When a game takes inspiration from classics of its genre and has a ton of fun with their established formulas, you get a great experience that stands out on its own merits. This is the case with Cosmic Star Heroine, a retro-inspired role-playing game developed by Zeboyd Games for the PlayStation 4, PS Vita, PC, and Nintendo Switch. Its full commitment to recreating that same flair of 1980s sci-fi and 16-bit storytelling makes a solid RPG that fans of the genre will enjoy. It’s a well-designed game despite a few shortcomings that slightly stick out from everything else that’s good about it.
Everything about Cosmic Star Heroine is directly inspired by many classics of the role-playing genre, particularly from the 16-bit and 32-bit era of gaming. The visuals and soundtrack radiate a strong sense of nostalgia that will appeal to everyone who grew up playing all of the popular games from that timeframe. Anyone else that didn’t can still enjoy the well-presented story that takes a lot of cues from 80s anime and sci-fi stories.
The story follows Alyssa, a master spy working for a galactic government-run agency that becomes entangled in a massive conspiracy that threatens everyone around her. While it’s not a very deep plot with a lot to say, you can have a lot of fun seeing the plot unfold. Characters exude lots of style and are given these great introductions that are akin to Sega Saturn styled cutscenes. At some point, however, the number of characters to keep track of can get large, especially when your party members are being swapped frequently.
The battles are where Cosmic Star Heroine really shines. The majority of them play out in typical RPG format, with turns between you and your enemies, but there are more layers here that make everything work well. Characters in your party have a variety of attacks and special abilities that can become stronger as you level them up and change their equipment, leading to some powerful attacks that can decimate groups of baddies. During battles, a character can gain a surge of power and boost the effects of their actions, which can be great for dealing massive damage or healing the party greatly during the fight.
This happens as each party member takes their turns, which can be key to formulating strategies at the right moment. However, the Style rating that each character has over their health bar can be confusing for the majority of the game. Style is meant to impact the effectiveness of your attacks and status effects on enemies, but its significance can hardly be noticeable the majority of the time.
The best portions of Cosmic Star Heroine come from events with a lot of action and movement during a battle. The opening sequence of the game features Alyssa scaling a building with her grappling hook while battling enemies along the way up. Everything is constantly moving upward as the battle goes on, rather than a flat or static background as the action plays out. These kinds of moments make Cosmic Star Heroine feel exciting more so than other RPGs, even ones that inspired it heavily. There are other moments throughout the story where this happens, albeit in different ways, but the game could’ve benefited from even more instances like this. It gives an extra cinematic quality and excitement to every major battle related to the plot.
Exploring the gritty sci-fi world of Cosmic Star Heroine is interesting, but not as much as the battles. Most of the time you’ll be walking around and talking to every NPC you find, or checking every corner for chests to open. You don’t have any random encounters with enemies, instead, you can see them moving around before you come into contact. This isn’t a bad thing, but the lack of respawning enemies after you defeat them removes grinding for experience to level up your party.
You can defeat groups of enemies within the area and be completely equipped to deal with upcoming boss fights, but this also makes the growth of your party feel heavily guided as you progress through the game. Finding new weapons and items to equip also feels guided as well, with most of the better things for the moment coming from chests you find on the ground instead of purchasing at nearby shops. It doesn’t become a detriment to the overall experience but makes everything feel a bit more linear than it may have intended.
Beyond the small gripes, Cosmic Star Heroine is a good role-playing game with a lot of fun nods longtime RPG fans will enjoy. The gameplay has a great reverence for many of the classics of the genre that inspired it but approaches it without becoming a doppelganger. The soundtrack is great and the visuals ooze with style and personality from a golden time for role-playing games. Whoever said that spies and 80s sci-fi weren’t cool anymore clearly needs to sit down and play this game.
This review is based on a digital review code for Cosmic Star Heroine for the PlayStation 4, provided by Zeboyd Games.