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Platform: PlayStation Publisher: Atlus
Genre: Strategy RPG Developer: MaxFive
Format: CD-ROM Released: 10/01

Reader Review
Phillipe Richer
Reader Review

Hoshigami came out at a very appropriate time last winter; not only was it released just before Christmas in the US, it also ended a long drought for tactical RPGs. It came as a blessing to the huge Final Fantasy Tactics fan-base who had been awaiting this proclaimed pseudo-sequel for months. Did Maxfive's creation deliver as expected?

The first review I read for Hoshigami was on the now extinct GIA. The reviewer gave it an unflattering 2/5, which didn't look good. I didn't want to believe it, I couldn't believe it, but God knows I should've believed it. Truthfully, buying and playing Hoshigami is quite probably one of the biggest mistakes I have made in my gaming life. This is why I made it my mission to keep any other poor soul who may have the idea to play this game one day from actually doing it. The whole game is actually such a mess that it's hard not to judge it subjectively from emotions.

Hoshigami employs the same battle style as almost every other good and not-so-good Japanese TRPG. At the beginning of a battle, you place up to seven characters on the square-grid battlefield to fight the enemies. In this case, the characters' acting order is determined by both their agility stat and the amount of RAP (ready-for-action) points they used on their previous turn. The RAP point system is actually the biggest innovation the game offers and is also the high point of this game. Basically, every action you take cost a number of RAP points, be it moving, attacking, or using coinfeigms. Each character has their own RAP gauge which can go up to 100 points. You can go over that limit only by using regular attacks. However, the more RAP points you spend, the longer it'll take for that character to get another turn, which means you may remain a stationary target for quite some time if you choose to go all-out.

You have the standard Move, Attack, Item, Coinfeigm (magic) and Status options during combat. A good thing is the addition of an attack gauge, which gives you the opportunity of pretty much inflicting the amount of damage you want (under the attack's maximum) on the target. This is particularly handy when you build-up your characters by hitting on each other. You may also Shoot opponents, which doesn't inflict much damage, but pushes them 2 squares back. Another innovation is the session system, which allows multiple characters to attack a single target by having them well positioned prior to shooting the enemy against another ally. Killing an enemy in that fashion is the only way to acquire their equipment, although it's such a pain in the behind to set all your characters that you'll probably never do it. You also have a nifty Queue Indicator bar at the top of the screen which shows the order of initiative. There are no random encounters in Hoshigami. Rather, you get Towers of Trial which allow you to do some character building.

Magic is handled through the use of Coinfeigms, which is also the centre of the game's plot and pretty much everything else. Coinfeigms (CF) are magical coins that have their own statistics, such as Max Coinfeigm Points (MCP), Coinfeigm Point Cost (CPC), RAP cost (RC) and Potency (POT). Each CF only contains one spell, and you must have enough CP and RAP points in order to use them in battle. CP recover naturally during the course of battle, but they do so very slowly, and there are no items to recover CP, or RAP points for that matter. You can upgrade your coins' stats using combinations of seals, which may be purchased in shops or found in the Towers. Also, in addition to EXP, characters also earn Devotion points in battle. Each character may worship one of the eight deities (two are secrets) at one time, and at every 100 DEV points learned under that deity, a new skill can be unlocked by visiting the temple. Each deity has their own strengths and weaknesses and their own weapon proficiency.

All right! Now that all that is explained, here come the many problems. While it may all sound great technically, in practice it's actually quite flawed. First, battles are incredibly hard. Your puny seven guys are faced against more than double those odds ALL THE TIME! And to make matters worse, the opponent always has better equipment and better skills, meaning that you'll spend 3/4 (about every three to four fights) of the game hitting your own guys in the Towers to gain levels. Second, the Towers are 20 floors long and you can only save every five floors. Third, when a character dies, he DIES! No way to come back. Fourth, since you can attack as much as four times on a single turn, if you slip up and leave a character defenseless, he may get creamed by only one enemy. Fifth, the incredibly unbalanced nature of the game forces you to play certain ways. For the first three chapters, the only way to acquire decent seals (and leveling coins) is in the Towers. You probably won't bother with it and opt for physical power instead, as I did. However, at the beginning of the fourth chapter, where you can start buying good seals, I realized that the only way I was going to get through this hell was by gearing my whole party towards magical warfare, something I hate. And to top this hellish overview, you only gain about 6 EXP and 2 DEV points when attacking someone of the same level. Leveling up is so long you can't even imagine! Each deity has 16 crappy and very much useless skills, and it'll take you quite some time just to get a decent one. Wouh!

The menus are all quite nice and pretty easy to navigate, except in battle. You have to confirm every single action you take, meaning you'll be pressing X about 15 time per character ?unless you open the option menu and turn the Navigation option OFF. When you first see the tile screen, you'll hear the first nice piece of music the game offers?and the last. The sound quality is the crappiest this side of the original NES, and the compositions are so dull, so bland, so sickening , that you'll think it was composed by an ape! I apologize , I meant no disrespect to the ape community. Just to give you an idea, it's the first time EVER that I listened to music while playing a game. I would've gone insane listening to these bleeps and screeches. I couldn't find the composer's name, so I'm just assuming someone killed him before I had the chance.

As I mentioned earlier before I started venting, the battle system is very original. Unfortunately, the RAP system, the session concept and the coinfeigm stuff are all at the service of a very awful game. The idea of characters dying permanently is also a first to my recollection, but they shouldn't be too proud of that. Otherwise, it's a very standard TRPG, although the amount of leveling and cursing you'll be doing is quite nauseating. Yeah...

Hoshigami tells the story of the land of Mardias which has been ravaged by a terrible war between the ancient Ixians and the Spirits, and is now facing its impending doom. The back-story is all told at the beginning when you let the prologue roll and it has the merit of actually being interesting at first. But over the course of the game, the same damned legend will be told about a dozen times with slight variations every time, which finally leads you to uncover the truth. For the first four chapters there are almost no plot twists, and when something finally does occur, you just cannot care after that long period of staleness. There are also quite a few unique characters, 14 total, but once they get their two minutes of fame, they don't say another word. NOT ONE! There is NO character development and absolutely NO interaction with the rest of the party. The only difference between them and normal mercenaries are the higher stats and the more colorful sprites.

The dialogue is just like water: No odor and no taste. Nothing special, nothing bad. There aren't a lot of typos, and that's pretty much all the good you can say about it. Hoshigami was released quite some time ago in Japan, and the game shows its age. The sprites are somewhat grainy, the special effects don't inspire much awe, and the backgrounds are barely acceptable for a game released near 2002. The only high point are the nice character portraits and the full size hand-drawn characters, which you won't be seeing often. Overall, the graphics don't make a strong impression, and you clearly see that it wasn't Maxfive's biggest point of attention. Thinking about it, just what was the emphasis placed on?

Replay value? If I ever replay that piece of crap, I want somebody to shoot me on the spot. But to those people masochistic enough to venture into that sad, sad universe once again, they may actually play a slightly different game. There are various points in the game where you can decide which route to take, leading to a slightly different set of battles. There are also two secret deities, a couple secret characters and a Tower 50 annoying levels high, but I don't think anyone could enjoy it enough the first time around to go back a second time. Not to mention how long it actually takes to complete it.

To conclude this review of one the worst RPGs I have ever played, some numbers, taken from my personal game file: 6/14 characters found, 3/6 towers completed, and 85 HOURS OF GAMEPLAY! While a part of it was put up by me watching the TV because I was so bored of trashing my party for EXP, it's still insane. I am insane. I'm one of those people who has to finish a game they have started, and it lead me to this; a complete waste of time. Were it not for the stupidly-long level building period the game forces you to endure, Hoshigami would be a very mediocre game. But as it stands now, it is one the RPG gaming industry's worst accomplishments. Do yourself a favor, stay as far as possible from this game, and from all that Maxfive produces in the future.


© 2001 Atlus USA
Graphics: 45%
Sound: 21%
Gameplay: 73%
Control: 59%
Story: 38%
Overall: 37%

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If this isn't the most common objective in Strategy RPGs, then I don't know what is...

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The anime stylings are quite nice.

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Grid-based battles...talk about old school.

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