is strikingly good as well, particularly the little fanfare that plays after combat; I’d like that song to play whenever I finish an assignment at work or something.
Cosmic Star Heroine aims for quality rather than innovation. That’s not a problem at all, as the game proves to be a solid example of how refined and deep a turn-based system can be. When we look at that combined with the fantastic writing and interesting storyline, this is an easy recommendation. Fans of older Japanese RPGs are bound to love this one.