It truly is the era of quirky RPG games… and farming sims… and 2D collectathon platformers… Y’know, there is a lot from every type of genre if you think about it. Anyway, I came across this latest RPG adventure by chance while going through the #SteamNextFest tag on Twitter. In Stars And Time, as its title would suggest, has a lot to do with stars (the characters) and time (time-loop antics). Immediately taking to the expressive art style of the game, I decided to give the demo a go.
It truly is the era of… no, I won’t make the time-loop joke in text.
“Live with the ever-present burden of being trapped in a time loop only you can know about in this turn-based RPG. Create a better future for you and your friends. Find hope where there is none left. Pray to the stars and free yourself from time.”
Let’s get something out of the way right now if you viewed the trailer above and got a specific twitch in your soul:
Undertale. Omori. Earthbound. OneShot. Lisa.
It’s an educated guess to say that In Stars And Time was influenced in part by one, some, or all of the games listed above. This clearly has a specific demographic that it would more likely appeal to than others, which is worth noting if you are not super fond of the titles listed above.
In my deteriorating age, I’ve become more open to experiences in gaming that go beyond simply executing fun gameplay tactics. Characters and story, once an afterthought of the medium, now possess a more intrinsic quality that wouldn’t be too integral some twenty years ago. In Stars And Time embodies a sort of “graduation” of games of old into a more expressive and cathartic form that can be enjoyed by a wider range of audiences.
That aside, the game itself, by virtue of its demo, has left me with a pretty positive impression. The only deterrent is the sort of “old ways” self that clings to me like a second layer of skin. Allow me to explain…
Expression of character is something I will always vouch for. Please give me loud, boisterous individuals that pick up the spirit of others rather than silent protagonists. Or, alternatively, make the silent protagonists at least emote or take action in various circumstances to make their motivations or feelings clear. But… there is a limit to that freneticism that can occasionally turn goofy enthusiasm into irritating, empty noise.
This game, within about two hours of playtime, crosses that line every so often. There seems to be a quota of all sorts of things within dialogue or conversation. Terrible puns and dad jokes (which I adored), lots of emphasis on specific details, pondering upon the fragility of life and deep dives of self-analysis, exclamation points!!!!!!!!! and!!!!!!!!!!! CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Large portions of the written aspects embody a sort of pathos that speak to those of a more sympathetic/empathetic nature.
Not to mention very cheeky and quick-witted. For as half-serious as this game treats itself, there is no shortage of humorous antics that these characters get into. Whether boxing with one another for a specific response or hiding pornography from a child, many attempts are made to solidify one characterizing this as “quirky.” Whether or not this is a legitimate goal from the developer is unknown.
Specifically, there are a couple things that I didn’t care for/got a little tiring. One is the repeated use of a large “THUD” sound effect after someone makes a startling discovery, someone screams, etc. While not constant, it’s enough for me to want to turn off sound effects altogether (which would be unfortunate, given I like most other things).
The other is this detail where text moves in accordance with a character’s speech. For example, if someone… talks like this…, the text will progress, stop for half a second, and then continue, and repeat, as if the character is actually speaking. While this is a fun detail for immersive purposes, there is quite a bit of text present in the game and I am a fairly fast reader. Sometimes I just want to get a move on. (There is an option for instant text, but I did not try it out prior to writing this piece, so this point could be moot.)
Now then, gameplay here has a bit of a fun schtick to it. The main premise is a simple game of rock-paper-scissors. Each character has a “type” among that listing, as does every enemy. I assume… I do not need to explain what beats what in rock-paper-scissors. (If I don’t, the game will.) Enemies will also flash hints as to what type they are, and your arsenal consists of plenty of different types of attacks and stat boosts. Experimentation is the fun part here.
The most important part of an RPG for me? Being allowed to grind and enjoying it. In Stars And Time passes that test beautifully; I really enjoyed going around fighting different enemies of different types. Boss fights were also great fun, taking what I learned and implementing them to great effect. Though the story and characters take slightly more precedent in the whole of things, it’s still got the simple formula to an enjoyable turn-based RPG.
As stated previously (twice), the artwork is what originally drew me into the game. Definitely has a very “I am a Tumblr veteran” vibe to it, but I liken it more to embodying a specific style to great effect. Again, expressiveness is key. Characters are shaped similarly in various details, yet all shine through in their own way that makes them truly individualistic. One’s a borderline edgy OC, another is a hunky himbo, and a third is a stern teacher-type. And they all suit their surface appearance wonderfully through personality.
I really enjoy the standard battle music. That’s about as much as I can say of the music. Otherwise, I just think of the THUDs.
Though I’m probably not within the exact grouping of players that this would appeal to, this was a really engaging and fulfilling experience to play through. In Stars And Time has enough to its specific setting to separate itself from the (probably obvious) inspirations that came before. If anything about what I’ve written on sounds like something you’d enjoy, I’d heavily recommend it.
In Stars And Time has a demo you can play now on Steam. (Link under “Game Summary.”)
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Thank you for your time. Have a great rest of your day.