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In Stars and Time Review - A Shining Star In The RPG Genre?

In Stars and Time review by SilentSigns (Steam/PC, Switch)

Released 11/20/23

insertdisc5, Armor Games Studios



It might've taken me about three decades, but i think i've finally done it. I've finally found a game that does time looping right. Today we are taking a look at In Stars and Time, a time-loop RPG with a rock-paper-scissors twist.


Time Loops. We know they can be done very well in movies (looking at you, Groundhog Day). Hell, even Happy Death Day got some things right. But in a game? It's such a delicate line to tread! Having to backtrack over and over again while losing progress without the confines of a guaranteed 90 to 120 minute resolution can be painful. Pair that with RPG elements, which can already involve grinding to grow stronger, and you have yourself a very volatile recipe for potential disaster. This could go wrong in so many ways, so why didn't In Stars and Time implode?


A screenshot of the house of the king in In Stars and Time
Do things again and again and again and still have fun with it? Time loops!

Let's begin at the beginning: the premise. You play as Siffrin, a traveler of mysterious, unknown origins that has banded together with a group of unlikely heros to take on "The King," who has thrown the world into chaos, freezing people in time.


Your motley crew of brave adventurers is made up of Isabeau, Mirabelle, Odile, and Bonnie--each with their own backstories, strengths and weaknesses.


Since this is an RPG, you already know you're going to get your share of turn based combat, but I bet you probably weren't expecting rock-paper-scissors based attacks. Unless you've already played this game and you're type looping as you watch this review, in which case, stop watching this review and go win the lottery or save the world, there's probably better things you could be doing with your time, my guy!


Each character has a primary type of attack and crafting skills, which can either be stronger attacks or spells to heal or increase speed, strength or defense. Super simple to jump into for both beginners and seasoned RPG veterans, with enough of a strategy aspect to keep things fresh and interesting. Oddly, this is not the first game i've encountered that uses rock paper scissors as the determining factor in battles, but i'll say it's the best version of this mechanic i've encountered. Logically, each enemy has a weakness, which can typically be read by looking at their hands. Some enemies are sneakier and will hide their weakness better, but once you're aware of what type of attacks do the most damage, chaining together 5 of the same types of attacks can produce a "jackpot attack," which will allow all party members to attack at once and will heal any fallen comrades.


A screenshot of a battle from In Stars and Time
Battle against Sadness to find the King and save the world

Then there's Bonnie. They are the snack captain of the team that will ocassionally run across the battlefield to drop off sustinance or deal the final blow.


"But SilentSigns, where does the time looping come in?!" Don't worry, I already knew you were going to say that. Here's the thing. Siffrin can't die. No matter what traps they may set off, how many freezing tears they touch, and how many times they choose sweet, sweet pineapple over over snacks, they always wake up again--a little groggy but mostly no worse for wear. Same day, same situation. Only Siffrin remembers what happened in the last loop, which means their leveling and experience sticks. As for the others, well, they'll forget ALMOST everything. Your party is not aware of the time loops and can lose quite a bit following a death, but they will gain some abilities that can be equipped as "memories," and there are occasional save points withing the confines of the king's home, where you can save your progress to begin your next run on that floor.


Sure, you're still going to have a bit of back-tracking and grinding to do, but the checkpoint and memory system do alleviate a good deal of the frustration. Plus, you are able to fast-forward through dialogue so you don't have to sit through the same coversation again and again, though occasionally something within those conversations will change ever-so-slightly, so you may want to listen in or perhaps make a different choice in your own dialogue once in a while.


This game has a brand of humor all its own, which you'll either love or roll your eyes at. As a pun afficianado myself, I really enjoyed Siffrin's quiet quips that made light of an incredibly dark scenario. I found most of the characters really endearing and particularly enjoyed the overarching emphasis on change. The god of this universe is change, and each human is fully expected to go through many changes within in their lifetime. As a human, I can confirm that many chapters in my life have produced change--some big, some small; but all significant in creating the person I am today. This is going to mean something different to each and every individual who plays this game, but the sentiments here are really universal.


A screenshot of the team from In Stars and Time
Everything changes, and that's ok

In Stars and Time features a black, white and grey art style that is a refreshing departure from the more typical pixel art style that has become the default for this style of game. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy retro RPGs, it's just nice to take a break from it every once in a while. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, after all. The lack of color and overall simplistic style leaves just enough to the imagination where you are able to flesh out this world in your mind, without having the environments feel too empty. Like the time loop mechanic itself, it's a fine line, but one that In Stars and Time treads gracefully on both fronts.


I will say that, while enemies change from floor to floor and they are incredibly creative in design, they do become a bit repetitive after a few loops. They're also incredibly persistent little buggers that speed up when they spot you in the cramped corridors and are pretty difficult to avoid. I have a hard enough time fighting "anxiete" in real life, i do not need my whole party decimated by it over and over again. You can flee a battle, but I'm rather conflict avoidant, and I'd rather not get involved in the tussle in the first place.


A screenshot from the village in In Stars and Time
A lack of color leaves room for imagination in the graphics

Devs may not have defaulted to the colorful, heavily pixelated nostalgic RPG artsyle, but In Stars and Time goes all in on the chip tune soundtrack. Luckily, it's freaking phenomenal The way that swapping out the song can completly shift the tone of the game from a dark, serious moment to SNACK TIME is exquisite. No voice acting, but pleasant enough blips, slaps and bleeps fill in the silence, and I didn't mind fleshing out these characters in my own mind based on their written personalities.


In Stars and Time is a fantastically creative RPG filled to the brim with laughter, difficult conversations, a fun twist on turn-based combat and, above all a lovely tale of humans changing together. Changing the world, changing time, changing themselves and changing the script of what an RPG needs to be. It's on the shorter side of RPGs and I'm sure some may still find the time-loop/backtracking aspect a chore, but I really enjoyed the time i spent with this title.


I am awarding In Stars and Time the silver genie lamp of approval. If i could go back in time, i would do it all again.


Pros:

+Time loop done right

+Creative combat

+Loveable cast

+A nice message


Cons:

-A bit repetitive with enemies and environments

-Backtracking may feel like a chore to some



Silver Genie Lamp
Silver Genie Lamp


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