Roguelite JRPG? Sign me up!
Genre: RPG, Simulation, Strategy
Developer: Massive Damage, Inc.
Publisher: Raw Fury
Release date: 8 Sep, 2020
Star Renegades is quite an interesting blend of genres and mechanics that deliver a very fun and complete roguelite experience. The popular mechanics you know and love and mixed with new and interesting ideas that give the game a much needed boost. While the price is a bit too steep for me and the gameplay has a few design problems I can’t get behind, Star Renegades does a lot right for me to not recommend it on a small sale (or even full price for fans of roguelites and JRPG’s).
As the name suggests, you play as a rebellion trying to fight an authoritarian empire – Imperium. Due to the roguelite nature of the game, each run repeats the process of taking over planets and eventually repelling Imperium.
So, pick your squad members, assemble your squad formation and get ready to rock, shock and drop on the first planet.
Yes, planets! The game has 3 planets that are represented by a rather large map broken into sectors. Your squad can explore sectors together costing you 1 turn – a day has 3 turns. Sectors are comprised of different things depending if you’re in the day-stage or the night-stage:
– During the day, you can explore up to 3 sectors (transitioning between them means breaching through Imperium protective fields and it costs one breach charge out of the 3 you get every day) which will be comprised of fights or loot; sometimes you’ll encounter elite enemies that usually guard a loot/upgrade station so you can get the best of both worlds in some sectors;
– At night, you can explore previously visited sectors for picking up some XP or money or you can sometimes trigger events – entering a cave or a temple (these are quite rare events so most of the beautiful architecture is usually window dressing and very little of them trigger an exploration event where you can go in and fight and loot your way to the exit – sort of like a dungeon); after all your nightly exploration is done you can set up a camp to rest.
Camping puts your squad together and you can create bonds between them in order to increase their relationship (from friends to companions to mates) and granting them traits (and even new combat abilities – called combos) that will help ease the fights – and you’ll suffer, a lot.
Star Renegades’ core is in its combat, taking notes from JRPG’s with an interesting time mechanic. No, not time travel, relax!
The combat presents a typical squad fight as you usually see in JRPG’s with characters having different attacking and defensive abilities, on top of buffs and debuffs you can grant to your party or the enemy. The interesting part is that the combat occurs over a timeline associated with each turn. During a turn, both your and the enemy’s attacks occur over the timeline at certain moments (depending on what they do – heavy and high damaging attacks will occur by the end of the turn’s timeline and light attacks at the earlier stages).
The interesting part is that you can manipulate the timeline thanks to staggers and other debuffs – if you attack an enemy before he does, your attack’s stagger will delay the enemy’s attack further down the timeline – if you can stagger enough to literally KICK the enemy’s attack into the next turn, placing it somewhere on the timeline.
The timeline mechanic is thus, a fresh addition to the game, enabling a lot more strategy – carefully using my attacks and staggers to make a Boss only attack me 3 turns later was an insanely good feeling I hadn’t felt in a JRPG style game in a very, very long time.
The rest of the combat is fairly typical, your rapid fire attacks are there, plus heavy, light and normal attacks – enemies (in particular elites and Bosses) have a tendency to be weaker against a certain attack style so explore that crutch as much as you can!
Once a fight is over, the sector is cleared and you can go to other sectors if you have more breaches, after 3 whole days, the Imperium-dominated-Planet is greeted with a Behemoth – a Boss that upon death will render the Planet cleared of the Imperium forces and is as such, liberated by the Resistance! Liberating a Planet should last you more than an hour or so and since the game presents you with 3 Planets, you can already tell that Star Renegades falls a bit short on the length department.
Even more sad is the fact that the universe of Star Renegades is legitimately interesting and remarkable to read about… if there was much to read. Most of the time, you’ll just fight and loot without seriously knowing what the game is truly about. There is no log or codex to re-read all the information from all the factions your faced and locations you explored. No bestiary to explore the enemies you killed and what are their strengths and weaknesses to allow yourself to plan better future runs. As far as the lore of the game, Star Renegades falls way too flat on its face so I can only ultimately recommend it for it’s really well done combat gameplay. Planets being comprised of a small map split into sectors is also very disappointing and makes the “Planets” feel like islands at best! The scale of the game is way off, making this revolution and intergalactic war feel a lot smaller than it supposedly is which is a colossal disappointment. Thankfully, the developers are committed to bring more content to the game, which include enemies, bosses, gear and, more importantly, PLANETS!
Being a roguelite, there are some mechanics that permanently stay with you even after your squad gets wiped. You’ll have currencies that allow your squad to become stronger in future runs (such as replenishing armor partially upon resting) or even buying new characters/classes for your squad. You can only start with 3 and there are about 10 right now with more to likely come in the future so pick your squad carefully with a mix of damage and defense and in particular, a wide variety of attack types to be able to take any encounter with as little trouble as possible.
Last but not least, you can explore Imperium’s elites in what is literally a Nemesis system you’re familiar with if you played Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (or Shadow of War). Each planet has Imperium elites that have rankings – they are deployed in random sectors of the Planet’s map and you can then kill them for a nice loot reward and XP. Should they be killed, they will be replaced by another new elite in future runs; if they kill you, however, they will be promoted and gain new traits and become a bit harder to take down. The mechanic is as dynamic as it was in Shadow of Mordor (although a bit more limited but it can only be compared in concept so I won’t compare them further) and it’s fantastic – a surprisingly effective system in a JRPG, something I never thought I’d see.
Overall, I enjoyed Star Renegades a lot, so much I ended almost finishing it in an entire sitting (that damn final boss…). There are some issues with your pathing during the map, some maps may be a bit poorly thought out and not give you more sectors to explore (although you still have breaches left), rendering the Behemoth fight even harder than it already is. The balance still needs some tweaking as some attacks feel far more underpowered than others and character variety at first seems to be forced – many of the characters are not viable choices in the first Planet, in my opinion and only become useful when the squad expands (after wiping a planet, the squad space increased by 1 and you can recruit someone new for the following planet – this value resets to 3 upon starting a new run). The length is also really short and while replayability is quite big, there is a constant feeling of linearity throughout the game and the lack of lore and reward for exploration ddidn’t help me want to experience it for many more runs – the combat is still quite formidable and numbs my gripes with the game.
Graphically, Star Renegades has some of the best looking sprites I’ve ever seen. Animations and overall art style are stellar and cannot be commended enough – reminding me very briefly of Crying Suns, another phenomenally looking game. During combat, camera pans and shakes on top of great varied animations (different attacks will have different animations, increasing the visual interest of the combat that some JRPG’s fail to accomplish) really make the combat feel like more than “clicking buttons” and makes it be the best component of the game, alongside graphics and the soundtrack.
OH, THE SOUNDTRACK!
While the game could use a couple more tracks, the ones present in the game are also stupendously made and perfectly adequate to the sci-fi set of the game, one of the highlights of the game as well that more than makes up for the lack of voice acting.
As far as problems are concerned, the game has very inconsistent and poorly designed UI. During combat you have to click too many buttons and change modes in order to check enemies’ weaknesses and traits. The overall combat UI can get too cluttered after a while and can be confusing to starting players. Inventory management also lacks some improvements – dragging items to equip them would be appreciated and a filter option for the inventory to sort by character or gear traits would be a great addition. Some of the UI looks convoluted and dated too – in particular the inventory and formation menus.
While some balance and UI issues during combat may hurt the game, Star Renegades is still one of the most fun JRPG’s I’ve played in recent memory (a genre I’m personally not very fond of). The lack of lore or a bestiary is criminal in such an interesting world and the price can be too steep but I can fully recommend it at the asking price or on a short sale for those fond of roguelites and/or JRPG’s. The commitment of the developers to add more content will only make my recommendation easier with time.