$3600 (or three thousand six hundred dollars for those of you who like things spelled out). That is the amount of money required by the GIA to get them to review this game. And they got it. Think about that for a moment. With that kind of money, you could buy out an entire dollar store. If for some reason you don't need worthless plastic junk, you could buy 12,413.7931 twenty-nine-cent hamburgers at McDonald's. Why, you could even donate it all to me (highly recommended). But these people decided to spend it all just to torture some man into reviewing this game. I think he should have held out for more. Here's my review, free of charge.
Okay, so there's this place called Heart Island. On the island is this secret laboratory volcano lair for this guy named Homncruse. He's sort of a ghost/demon/zombie/space robot from the future that hates his dad for some reason, and he plans on destroying the world with his army of demonic henchmen and some poorly animated stealth bombers he brought with him from the future.
Opposing him, there's this guy named Ray. His dad was something called an Aqutallion, which means futuristic star warrior. Anyway, Ray must travel across the world to find other Aqutallions and a little fat kid with purple hair to combine his powers with in order to defeat Homncruse and save a small city run by eight-year-old orphans, all the while being helped by his good friend Uncle Save who periodically enjoys dressing up in a Playboy Bunny costume.
Along the way, he will fight child-murdering football players, circus ringmasters who enjoy turning people into solid gold lions, and a world-class boxer who bears an uncanny resemblance to Guile from Street Fighter II, not to mention a pack of unimaginative and palette-swapped enemies. Aiding you is a cult of middle-aged men and little girls who live in the sky devoted to you and your band of elementary school students called the Kustera. However, instead of protecting you and your friends from foes, this group of trained warriors aids you mainly by pressing switches that you cannot reach and visiting sleazy bars that you aren't allowed into.
Secret of the Stars is a pathetic excuse for a game, plain and simple. It starts out innocently enough as what appears to be a completely by-the-books generic RPG. Gameplay is carried out as you walk from village to village, occasionally raiding a dungeon for a key item. Battles are turn based, with your party of one to five heroes fighting a group of enemies with the usual "Fight," "Magic," "Run," "Guard," and "Item" commands. HP and MP are used in the all-too-familiar way, and a complete lack of ingenuity when it comes to spell types or enemy design would seem to make Secret of the Stars a sparse, yet perfectly average, RPG.
However, there are a few touches added to the game that make it nearly unbearable. First off, it's unbearably slow. Walking speed is irritating, battle speed is sluggish, and even the encounter rate is too high. Making it worse is the fact that you often have to spend hours training before ridiculously unfair boss battles, and the game really suffers for it. Throw in the occasional enemy who can cast one spell and wipe out your entire group instantly and you'll wind up spending a good long time before seeing the ending credits.
Next up, a two-party system was used where you can shift at any time between the Aqutallions and the Kusteras. This could have helped the game greatly if it were used properly, allowing each group to develop on its own and forcing them to work together to solve problems, but that is not the case. Instead, you wind up playing as the Aqutallion Stallions for almost the entire game, periodically switching to the Kusteras to go through a door that the Aqutallions can't use in order to find the occasional key or item. Just to emphasize how worthless this second team is, they only have about five lines of dialogue, and most of them are summed up as, "HI! I AM KUSTERA! LETS US FIGHT HOMNCRUSE TOGETHER!"
As if this wasn't bad enough, you have to train this second group separately, and since you rarely use them at all, you often wind up facing enemies far too powerful for you and running from every fight. Strangely enough, they apparently went to some effort creating the Kustera team, since by the end of the game you can choose from eleven of them to make up your party. Every new one you find has terrible armor and levels though, so chances are that you won't even see most of them in action.
Of course the final nail in the gameplay coffin would have to be the puzzles. Every so often, you are told to hunt down a completely random item. For instance, at one point, a scientist asks you to find something to hold his boat together. He gives you no hints beyond that as to what the item is and absolutely nothing as far as location goes. In order to progress in the game, you have to visit every area you have yet discovered and check every square inch of open ground you see until you wind up finding the GOLDNAIL behind a flag at the construction yard. Without a strategy guide of some sort, you will spend days scavenging for junk every time one of these puzzles comes up (or quit after five minutes), and the scary part is that they come up pretty often.
Making the game even less palatable was the story. I basically spoiled the entire plot in my opening, and the parts I left out were basically just a bunch of random fetch quests you get sent on, such as "Find the Farmer," "Slay the Giant," and the ever-popular "Kill the Octopus Made of Rocket Fuel." Major bosses appear at random and there is pretty much no back-story for anyone or anything.
The translation didn't help it any either. It's bad enough when a game has typos here and there, but there isn't a single line in here that isn't either incomprehensible or so awkward that it sounds like a kindergartener wrote it. I think there was supposed to be something about time travel mixed in somewhere, and there was definitely something about a star of Actos, but there's no way to be sure what they were trying to tell us exactly. From what I could make out, there was also supposed to be some level of humor in the game, but not one joke got through alive. It's sad really. Keisuke Kuboki, if you are reading this, shame on you for your pitiful translation job. You are responsible for what I hereby dub the worst translation in RPG history.
Not surprisingly, the graphics are absolutely terrible. While I admit it fits with the rest of the game thus far, you have to realize that it was released in 1995. Considering that these were the last days of the SNES, there's no reason why people should be releasing games that look like low budget versions of Final Fantasy IV. The characters and backgrounds are colorful, but neither quality nor quantity is that great. Almost every town follows the same two tile sets (ruined or not-ruined) and the dungeons are pretty much the same. Enemy design would be one of the better points if it weren't for the huge amount of palette swapping, but it's not until you see the character design that you see the really sad stuff.
Every possible positive point this game has to offer visually can be negated by Leona. I'm not sure if it's the neon green shirt, the Pegasus wings in her hair, or the fact that she's supposed to be a crime lord, but she really just doesn't fit the superhero bill that well. None of the other characters do either, but she just really stands out as either colorblind or clinically insane.
Somehow, the soundtrack wasn't that bad. While the MIDI quality was some of the worst the system has ever seen, the composition seems fairly decent. It's not a masterpiece, mind you, but there's a nice selection and I actually caught myself humming after playing. The only real problem I could discover would be that it seems to drag along a bit at times and get repetitive, but at least it changes fairly often. It sickens me that I can consider any part of this game not terrible, but I have to honestly say that the music of Secret of the Stars is not only better than bad, but you might just call it good. As for sound effects, there's just a bunch of blips and beeps and thuds. While barely recognizable, at least it brings the Sound/Music score into kilter with the other sections'.
Ending it all (something I wish I could have done many times during the course of this game) we have controls. There's really not much to say except that the battle and shop menus were a bit annoying at times, you move too slow, and the save system scared the bejeezus me. Aside from that, it was pretty much average.
Don't play this game. There's no recognizable plot, no entertainment value, and actually a bit of physical pain involved from the thumb-numbing process of endlessly leveling up before bosses. My only parting advice would be that if you receive it as a gift from a relative, never speak to them again, and if you do touch a copy by accident, don't worry. The rash will be gone in a few days.