Hoshigami Remix - Staff Review  

Top-Heavy Magic
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

50 to 60 hours


Rating definitions 

   When Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth was released on the PSOne a decade ago, it was quickly decried as an abject failure. Even today, the original Hoshigami is noted for being meaninglessly difficult, with horrible control and irritating music. This remake fixes a number of these problems, but the base it's all built on is still highly unbalanced, a fact which makes Hoshigami Remix a hard game to recommend. Much of the original title's difficulty has been mitigated by the introduction of abundant revive magic and a streamlined interface, but the game is still weighted heavily in favor of magic, a fact which sadly renders most character development possibilities moot. A player who doesn't follow a specific plan of character and magic development will have a great deal of difficulty passing some of the later battles, as magic can easily wipe out physical fighters, main character included. While Hoshigami Remix is undoubtedly a much better version of the original, the game still has plenty of flaws and can be highly frustrating for a player who goes in without foreknowledge of how the system will develop.

   Hoshigami's combat system is an interesting mix of traditional grid-based tactical gameplay and a sort of reverse version of Final Fantasy's ATB. Each action a character makes requires a certain amount of RAP, or Ready for Action Points. Since there isn't any predetermined order to the moves a player can make, it is possible to move, attack, and then move again, or even attack multiple times in one turn. The meter then recovers slowly as time passes, with each character's turn coming around when their meter is empty again. The combination of RAP gauge and grid-based gameplay provides an interesting base to work with, but the combat system has a number of flaws in planning and balancing that make it difficult to enjoy.

   The single biggest problem with Hoshigami's combat system is the degree to which Coinfeigms, small metal coins that allow characters to cast magic, can influence the outcome of a battle. A player who takes a little extra time to understand the system of Seals, which are used to increase the attack power and reduce the cost of Coinfeigms, can easily produce extremely powerful magic with a long range and a huge area of effect. Even mutating Coinfeigms into higher level magic is a reasonably easy task, meaning players can gain access to certain spells well before the CPU opponents are capable of dealing with them. A party that invests heavily in powerful Coinfeigm can steamroll through the first half of the game without much opposition. The Seal system gets extremely tedious in the later parts of the game, where players will need to spend a great deal of time and money to be able to use high-level Coinfeigms more than once per battle. The lack of balance can also work against the player, as enemy mages who are equipped with unusually powerful Coinfeigm can easily wipe out a player's physical fighters. Since the death of the main character is the single requirement for a game over, sudden and frequent death awaits the player who raises Fazz as a physical fighter.

Navigate by touch or by control pad, either works fairly well. Navigate by touch or by control pad, either works fairly well.

   This focus on specific character setups is the other reason Hoshigami Remix's combat system can become frustrating fairly easily. For most of the game, the player can construct their characters in any way they see fit, but as the enemy mages grow more powerful, they become harder to hit physically and are nearly invulnerable to magic. The only reliable way to counter enemy mages is with status effects, a risky proposition in the best of times. Despite the wide customization options available through the Devotion system and equipment, the player is eventually forced to construct their characters focused exclusively in either countering or using powerful Coinfeigm.

   As with the combat system, the game's story revolves around the idea of Coinfeigms. The general idea is that thousands of years ago there was a war between humans and spirits, the only real record left of which is a prophecy that details how human use of Coinfeigms will bring about the end of the world. Fast forward to the present day, and two neighboring countries are on the brink of all-out war, with the mysterious Coinfeigm at the center of it all. The player takes charge of Fazz, a mercenary with a mysterious past who gets caught in the middle of the conflict. The story itself revels in political machinations and attempts some of the complexity that so many tactical RPGs love, but the characters come off as largely flat and the political side of the story tends to bury the more important environmental message. The game's branching plotline does make things a bit more interesting, but it also tends to muddle the already overcomplicated story. Hoshigami Remix's story frequently descends into rambling pointlessness, with the game's message being easily lost under the sheer volume of political maneuvering. In the end, though some gamers may enjoy the complexity the story brings to the table, the simple lack of focus makes the plot hard to get into.

Er, which lifestyle is that, exactly? Er, which lifestyle is that, exactly?

   Whereas the original Hoshigami's system was clunky and overbearing, requiring the player to repeatedly confirm almost any command, Hoshigami Remix's interface is streamlined and efficient. Gone forever is the system that required five or six order confirmations to move a handful of spaces. Of course, there are still a few hiccups. For example, since the game no longer asks for confirmation after a character moves to a new square, once a character is moved there's no going back. For the most part, menus are a bit plain, but simple and effective, allowing the player access to resources with a minimum of argument. Players can even save and access stores between battles in a series or between floors of the game's many training towers, something the original game did not allow. If there is one area that improved the most, this would have to be it.

   The soundtrack of Hoshigami Remix, which bears a striking resemblance in theme and composition to Hitoshi Sakimoto's work on Final Fantasy Tactics, works relatively well with the setting. The sound quality is fairly solid, but the music itself tends to be somewhat dull and sometimes has difficulty meshing with events in the story. It just doesn't seem to know quite what to do with itself during some story sequences, with meandering melodies wandering off in the background while the plot does its own thing. Sound effects, on the other hand, are actually quite effective. The game uses a wide variety of appropriately sharp noises for physical attacks, some impressively dramatic sounds for spell effects, and some very nice death cries, for when a character falls in battle. Overall, while the soundtrack has some of the same problems that plague the rest of the game, the sounds of Hoshigami Remix are a pretty solid lot.

   Visually, the game's largest problem is that it lacks a strong unifying style. The game uses a traditional medieval fantasy setting, but the characters don't appear to be specifically from that time period - or any other one. Characters are designed in a style that doesn't evoke any particular setting, and would probably be at home in just about any reasonably fantasy-style environment. Design is more streamlined than one would expect, with knights in armor that is made up more of gentle curves than angles, lending some characters an almost futuristic appearance. Locations, on the other hand, are strongly medieval, with ramshackle villages, holy temples, and granite castles decorated with swords and coats of arms. Technically speaking, the game's visuals are relatively solid, with fully-rotatable battle arenas, large sprites, and detailed character portraits. Overall, the game's visuals are fairly solid and certainly get the job done, but character design in particular lacks flair, with many members of the cast coming off as somewhat dull.

   With a complicated Seal process to figure out and multiple Towers of Trial to be completed, Hoshigami Remix can take a fairly long time to complete - around 50 to 60 hours. However, players who go in knowing how their characters will need to be developed to progress smoothly should take significantly less time. The game offers three separate levels of challenge, Easy, Normal, and Hard, with the most major changes between the settings being the ease and availability of reviving ones allies.

   The fact that Hoshigami Remix improves upon the original game is undeniable. Where Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth was hard to control and frustratingly difficult without any hope of relief, Hoshigami Remix features smooth control and a manageable level of difficulty. However, while the game improves in several significant ways, it still features a restrictive, highly unbalanced system and a story that often loses sight of its own message. In the end, Hoshigami Remix may appeal to gamers looking for a challenge, but the vast majority will most likely be turned off by the restrictive way the game develops. In the case of many remakes, developers are decried for straying too far from the source material. If anything, Hoshigami Remix's biggest sin is that it doesn't stray far enough.

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