Star Renegades Review
Some games try to carefully craft their core game mechanic systems to be as simple and minimal as possible so that the player doesn’t get overwhelmed from tutorial info dumps. Not Star Renegades! Pulling inspiration and game systems from possibly every legendary RPG game in the past two decades, the game decides you must be a very high IQ Rick and Morty fan to choose to play a game like this. If you’re anyone but Dunkey, you’ll soon realize the depth of these systems and the insurmountable task of combining so many of them to create a cohesive yet brilliant tactical RPG that is Star Renegades.
Evil Space Robots in my Galaxy? Say it ain’t so chief!
Star Renegades is a roguelike tactical RPG game based in space where you will fight mecha-styled robots who are controlled by a mysterious AI only referred to as Mother. They don’t quite seem to be a hivemind a la the Borgs from Star Trek, but they have quite a bit of flair and personality while still sharing the same obsession with Mother. With a plot that can’t quite decide if it wants to be Star Wars or Star Trek, you play as a squadron of renegades battling endless hordes of mobs and bosses to take back your multiverses in some of the most exhilarating turn-based gameplay imaginable.
So how exactly does a tactical RPG that has such a specific setting and combat system work with permadeath and roguelike elements? Well, you’re going to have to sit down for this one Bobby, because this one is a bit of a mind bender. The story revolves around the Empire destroying not only your galaxy, but every galaxy in every universe imaginable! The main character strangely enough is a robot named
BB-6 J5-T1N, and his sole purpose is to travel from each multiverse if your party gets wiped out and takes that intel to the next band of heroes in the next multiverse/galaxy. Confused yet? So, smartly enough, the upgrades revolve around getting intel points and a kill currency based on how well you did on the last run. These upgrades are permanent and allow you to unlock new weapons, playable characters and unique powers for J5-T1N. But the story isn’t really the meat and bones here; what really defines this game is the incredibly intricate combat system and how fun it can be to pull off massive team combos.
J5-T1N hard at work in the next multiverse.
Jeez, what time is it? Just one more turn…
If you thought the story was complex, just wait until you get into the combat systems. In the first 10 or so minutes, you will be info-dumped with a ton of tutorial messages. That’s pretty par for the course for any standard tactical RPG, but even Star Renegades one-ups them with the sheer amount of tooltips and UI systems you need to learn before you get annihilated. The combat system is heavily inspired by the Grandia Series, where you can see the exact attack plans that the enemy are going to execute ahead of time. The devs also mention that the system was built for RNG, but that was scrapped in favour of hard numbers after playing Into the Breach and realizing that would flow better mechanically, since RNG can always be frustrating in roguelike games where one wrong move means permadeath for your characters.
Where Star Renegades improves upon this system is with its unique interrupt and critical hit system. Each enemy can be staggered by attacks by a certain amount of time depending on the ability used, but only if you hit them before they attack you. This will always result in a critical hit which is where you can get massive bonus damage and status effects to occur, giving you a major incentive to favour using even the much ignored weaker abilities which are quicker over slower, stronger ones if it means getting a critical hit off. If you stagger an enemy enough, then you will break their form forcing them to skip that turn altogether giving you free reign to tee off on them freely. The catch is that each enemy has a listed set number of stagger hits they can take before they will maintain composure no matter what and execute their attack. Once they attack though, that stagger number resets allowing you to repeat the process. This system allows for a lot of in depth planning that in later worlds is absolutely necessary as enemies hit for Massive Damage.
The icons Mason, what do they mean?!
In early worlds, you can just straight up ignore the UI for the most part, but you soon realize how crowded and convoluted the UI and tooltips can be once you have six team members and everyone is stacking status effects and using AoE attacks. It’s safe to say that I’ve made careless mistakes many times because I thought an attack was going to be delayed when it wasn’t or had no idea what effects were going on with who. There is an info mode so to speak where you can check out each ally and enemy and see what attack does what and what effect that strange icon is but it seriously hinders and breaks the flow of battle when you’re in the zone and just enjoying the combat. You’d expect that you could just hover over an effect and a tooltip would pop up, but instead you need to go through multiple tedious steps just to learn what being ionized by an enemy means. It’s safe to say that the UI can still be massively improved as late game battles are just stacks on stacks of effects and, it becomes near impossible to keep track of them in an efficient and timely manner.
Mom, can we have the Nemesis System? No, we have the Nemesis System at home.
Outside of combat there is an overworld where you will be spending the majority of your time scrolling through the map planning out the most effective route to gain the most XP, as there are three set amount of moves you can make in one day, and there’s only three days to loot the world until you are forced to fight a Behemoth which is the final boss of that world. Each overworld has five leaders that act as minibosses that you can attempt to fight for a huge boost in XP, but be warned as it will be far from easy. Regular mob enemies tend to have shields which are fairly easy to break, but leaders also have tons of armor which are unbreakable without crit bonuses, leaving you to do very little damage to their HP bars.
Once a leader is defeated, you are brought to the Imperium Throne Room which is Star Renegade’s take on the Nemesis system from Shadow of Mordor. Here you will see every single leader, behemoth and adversary which are completely unique enemies that you may run into occasionally. I will have to say that as pretty as the Throne Room looks, I barely felt the effects of the Nemesis system in any of my runs. Even when you re-encounter a boss that killed you, it’s just a single extra line of dialogue noting they recognize you from an alternate universe. There is information on each boss such as their weakness, but that really isn’t useful in the long run since you don’t typically have the liberty to have multiple weapons for each character with different elemental traits. Perhaps this system can be expanded upon in the future but as of now it’s more of a system that serves as a reminder of who is left in that world with no real tangible benefits.
There are more game systems than levels in this game
After you have made your three set moves for the day, you are forced to camp for the night which introduces another two major systems into the game that directly tie into each other. The first is a card system that allows you to give bonuses to teammates typically for the next two encounters. These can range from attack/speed bonuses to shield and health regeneration per turn. Each card costs a certain amount of points to use, and you have a total of five points to spend on cards. Each character has their own set of cards that replenish every night, and these cards also give affection points to whoever the card is given to. This is the second major system which is a Fire Emblem-styled relationship system that has thresholds for certain affection ratings. Once you hit a threshold, there is a conversation between the two characters that can be interesting lore or just extremely wacky dialogue about conspiracy theories involving space toasters. The major upside to these affection thresholds are that you gain huge bonuses to both characters usually surrounding their specialty roles such as 50 extra shield points for a tank, for example. At the halfway threshold for any given relationship, you unlock an entire new combat mechanic known as the combo system. This was my favourite aspect of SNES classic Chrono Trigger where two characters could do insane combos at the cost of extra mana. Mana comes in the form of Fury points which act as a mana pool for the entire team that is generated every time you attack an enemy. Special abilities and combos require Fury points to activate but are almost always significant and can quickly change the tide of battle.
With these systems in mind, it allows for very interesting team comps to try and test out different potential combos. On your first run you are basically hardlocked to a standard team which slowly grows as you recruit a new member each time you finish a world. However, on successive runs you get to decide how to craft your team however you want without having to fulfill typical roles. It’ll be harder in the long run to do, but you can definitely completely spec into pure attack glass cannons with no tanks and take on the world! I found that the safer way to play is to have at least 1-2 tanks, a support main, and two flex characters that can both deal big damage and support the team. You get a myriad of characters to unlock that all have their own unique dialogue and abilities to supplement the team. It is also possible to create progeny via the relationship system during the camping you do at night. Certain characters have better chemistry than others, giving them a higher affection cap limit allowing the two to create a progeny which creates a hybrid class and is playable on your next run.
No seriously, it’s way past my bed time
As a huge fan of roguelike games, I’ve seen a growing trend of newer games with insane multihour-long runs using these same permadeath elements compared to quick 15+ minute romps like Rogue Legacy, Nuclear Throne and other roguelike classics. Star Renegades not only joins the likes of Blightbound or Darkest Dungeon where runs can easily be over an hour long, it cements itself in its own category where an average run could easily 4+ hours. Yes, you read that number correctly. My first run was just around the four hour mark and judging by the Steam reviews, most players hit around the same average. For a roguelike with permadeath elements, not only is this mind-boggling but also absolutely infuriating when you know you’ve finally hit your stride and all your characters are decently leveled only to get absolutely demolished by a boss. With so much time invested into a single run, it’s one of the more questionable design decisions I’ve seen this genre slowly branch into.
This is especially compounded when you realize, whether intentional or not by the developers, the first world you play on is the tutorial world and you have to run through it every single time. The only fighting you’ll be doing is spamming the fast forward button as there is no strategy to be found here, making me wish it was an optional world that you could just skip. Even with the fast forward mode in combat being set to Ludicrous Speed, this first tutorial world alone will still take at least 30-60 minutes just by design. These roguelikes no longer really follow the pick up and play nature that made me fall in love with the older classics so I can just swing out a single session, have a quick blast and move on with my day.
That being said, albeit the beginning world hiccups were an absolute struggle, those long 4-5 hour runs were some of the most fun I’ve had in a tactical RPG, and those hours just flew by.
My eyes have never been this happy to play a game
Star Renegades has some of the most gorgeous pixel art I have ever laid eyes on which is perfectly complemented by 3D-styled backgrounds. This gives it an incredibly unique look that can appeal to both retro and modern gamers alike. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you just see the art style for a game and you immediately fall in love, having a gut feeling that the game will appeal to you. The art design is loosely inspired around the game Dungeon of the Endless, and I can definitely see the similarities in the environmental storytelling and character designs. The devs mention that the pixel animations are rendered at 20 frames per second which is twice the amount of frames of a typical game, and it truly shows during the combat. The animations are silky smooth and just feel cool to watch when any character does over the top attacks.
Star Renegades is some of the best gosh darn Tactical RPG’ing you’ll be playing since Into the Breach and Cosmic Star Heroine. It’s bogged down by some of the most insanely long run times you’ll see in a roguelike game and terribly crowded UI systems, but at its core the gameplay is second to none. Star Renegades will provide hours of fun and it has never been so exhilarating to plan out a single turn, only to see everything magically fall into place once executed. I absolutely recommend Star Renegades and look forward to the future roadmap and what the developer’s have planned for what is already a fantastic game that could potentially become one of the best tactical RPG games out there.
Star Renegades can be purchased on Steam here.