Star Renegades review – the world’s prettiest strategy game

With some of the best pixel art ever and a great combat system, Star Renegades is the most intriguing indie strategy since Into The Breach.

If there’s one game franchise we would bet on not making an official return it’s Suikoden. That’s mostly because Konami are the publisher but it’s also a lengthy, complex role-player with a name that will mean nothing to most Western audiences. So it was great to see spiritual successor Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes become such a hit on Kickstarter. There’s a lot of Suikoden in Star Renegades too, so maybe we’re looking at some kind of mini-renaissance, although we do hope Eiyuden Chronicle manages to avoid some of this game’s more distracting faults.

We first came across Star Renegades at E3 last year, which is unusual for an indie game but it was on Microsoft’s stand and we were immediately attracted by the amazing pixel art graphics, as well as the turn-based combat and the surfeit of giant robots. This really does have some of the best 2D pixel art we’ve ever seen, especially as it’s not trying to pretend it’s an old SNES game but instead forges its own style and doesn’t purposefully hold itself back to the limitations of actual retro games.

Strategy games are not an easy thing to demonstrate during an event like E3 and so there were a lot of elements we didn’t get a feel for at the time. Playing the final game, the graphics and synthwave soundtrack are even better than we realised but the storytelling… that’s something that’s a little harder to be so enthusiastic about.

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As you can imagine just from looking at it, there’s a strong sci-fi anime influence in Star Renegades, but on a surface level at least the plot is relatively straightforward. Aliens are invading and you have to put a team together to defend against them. It’s more complicated than that, thanks to the introduction of alternate universes, but what it all boils down to is build up a group of defenders and fight some robots.

The alternate universe angle is an important detail because Star Renegades is also a roguelike, where you start each game in a different, but almost identical, reality and begin by picking three team members and launching a new resistance.

Star Renegades’ battle system is justifiably the focus of the game and, at heart, similar to Japanese role-players like Dragon Quest and the earlier Final Fantasies. You’re not moving around like XCOM but instead just picking attacks and abilities from a menu.

That may not sound very exciting but the game puts extreme importance on timing, with enemies indicating what moves they’re going to make at the start of a turn. Your goal is to then work out the best counter to these actions, by performing critical attacks that stagger an enemy and allow you to get in as many attacks from other team-mates before your opponent is able to do counter them.

This basic concept is mixed in with an abundance of other considerations, with combos, elemental attacks, buffs and debuffs, and limit break style moves. Enemies can often use the same abilities and usually make sensible decisions about employing them, creating one of the most engaging and versatile turn-based systems we’ve seen for a long time.

There is a learning curve for all this though and that can be frustrating at first, since if you treat this like just a standard role-playing battle you’re not going to get anywhere. Even when you do know what you’re doing it’s not exactly easy though and, to be honest, the difficulty is probably pitched a bit too high. Especially when you factor in the Nemesis system, inspired by Shadow Of Mordor, that means some enemies ending up bearing a grudge against you.

In-between battles, and this is where the Suikoden influence really comes in, you can set up a camp in order to level up, apply temporary buffs, and chat to – and potentially romance – fellow team members. Getting on well with your allies confers bonuses in battle, including combo attacks and eventually children with unique class types. However, there’s disappointingly little variation in how you level up characters, with each class following the same path and offering too little scope for meaningful customisation.

In terms of graphics and combat Star Renegades is excellent but this is counterbalanced with some baffling design decisions elsewhere in the game. For a start, the interface is awful, with awkwardly designed menus and difficult to read information. The whole movement system on the overhead map is fiddly and confusing, while even selecting individual units becomes difficult once your party increases beyond the initial three.

Then there’s the fact that for some reason the dialogue is written in an extremely snide tone that comes across as highly obnoxious. Even the enemies talk like overly sarcastic parodies and while trying to turn the game into a comedy is fine in theory comedy is hard to do well and the script’s snarky attitude does not help at all given how difficult the game is.

Also disappointing is how much you lose when you die. That may be a staple of roguelikes but modern incarnations tend to ensure you’re also unlocking permanent extras along the way. In Star Renegades you do get to keep your in-game money, which can be used to unlock extra characters and weapons, but the number of meaningful permanent upgrades is rather small and nowhere near as game-changing as something like Into The Breach.

We’re hoping that the interface problems can be fixed with the console releases and developer Massive Damage has said they plan to increase the number of characters and extras over time, so there’s still hope that Star Renegades can be the classic it seems on the cusp of becoming. It looks and plays amazingly well but that’s never the full story in any game and this needs a bit more work to reach its full potential.

Star Renegades review summary

In Short: Gorgeous pixel art graphics and one of the best turn-based combat systems of recent years can’t quite make up for an obnoxious script and frustrating role-playing elements.

Pros: The visuals and soundtrack are pitch perfect and worth the price of admission alone. Excellent battle system, that’s both extremely deep and relatively original.

Cons: The interface is horrible, the script is worse, and the roguelike and role-playing aspects all seem undercooked. Just a little too difficult, even once you know what you’re doing.

Score: 7/10

Formats: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch
Price: £19.49
Publisher: Raw Fury
Developer: Massive Damage
Release Date: 8th September 2020 (consoles TBA)
Age Rating: N/A

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