Inside Pulse 12

Review: Another Star (PC)

box_smallerAnother Star
Developer: Vision Riders
Publisher: Vision Riders
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 03/20/2014

Another Star started life as a potential entry into a minimalist competition to create a game using a single 128×128 pixel tile sheet to create a large world you can explore.  To someone who’s dabbled with modding before, most games these days don’t even use texture files that small to cover one character let alone build an entire game around it, but that’s how it used to be done back on games that ran on the NES and the Sega Master System, and Another Star most definitely has that old school feel to it while implementing a few options to keep these going for players not interested in a long grind but want to experience the game anyway.  It plays fast and fun and it’s still amazing that a small tile sheet can generate an entire game world to explore.  Let’s take a look.

The game puts you in the role of Tachi, a Prince of Clan Minas, one of many clans in the game’s setting.  Years ago, a star, in this case a meteor of some kind possibly, crashed into the planet bringing new elevation and status to those who found it.  Now another star has fallen, hence the games titles, and Tachi is tasked by his father to go out and claim this newly fallen star for his clan which will bring them power and glory.  While you’ll meet a few like-minded people along the way to join you, you’ll run into just as many rivals form other clans looking to stab you in the back to get that power and glory for their own clan and the race is most definitely on.  Things aren’t all they seem though as you’re pitted not only against the other clans and critters lurking in the dark corners of the world, but Tachi and the player find out that the star carried something else inside and it’s not going to be easy to take.  While not entirely a fantasy, Another Star blends in some nice sci-fi elements to go along with the regular fantasy ones and neither feels out of place within the game, and while the story is a little bit simplified since a lot has to get carried across in just a few lines, it does move right along. 

screen-12_lVisually the game is very old school, especially given the minimalist design constraints it was put under to get to this point.  If you liked the look of your NES and Sega Master System RPGS – think Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest on the NES – you’re going to feel right at home here.  What the developer managed to do with the limited tileset is pretty impressive.  It’s pretty easy to make out where you’re at and what’s going on.  As an added effect, you can kick on a filter to make it curved like you’re playing it on an old CRT monitor, or more importantly, like an old TV.  It’s a neat little touch that really adds to the nostalgia factor and amused the hell out of me.  While the sound effects just kind of do the job, I do have to say I loved the music.  There are over 30 different original tracks in the game designed and composed to sound like what would have been in consoles of the time, or rather game cartridges, the Yamaha YM2413 FM chip.  This adds to the already clear nostalgic treat the game is with just the visuals and the storytelling style and instantly endeared me to the game.

I ended up using my 360 controller for this. It’s pretty much my go to for gaming on my PC unless there are only keyboard and mouse options available. On top of that it really adds to the nostalgia factor and if I had something that was more like an NES controller for this I’d have used that instead and that would have been a blast. Movement and menu navigation is done with the d-pad and your B-button works as the back, menu or exit button while the A-button is your confirm and attack option selection. These were my defaults right out of the gate and you can’t change these within the game itself. There is a screen that tells you what the keyboard shortcuts are, but if you want to change anything it had to be done in the settings file within the game itself. It’s not that big a deal but I know some players like to be able to change their settings within the game so I figured I’d mention it.

screen-06_lThis plays a lot like a traditional console RPG but with some tweaks to make it a bit more accessible to casual players. You can play this with all the level grind of the older RPGs, or you can blow through as easy as you like. The level progression is scaled in the menu settings which makes this kind of amazing as you can change all of this on the fly. Built fairly openly, you’re out to explore and find that fallen star and you can pretty much go anywhere as long as you can get past the bigger monsters and NPCs blocking your way. There are random encounters, but the nice thing about these is that they’re entirely optional. An alert pops over your head in the form of an exclamation mark when you can get into a random battle and if it’s going to be tough there are more of them and in a different color. This makes it easier to manage when you’ve been getting hammered all over the map and are just trying to get to a town to rest. It was a neat way to deal with it and gives the player the option to tackle them as they want.

There’s an emphasis on exploring as you get loot off the random monsters and from chests as well as other items you might need to use. Items you pick up and buy generally have a limited number of uses unless they’re equipable items. You only get three slots per character to equip, one weapon, one armor and an accessory. These come out of chests or you can buy them in the towns that act as a place to rest, trade, and pick up news and support. They might even be able to direct you towards places where you can train in magic. There are NPCs that you can pick up along the way to add to your party that will definitely help you in your combat. Combat itself is fairly simple giving you just a few options. You can attack which is fairly obvious, defend which limits damage to you and lets you recover a few hit points, item use, magic use where you can pick from spells you’ve learned, and of course the option to run away. It ends up being a fairly simple system, but in the longer combats with much tougher mobs it still has enough depth to give you options. Now, it’s not game over if you lose a fight, but you are going to lose some loot either way as you get the option to do the fight over again or head to the nearest town to recover.

screen-16_lThe game itself offers up around 20 hours of play time or so.  With multiple difficulties and a fairly open world,  playing through again in the more traditional grind or with the just the difficulty turned up is always an option and the story and characters are worth revisiting.  As far as being balanced price wise for what you’re getting, I think it’s a steal.  For just a little over what you’d pay for a lunch out you’re getting a full blown old school style RPG with some modern tweaks with a shorter play time, sure, but that’s also reflected a bit in the price.  You’ve got five difficulty levels and four settings to control how fast you level up and how fast things fall for you.  There’s no reason to claim it’s too hard or too easy.  You can tweak this on the fly.  While there are certainly some nods to the older RPGs out there, this is all original and all new so if you’re looking to scratch that nostalgic itch but don’t want to play something you’ve played before, this is perfect.  It’s especially helpful that you can save anywhere so that you can have a life outside of playing the game and don’t have to hunt down save points.  Sure that’s an old school staple, but it was one I hated. 

As far as getting sucked in for the long haul, I ended up playing this one in spurts but not because I wanted to or because I was fed up but more because that’s how my life is working at the moment having been flipped upside down.  So that saving pretty much anywhere came in handy when I had to head into work when I’d rather have been playing the game instead.  While there are certainly other games out there, this one has a lot of charm going for it and really is well done.  It doesn’t take a beast of a machine to run and the options built into the game mean it’ll appeal to just about any type of RPG player.  While I never did have the game crash on me, the first few times I attempted to play didn’t work out so good until I plugged in my 360 controller.  Even reading through the notes that were in the game folder didn’t help me with my keyboard setup but since I’m one of those PC people who isn’t all up on using the keyboard and mouse anyway, having the 360 controller as an option was better anyway. 

Short Attention Span Summary
Another Star isn’t just a great bit of nostalgic NES era scratch for that itch, it’s a great demonstration of what you can do with keeping as simple as possible while still making something far grander.  Between the visual look, the simplified and turn-based combat and a soundtrack that feels like it’s right out of the era it’s emulating, Another Star manages to bring you right back to your childhood while giving you something new to play through and a few modern gameplay tweaks that we’ve become accustomed to in this era.  If you like classic RPGs and are looking for something new, this shouldn’t just be on your radar you should already be playing this. What are you waiting for? Go get it. 

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