Review: Cosmic Star Heroine (Switch)

If anyone so much as mentions the name Chrono Trigger, even in hushed whispers, they’ll immediately get my attention. I often call it my favorite game of all time, and I feel as if my JRPG leanings since have been hindered because all I want to do is have that life changing moment of thrill and excitement one more time.

I also like squat, googly-eyed, super-deformed characters a lot. Like a lot.

Cosmic Star Heroine cribs the 16-bit JRPG handbook gratuitously, but that’s not a bad thing. Whether it’s the pixelated art style with minimal use of hefty cut scenes, the catchy tunes by HyperDuck SoundWorks or its unique take on the timeless active time battle system, the game is, for lack of a better comparison, chicken soup for the nostalgic soul.

Cosmic Star Heroine falls in line with many of Squaresoft’s offerings of yore for many reasons, but the melodramatic “save the world” story drills that sense home. You begin the game as an agent for the Agency of Peace and Intelligence named Alyssa, on a mission to save some hostages at the top of a building. This section does a great job of acclimating the player in what to expect from Cosmic Star Heroine by drip feeding them the nuances of the battle system, as well as setting the tone for the world the game resides in.

What follows is a clichéd plot in which you discover who you’re working for may not be what you think it is, and thusly striking out on your own because saving the world is the right thing to do. I’d also like to point out that the writing can at times feel a bit amateurish and ham-fisted, but I don’t really find any of what I’ve just said to be an issue. In fact, I’d even posit that it gives the game a charming quality, a love letter to yesteryear. Everybody is an archetype and that’s OK, because I’m actually endeared to characters who are tied to their social status/class. Because in reality this is all a vehicle for the superb battle system that truly makes Cosmic Star Heroine shine.

There’s a lot to unpack with Cosmic Star Heroine’s fights. At the base level it is what you’d expect: a turn-based war of attrition that’s been a stalwart feature since God knows when. The levels of depth it goes into, however, are commendable. Rather than giving you a standard move set in which special attacks are attached to magic points and you can button-spam attacks to your heart’s content, each move can be used a set amount of times before you need to rest your character to reuse them. This gives the game an interesting balance, in which you actually do stop and think about your next move. You’ll pay attention to move order, elemental affinity, health and strategic buffing in a brand new way. To further belabor the point, you can also come back from the brink of death as you’re given one chance to make a move before being knocked out permanently, and there’s a meter that charges when you change up your battle style. It all manages to be complex but not complicated, which is why I actually strove to jump into fights rather than avoid them.

It’s here that I realize that while I enjoy the cheesy and exaggerated plots of JRPGs, I’m actually more of a systems guy in the grand scheme of things. Cosmic Star Heroine shines in that it makes a fantastically engaging battle system so much fun that I literally could not get enough of the fights. Maybe it’s my age creeping up on me, but I appreciate being rewarded for being deliberate in my choices and discovering new ways to mix and match party members’ abilities to maximize my efficiency in any given battle. Not that the game has much in the way of grinding, but if it did I wouldn’t mind in the least.

If you have even a passing interest in Cosmic Star Heroine, give it a try. You won’t regret it. It may not be the second coming of Chrono Trigger, but it feels pretty damn close.

Cosmic Star Heroine is available for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Vita and Nintendo Switch. We reviewed the Switch version.