So, you like strategy RPGs, do you? Had lots of fun with Final Fantasy Tactics, loved Shining Force, and went ga-ga for Disgaea? Missed playing the original Hoshigami for PlayStation and thinking of picking up Hoshigami: Remix for your latest fix? Caveat emptor, my friends; read on for more.
Hoshigami: Remix is a DS remake of the PlayStation strategy-RPG from Max Five. It followed on the heels of Final Fantasy Tactics, and you will immediately notice the strong resemblance between the two in areas ranging from in-battle sprite design to battle flow. Don’t be fooled though, because Hoshigami is no Tactics.
Why Are You All Such Idiots?
The story begins when a young mercenary named Fazz and his teacher, Leimrey, are called upon by the head of the Nightweld army to protect the Water Temple from the invading Valaim army. From there, things quickly heat up and Fazz finds himself separated from Leimrey while leading a small force against an evil empire to save the world. If it sounds familiar, trust me, it is. One thing I liked about the story, however, was the main character. I really did feel bad for Fazz since it seemed as if everyone else in the game, whether friend or foe, was completely idiotic and unreasonable. Fazz had to deal with an entire cast of characters with really stupid and shallow motives, and he constantly tried to get them to see reason. I figure the rationale behind these characters having been written this way originated from the writers not knowing any other way to advance the story.
An interesting thing about the story is that it actually branches based on the decisions you make. You can fight completely different battles and obtain alternate allies depending on how you answer certain questions at key points in the game. I have to give Hoshigami props for that and it affords the game some replay value. Though, if you’re looking for a deep and involving narrative, look somewhere else.
I’ve Seen this Somewhere Before
Hoshigami: Remix made an excellent transition to the DS, graphically speaking. Aksys did a bang-up job making sure that the sprites were all clear and detailed, that the screen rotation was smooth, and that spell effects weren’t overly pixilated. For those of you who have never played Hoshigami, the sprites resemble those in Final Fantasy Tactics. The backgrounds and textures are a bit bland, especially in the Towers of Trial. It makes leveling-up even more of a bore than it had to be.
Spell effects were varied, especially for elemental spells which got bigger and badder as they grew in power. Also, from time to time, the characters’ dialogue is presented with a series of pretty full-height character portraits. They’re nothing super-special or stylistic, but I liked them.
Coinfeigms a Go-Go
The gameplay in Hoshigami: Remix is, frankly, not much fun. Like in most strategy-RPGs, you go from battle to battle with stops in town from time to time. Again, much like in Final Fantasy Tactics, once in battle, you select which characters will go on the field and then each character in the battle, whether ally or enemy makes its move according to its speed. Now here’s where the similarities start to fall away.
All character actions draw from a Ready-For-Action Point (RAP) gauge. So movement, item use, attacking, spell usage, etc. all use up some of that character’s RAP gauge each turn. How much or how little of the RAP gauge you use also determines how soon that character’s next turn will come up, so it’s best not to use all of the RAP gauge on your turn. This was an interesting device, and I liked it. I wouldn’t mind seeing a RAP gauge in a future strategy-RPG.
Unfortunately, things start going downhill from here. You will quickly realize that there is very little point to attacking, using items, etc. Once you start leveling up your Coinfeigms (equippable magic attack coins), it becomes apparent that they are the most powerful method of removing enemies from the battlefield for a number of reasons. First, they have as much range as an archer, once you level them up, keeping you out of danger of being attacked physically. Second, you can equip up to four at a time depending on what deity you worship (more on that later). This allows you to get a good mixture of element types, which is incredibly important; it can mean the difference between doing 100 damage and 1000. As a third benefit, enemies cannot block a magic attack, so they’re going to take damage, even if it’s not much. Finally, you can buff them up to have an area-of-effect of 25 tiles, meaning you could theoretically hit 25 enemies at once. At the very least you’ll likely hit more than one. In the face of this, all other methods of fighting are laughable.
Here’s the problem, though. Until you beef up your Coinfeigms, you and your party can get whupped pretty bad, especially on Hard mode (which is the regular mode from the original). And if a character falls in battle, you have to bring them back to life ASAP or you’ll never see them again.
Once you max out your Coinfeigms, however, most of the battles are just a joke up until the end of the game. Thing is, you can max out your Coinfeigms pretty early on but it’s expensive and tedious, as it requires you to engrave two seals on to your coin repetitively. Engraving simply means combining two elemental seals onto a coin to raise its stats. You really want to max out the Coinfeigm’s Potency and Casting Points while minimizing Required Casting Points and Recharge Time. Once you find the right seal combination, you just keep engraving them and lowering the stats one at a time.
Unfortunately, this can take a lot of seals, and while they are relatively cheap, randomly an engraving can completely change the Coinfeigm into a completely different one that could be pretty useless. Saving often is a must, otherwise you can lose all the work you just did.
The bottom line is that the gameplay is either ridiculously cruel or mindless drudgery, neither of which is very appealing.
Now there is some room for strategy in battles; quite a bit, in fact. For example, every character has an element, based on their current deity. Each element is strong against, weak against, and supports one other element. Based on the affinities of the two combatants, the damage done can be very high or very low. Then there’s positioning; you are much more likely to hit and do more damage when you attack from an enemy’s flank or back than from their front. Realistic, to be sure. Finally, there are what are called “Attack Sessions” which can result in long combos. Basically, you set a character up by facing him in a direction. Another character chooses to “Shoot” an enemy towards that character with an attack, and the “sessioned” character knocks the enemy the way he’s facing. If you’ve set up another character to session and receive the enemy, you can increase the combo and the damage.
The big downside to all of this strategy is that it’s all very difficult to pull off, and requires a lot of planning ahead. Careful control of a character’s RAP gauge, monitoring enemy turns, and matching up alignments is a lot more work than it needs to be. If you really like deep and involved strategy in your strategy RPGs, Hoshigami: Remix might be just what you’ve been looking for. Just remember that if you mess up you are likely going to be completely ganked by the enemy. Not my cup of tea.
Marching as to War
I must admit, I did enjoy the soundtrack in Hoshigami. It wasn’t excellent, it wasn’t even really good, but it was solid, and did what it needed to do. There was definitely an attempt to ape Hitoshi Sakimoto’s score for FFT. This was apparent in the bells, horns and expansive string sections for tunes such as the Coin Shop, Tower of Trial Battles, and game loading. I particularly liked the Coin Shop melody, which was a bonus since I spent so much of my time there leveling up my Coinfeigms.
On the sound effects side of things, the spell sounds and weapon sounds were standard, but I did enjoy the death screams, which were much more realistic than those in FFT. And everything sounds decent enough, even through the DS’s speakers. Good job again, Aksys!
Control & Interface
Since I couldn’t figure out a clever title for this section, I’ll be brief. All the controls are smooth and the menus are intuitive and well laid out. You can rotate the isometric battle map 90 degrees at a time with the L&R buttons, although it often won’t help you get a better view. The only time I ever got a cramp was when engraving my Coinfeigms, and that’s not the fault of the controls.
The Final Analysis
I did not enjoy playing Hoshigami: Remix. I did not find it fun. I found it irritating, monotonous, and cruel. There is a dedicated fanbase for this game, however, and if you’re one of them, you will love the port. Also, if you play on Easy mode, none of the enemies can use Coinfeigms making most of the game a joke. I played on Normal and found the difficulty to be very uneven. Overall, you’ll need to figure out for yourself whether or not you are the type of person who would enjoy Hoshigami: Remix. Most likely, however, you’re not.