Phantasy Trigger.

Cosmic Star Heroine is the callback to 16-bit RPG greatness I’ve been craving for years, I just didn’t know it. Developed by Zeboyd Games (the guys behind the excellent Episodes 3 and 4 of Penny Arcade: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness), CSH is a love letter to the SNES and Sega RPGs of yesteryear, but with enough character and heart to forge it’s own identity.

CSH drops you in the pixelated shoes of Alyssa La’Salle, an operative of the Agency of Peace and Intelligence. The game starts off with Alyssa undertaking a rather routine hostage rescue, but as these things are wont to do, events quickly go off the rails and it’s not long before you’ve assembled a group of friends to uncover a deeper, sinister plot which threatens the entire galaxy.

Truth be told, the plot is interesting and engaging, but doesn’t do anything revolutionary (beyond one very cool last-minute twist you won’t see coming). But despite it’s adherence to tried-and-true RPG norms, the writing is just so damn good you won’t even care. Banter between characters such as Chahn and Dave is sharp and witty, with just the right amount of self-referential humor so as to remain endearing without becoming heavy-handed and overbearing.

I UNDERSTOOD THIS REFERENCE.

Enemy descriptions frequently break the 4th wall with clever takes on classic RPG enemy attributes, and even character abilities are given fun, interesting nomenclature. A personal favorite is Dave’s Troll ability, in which he literally trolls the enemy online using his datapad and inflicts an enrage debuff. Awesome stuff.

Oh, and speaking of combat: it’s brilliant, and stands right up there with some of the best offerings of more modern RPGs. CSH eschews magic or tech points, and instead requires you to defend in order to recharge your abilities. So let’s say you use Alyssa’s laser shot. That ability is now spent; you cannot use it again until you spend one round defending. You also get what’s called “Hyper” mode, meaning every turn you take fills a percentage gauge for reach character. As the number gets higher, that character will periodically become enveloped in a yellow glow, which means added attack/healing power or a greater chance to inflict status ailments.

It adds a really awesome, tactical element to every fight. This group of enemies is weak to water. Do you use an aquatic ability that strikes all foes? But what if it doesn’t kill them? Or maybe you should wait until your Hyper gauge fills? These enemies are tough, though. Should you risk it now or hold out? I’ve never encountered anything quite like it, and I’d love to see Zeboyd expand upon the idea in a future effort.

The music accompanying regular encounters and boss fights is full of electronic beats and synths, and provides a great compliment to the action. In fact, the entire soundtrack is really well done and meshes together to emanate a neo-noir 80’s vibe that perfectly suits the futuristic setting and art direction.

Visually CSH won’t hold up to the likes of Final Fantasy XV, but it’s not supposed to. With character models and animations ripped right out of Chrono Trigger, the game is meant to tug at the memories of those like me, who grew up sitting cross-legged before a CRT television in 1995, gazing adoringly at the pixelated realization of Akira Toriyama’s masterful character designs. CSH doesn’t have to provide subtle lighting and sweeping vistas to be beautiful.

Just as everything in life, it’s not all wine and roses. While the main cast is extremely likeable and fleshed out enough, don’t expect any of CSH’s characters to leave the same sort of lasting impression Robo or Frog did. In fact, a few of the characters who join your party (I’m looking at you, Orson and Z’xorv) have so little characterization and connection to the overall plot, I was left genuinely befuddled as to why exactly they were tagging along.

On the flip side of the character sheet, the villain doesn’t show up often enough to establish him a truly galaxy-wide peril, and when he does he doesn’t do much beyond twist his mustache and summon a monster for the party to battle before he departs. It’s nothing dealbreaking, but after traveling with Noctis and company or the Phantom Thieves, you’ll be wishing for a bit more relationship-building between certain characters.

There are also more bugs than I’d like, sadly. Many times dialog boxes will continue to pop after ending a conversation, and three times my characters stopped animating at all, forcing me to save and restart. Saving and loading times are almost nothing, and the game never crashed or died on me, but it IS worth noting: there are a myriad small issues which could really use a patch.

None of that, however, takes away from what Cosmic Star Heroine is: a smart, well-designed, wonderful take on classic turn-based RPGs, with an absolutely killer battle system and an overall aesthetic that will take you right back to 1995…..if you’re like me, anyway. An absolute must-buy.