- Developer: Massive Damage Games
- Publisher: Raw Fury
- Release date: 19/11/2020
- Price: £19.99/$24.99
- Review code provided by Raw Fury
Introducing: Star Renegades Nintendo Switch Review
There’s been a lot of discourse recently about games launching in an unfinished state. The obvious one is Cyberpunk 2077, which at the moment of writing this review is taking an absolute pasting online. It isn’t a new phenomenon, but Cyberpunk seems to have really stretched that no-man’s land between over promising and under delivering.
Star Renegades comes with a lot less bluster and fanfare, and launched with some pretty frustrating performance issues. Thankfully the devs have worked diligently to steady the ship and have quickly brought some big performance improvements into effect since launch.
This review is a little delayed after the launch date of the game, but I hope it gives a truer picture of the game in a state much more representative of its final form.
Despite its JRPG branding, Star Renegades is actually fairly light on story. The human race is under threat from a Robot-like race known as the Imperium. The story starts following Winn and Davion Syphex, brother and sister, who have crash landed their ship following an attack by the Imperium. Winn and Davion attempt to pull themselves together and mount a defence, before things take a turn for the worst.
The story then takes an interesting twist, not unlike the time-travelling mechanics of Into The Breach, whereby certain defeat by the Imperium forces results in your companion, a flying robot named J5T-1N, being sent through space and time to an alternate timeline where the Imperium have yet to attack.
This gives J5 the opportunity to pass on some experience from his prior battles to warn the plucky team of heroes in advance of their own inevitable battle with the dimension hopping bad-boys!
The story isn’t anything particularly gripping, but it frames things nicely enough to get you to the meat of the game.
This is how it’s done!
Star Renegades is a curious concept which initially feels somewhat intimidating. The game is billed as a Western JRPG Rogue-Lite. The JRPG elements are reflected more in the battle system than the general structure of the game, but they are a real highlight and combine idea from some of the genre greats. The game also feels a little like Enter The Breach, in the way it shows its hand during battles, allowing you to tinker and plan based on every possible outcome. The battle system is a real highlight!
The game uses maps which seem to have a degree of procedural generation, but the same maps can crop up multiple times, albeit with slight variations. You are tasked with assembling a crew to head out onto a planet which has been invaded and clear the area of Imperium, before fighting the planet’s big boss, known as a Behemoth.
The gameplay progresses between battles with you wandering around a gorgeous pixel-art map in a style akin to 8 and 16 bit RPGs, with your character remaining fairly oversized compared to towns etc.
Rather than progressing through the map, you need to choose from one of several routes through the map before breaching through each area. There’s a degree of planning and tactics required in choosing your route, as each will give access to different temporary unlockable items, such as new weapons and armour or improved power ups. You can also plan routes which give increased XP or buffs to armour and shields.
Routes are interspersed with battles, which is where the game really shines. Battles take place in a turn based style, not unlike many traditional RPGs, but the game places a timeline at the top of your screen showing the timing and order of each party member and enemy’s attacks. You can then tinker around with your own attacks to see which hit more quickly to upset the order of events and try to gain a tactical edge.
The combat is centred around crits and breaks. If you can strike an enemy before they hit you, you do a critical hit resulting in increased damage and some additional effects which vary depending in your character and the attack you choose. Some attacks will also push an enemy further down the timeline. The trick is juggling crits and delaying the enemies until they are pushed off the end of the timeline, resulting in a break, meaning they cannot attack that round.
A good battle will involve lots of strategy to inflict consecutive breaks whilst ensuring you still inflict sufficient damage. Attacks which cause a strong stagger tend to have weaker damage, so it becomes a balancing act. Enemies can build resistance to stagger once broken, so it becomes important to build a party which has additional skills to work around that.
As you attack you build a Fury meter, which can then be spent on special attacks. Some of these can inflict other status, which can allow you to essentially break a character who has built a resistance to the stagger inflicted by normal attacks.
There is a huge amount of strategy and tactics involved in battles, which gets even more interesting as you start to unlock additional characters to add to your roster each with different abilities, strengths and weaknesses. I’m not normally one for experimenting with parties in RPGs once I find one I like, but here I was constantly tinkering and seeing how different builds would affect the balance of the interlocking mechanics.
The JRPG style battling in Star Renegades is genuinely brilliant fun. The game includes a lengthy and well written tutorial which gets you up to speed quickly, but it still manages to feel a bit intimidating initially. Through playing around with the mechanics it quickly becomes clear that everything gels together nicely and the complexities and depth and there to enjoy, but are very easy to pick up.
As well as giving some amazing battle sequences, Star Renegades uses an interesting Rogue-lite mechanic to provide longevity as well as a unique twist on the JRPG genre. As previously mentioned, dying results in you moving to an alternate dimension, where you get to fight the Imperium again. In the early stages of the game, you’ll be a doing that a lot, as the game is unrelenting. Thankfully the battle system is so enjoyable that you’ll find yourself keen to jump straight back in.
Between runs you gain intel, which is a currency which can be spent on new party members, perks or weapons. Weapons are added to a pool of possible random drops rather than added to your starting inventory, but you quickly gain access to your more powerful buys, making intel a valuable asset!
During a run you also build DNA, which is essentially XP. This goes into a central pool and can be spent on the character of your choice to level them up, unlocking new perks and attacks as well as improving your stats.
The game allows for you to take three actions per in-game day. That can include battles or simply pushing into a new area to explore. Judicious use of your time is essential to ensure you are sufficiently powered up in terms of DNA as well as ensuring you have explored the right areas to collect additional weapons and buffs.
At the end of each in game day your party camps up for the night, where an interesting relationship management mechanic kicks in. You can then use different cards which you unlock throughout your runs, which give different buffs to characters such as increased damage or shields or a health refill. The cards all have different costs depending other effects, meaning you need to be clever about the ons you use. Cards are owned by each party member, but spending the card on a different member boosts the relationship between the two, unlocking new skills and buffs and even allowing the characters to have a child, which essentially acts as a new sub-class. This system adds another layer of strategy and depth to a game already brimming with cool systems!
At the end of three in-game days the planet’s boss, known as a Behemoth will land and battle ensues. The behemoth battles are a highlight, as you need to use clever strategy to chain breaks and avoid their crushing attacks. The boss battles are long, tense affairs requiring real concentration and clever party management.
The game is structured such that you need to progress through three planets initially, although the developers recently released an additional planet on PC, which will presumably be coming to Switch sometime in the future. The game is hard as nails, so there’s a huge amount of gameplay there for those that do manage to make it through a full run! Death resets your progress on all planets and, rather annoyingly, resets your experience with each character, but the persistent elements manage to give the feeling of making progress and help smooth out the difficulty curve.
There are a lot of competing systems at play during each run, but they mesh together in a way which is extremely satisfying and full of depth.
A sight for sore eyes
If it wasn’t immediately obvious from the screenshots and trailers, Star Renegades is a looker! The game is absolutely gorgeous in motion, with a pixel art style not unlike Octopath Traveller. The style doesn’t come off as a rip off, but the heavy use of post-processing effects and depth of field gives the game a similar look. Animations are suitable crunchy and the detail in the world is amazing. Some of the battle scenes in particular look gorgeous, as you battle among fallen Titans from an age gone by.
The audio during battles gives attacks real heft and the soundtrack does an admirable job of tying it all together, with thick synth-heavy sci-fi vibes.
As I alluded to earlier, Star Renegades had a bit of a troubled launch. The game was prone to crashing and, like a certain other recent release, the devs were forced to offer recompense. They offered anyone who sent a receipt for their game the option to download another from their back catalogue. As well as this they have hammered away to address the crashing issues and improve performance, which was a little ropey at launch.
New options were added to allow players to modify the various post-processing effects in an attempt to improve performance, with the default setup turning them off. This leaves the game looking a bit bland, but certainly improves the chugging frame rate. It does appear that even with the effects on, the latest patch has improved performance somewhat, to the point I chose to play with the effects on. The game is entirely turn based, so a lower frame rate doesn’t impact on the gameplay, which is the star here.
The technical issues are the one blemish on an otherwise fantastic package, and are hopefully something that will continue to be improved upon.
Star Renegades offers a fantastic package and a brilliant blend of JRPG and Rogue-lite mechanics. The game offers a huge amount of content, and the continuing developer support ensures this will only improve over time. The battle system one of, if not the best I’ve experienced in any kind of JRPG or tactics game and definitely worth taking a look!
On top of everything I’ve already mentioned, the game also includes a nemesis system not unlike the Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War games. You can observe the hierarchy of boss and sub-boss enemies in the Imperium and see where they all stand in their ranks. Battling these various characters will lead to promotions and demotions depending on how they fare against you and builds an intriguing nemesis system like the aforementioned games. This is the cherry on an already perfect cake and gives a real incentive to play on as you hunt down those that have wronged you before!
- Best in class battle system
- Stunning art style
- The nemesis system keeps things spicy
- Performance is still a little ropey