Cosmic Star Heroine: recapturing the soul of an SNES RPG in 2015

CSH Jungle Battle 1

When I played Chrono Trigger and Lunar: Silver Star Story more than a decade ago, I never suspected to see future games, inspired by their style and spirit, appear on the PC. Then again, I never expected to see Shenmue 3 or a new Metroidvania or any other Japanese games come first and foremost to PC, either. The times, they are a changing, and if that means more games like Cosmic Star Heroine coming to PC, I’m happy for the change.

Two-man indie team Zeboyd Games got its start lovingly and carefully building small 8-bit-styled RPGs like Breath of Death VII and Cthulu Saves the World, full of cheeky humor poking fun at the games of the 80s and early 90s. But Zeboyd’s designer and writer Robert Boyd isn’t just in it for the parody or the homage: in all of his games, he tries to modernize battle systems and mechanics, putting a new twist on an old system with 20 years of scrutiny and hindsight. Cosmic Star Heroine follows that same path, but with a more ambitious target: the RPGs of the 16-bit era.

With that generational bump for Zeboyd comes far bigger, more expressive sprites, anime-inspired character portraits and detailed pixel art backgrounds. As I discovered playing Cosmic Star Heroine at E3, it also inspired changes in tone, pacing, and character. The 30 minutes I played had Chrono Trigger’s blend of sci-fi and fantasy, but felt more like Lunar: Silver Star Story in tone: light drama interspersed with silly, self-aware writing. And even from my short time with the game, I could tell Cosmic Star Heroine’s characters are going to feel more like people than joke delivery mechanisms for a parody RPG.

But they still tell a lot of jokes.

CSH Ability Menu

Much as Cosmic Star Heroine is inspired by Chrono Trigger, the writing I saw in my demo didn’t have quite the charm or efficient brevity that’s helped make Squaresoft’s RPG so timeless. But Cosmic Star Heroine’s new turn-based battle system (with a turn order display much like Final Fantasy X’s) is already a blast. Each character is outfitted with a set of skills that can usually only be used once before entering a cooldown state. All of those skills can be refreshed by resting a turn. In quick battles, it’s easy to blast through those skills without needing to rest, but in tougher fights, having a heal off cooldown or a more powerful attack is important.

Cosmic Star Heroine layers a couple other systems into its battles. Characters quickly build up a meter that triggers Hyper Mode, allowing them to do double damage. Enemies have typical weaknesses to elemental attributes, so stacking Hyper damage with the proper heavy elemental attack is key to delivering big damage.

There are also style points, accrued through doing damage in battle, that up your damage and let a character survive a fatal wound. Throw in one-use-per-battle Program abilities, which are tied to the shield you equip, and a variety of equippable abilities unique to each character, and you’ve got a fun battle system with the legs for a 15 hour adventure, which is about what Zeboyd is shooting for. I didn’t get to use any Chrono Trigger-style combination attacks, but apparently those are in, too.

Cosmic Star Heroine looks the part of a 1996 RPG, with a welcome dose of modernity pulling the best bits of two decades of RPGs into its battle system. Suikoden, Persona, Final Fantasy, Lunar, Chrono Trigger—you’re going to find little bits of each of them in this game. I’m just hopeful its story lives up to the pedigree.

Zeboyd is aiming to have Cosmic Star Heroine out by the end of 2015.

If your curiosity is piqued, watch a recent playthrough of the same segment of Cosmic Star Heroine I played at E3.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).