I'll wager that a lot of you have never played the original Hoshigami. It came out in August of 2001 for the PlayStation -- a good 10 months or so after the release of the PlayStation 2. As a tactics RPG, you probably would have been content with playing Final Fantasy Tactics for the 18th time. The game wasn't exactly easy, either.
Combat was balls-hard: when your characters died, they were gone for good. In addition to that, the AI would usually gang up on one character and kill him. Oh, and the only way to level up is to grind through towers, which are akin to those "Pit of 100 Trials" excursions. The game also featured a "RAP" system, where you had a meter that dictated how much action you could do in a turn, as opposed to just giving you a maximum range and one attack option.
The game had some good points, though, so it might be an appropriate Games Time Forgot. But is this update for Hoshigami worthwhile for you to actually buy?
First, there's the update -- well, Remix. There have been a ton of changes to the game. Combat was one of the things about this game that always stuck out in my mind when I brought it up. So, what have they done to change it? They made it a hell of a lot easier, for one thing. The AI, unless you're playing on "Hard," won't follow the brutal tactic of ganging up on one of your characters and beating them to death. This, to be honest, was a nice relief. The thing is, though, that combat was tuned down too much. Rarely do the battles present much of a dire threat, as opposed to every battle being a near-death experience. Sometimes you will actually lose characters, but generally they're the ones that deserve to die.
That's a little harsh, isn't it -- saying that some of your characters deserve to die. Well, there are some characters that you're given at the beginning of the game that are just bad. They can barely connect a hit, and when they do, they don't do much damage. It can be rather irritating. I've found that changing your tactics to take out groups of enemies at a time by drawing them out is better. When I play this, thinking back to the original, I have to say that it certainly makes the game a lot more enjoyable, but it does make me think that it was toned down a bit too much. I can't fault them much for that, since the "Hard" difficulty is, in fact, hard.
The magic system in this game really doesn't favor mages. You get coins that you use to cast spells (mages can hold 4 coins at once). Now, the coins have a mana pool of sorts, and the spells have a cost. To start off with, it's usually a 20 cost, and a 20 pool -- in other words, the coins are only good for one casting per battle. Wonderful. There's no real explanation on how to improve the coins, either. It's more of a trial and error (or go look it up on GameFAQs) type system. That's a flaw of the game itself, not so much a Remix problem, though. Might as well have boomerang fighters instead of mages.
The Towers of Trial that are in the game is something that I feel needs specific mention. For one thing, it's the main area of leveling up your characters and getting more unique items from combat. What makes the tower hard is that you can only exit every five levels (in the original), so you had to be prepared for a difficult grind. In Hoshigami Remix, though, not only can you leave whenever you want, they also provide you with shops in between each stage so that you can stock up on items and such, as well as save your game. I agree with the saving your game bit, but that's mainly because you're now playing on a handheld, as you might not have the full hour to grind through five levels before saving. The other changes, however. leave a sour taste in my mouth, and takes away from the "trial" bit in the tower. It's just like in Super Paper Mario -- they didn't let you leave whenever you wanted, and it made it fairly difficult, but fun.
Now that I've talked your ear off about combat and the like, let's move on to the graphics. There are some improvements, with the sprites sharper and more detailed -- this is at about an expected level. I'm comparing the DS' 3" LCD display to a 25" CRT TV from 1990 displaying a PS1 system, so I'd expect at least this much in making the graphics look better. Otherwise, things are somewhat lackluster. In combat, it'll pull this background/foreground look, where the objects that are closer towards the screen are blown up, and thus go down in graphical quality. It's an interesting idea, but it makes things look worse. When dialogue is going on in the top screen, the bottom one has menu options, and a cheap blue and black gradient background. I would've expected some sort of imagery from the game -- something more than a gradient, at least. Also, I couldn't help but laugh when I see it say "Press X to shoot!" and they still have the original PlayStation "X" button image instead of the DS'.
A huge flaw that popped up to me relatively early is that the game will lag. It was during the first encounter at the Tower of Wind, and there were 21 characters on the screen in total, along with some really basic water effects going on. Once I got someone into combat, the game would start dragging whenever the camera moved across the screen, and the combat would lag bad enough for damage and some effects to not even appear on screen. This continued until I knocked it down to about 9 characters left on screen, which I found fairly disappointing.
And what about the touch-screen functionality of the game? It's pretty superfluous. You can use the touch screen to move all around combat, and do everything in the game, but you're going to end up spending a lot more energy having to select and confirm things, as well as correcting incorrect touch-sensing (it says that you want to move to a different square than you selected), than you would just moving with the buttons. It's nice that they provide mini-buttons on the bottom right of the screen if you want to rotate the battlefield or do something that requires pressing a button. So, if you're dead set on using the touch screen throughout the entire game, they certainly give you the option -- it's just that using the buttons seems more natural.
Finally, there's the pacing of the game, which really hit me as problematic. Since the loading times are gone from the game, transitions between dialogue and events happen too quickly, creating a more confusing plot. When you throw a bunch of scenes in as rapid a succession as they happen in Hoshigami Remix, it made me mistake the intentions of characters once in a while. Thankfully, I was able to remember what it was originally like in Hoshigami, so I managed.
All in all, I believe that Hoshigami Remix is a good game. Sure, I ragged on it a ton, but I think that through all the changes they made to the game, it became more accessable to a larger audience, and made the game a bit more fun for those who aren't really hardcore into tactics RPGs -- and I think that's the most important point. While there are some major flaws to deal with, it's certainly a more worthwhile buy than, say, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and since we're waiting for Front Mission DS, strategy RPG fans might as well pick it up.
Verdict: Buy It!
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