Cosmic Star Heroine is a love letter. Zeboyd Games has crafted an RPG that pays tribute to so many JRPGs people grew up with. It calls back to Phantasy Star, Chrono Trigger, and Suikoden in such special ways. While it of course never replaces any of these games, it has these winks and nods that shows its appreciation for these long-departed games and pays homage to them. It incorporates ideas while still doing something new.
Cosmic Star Heroine’s connections to Phantasy Star feel strongest, in particular Phantasy Star II. Alyssa is a spy for an interstellar organization, implied to be a government agency. This could be seen as a reference to Rolf, who was an agent of the Motavian government. Rolf has a foreshadowing nightmare in the prologue to Phantasy Star II, something that happens to Alyssa within the first few hours of Cosmic Star Heroine. Not to mention Alyssa’s name references both Phantasy Star’s Alis Landale and Phantasy Star IV’s Alys Brangwin.
The scope of Cosmic Star Heroine’s story matches Phantasy Star’s. In each one, we aren’t limited to a single planet. Our story takes us to three different planets, not to mention some asteroids. The Phantasy Star series has always done similar things, allowing us to go to different planets. We’d visit Palma, Motavia, and Dezoris, three planets with three very different ecosystems. Cosmic Star Heroine takes us to Araenu, Rhomu, and Nuluup for similar explorations. In each one, different cultures are highlighted and represented as we try to save the day.
Cosmic Star Heroine’s story doesn’t take as much inspiration from Chrono Trigger, but it does make one very splendid reference. There’s a year-round Freedom Festival on Araenu. It calls to mind Crono’s time at his own event. Alyssa can visit some stalls, take part in a scavenger hunt, play rock, paper, scissors for a prize, and even take part in a fight against a worthy foe in an “arena.” Instead of Gato, it’s a green cat alien named Paws. (A race that is a callback to Phantasy Star’s Musk Cats.) Unfortunately, there’s no clever rhyme.
The battle system is what most people will point to when bringing attention to ways in which Chrono Trigger influenced Cosmic Star Heroine. Enemies can be seen on each map. When you make contact, a turn-based battle immediately begins in the field. Each character has special skills that can be used, with elements offering an opportunity to easily deal extra damage. There are even team attacks that can be triggered when Alyssa and an ally have filled enough of the gauge to work together on a special. Alyssa does have to have a specific shield equipped to make this possible.
The Suikoden tributes are quite obvious too. After Alyssa strikes out on her own, one of the first things that happens is the acquisition of a new base of operations. In the Suikoden series, it wasn’t uncommon for the hero and his allies to “liberate” a location and turn it into their castle. The same happens with Cosmic Star Heroine. As you travel through what will soon become Alyssa’s ship, you’ll even see the signs directing you to future locations. The downside is, it isn’t nearly as well fleshed out. I donated a couple thousand coins to a woman in a shelter so she could start her own shop, hoping it meant she’d set up roots on my ship. It didn’t happen. There are different locations, but you don’t have that sense of growth where recruiting people means new facilities.
There is Suikoden-style recruiting, though. You can find agents who will join your Cosmic Star Heroine party as supports. Some of these will agree to tag along after asking them. Others require you to find an item, beat a mini-boss, or bring a certain person along before they’ll join up. Once they’re part of your party, they can be selected as an aid on the menu to offer some sort of benefit to your group. For example, this could mean bonuses like extra experience, more damage against certain kinds of enemies, and stat boosts. It isn’t as intensive as Suikoden was, but it does bring it to mind.
I just wish Cosmic Star Heroine had the sense of substance as games like Phantasy Star, Chrono Trigger, and Suikoden. This is a wonderful game. It feels like it rushes through its plot. It could have added some filler towns and dungeons, and I wouldn’t have minded that extra content at all. Things happen so quickly, with quests to obtain things like Chahn’s ultimate Gunmancy popping up before you know it. It could have used the same sort of padding classic JRPGs offered.
Cosmic Star Heroine is a game that helps you remember the good times. It is reminiscent of so many classics, but it doesn’t feel like it is exploiting those fond memories. Instead, it’s using them to expand on and create its own gameplay and world. Every time one of these references comes up, its great to see how Zeboyd used the ideas to enhance their own endeavor.
Cosmic Star Heroine is available for the PlayStation 4 and PC. It will come to the PlayStation Vita in 2017. An Xbox One version of the game is also in development.