Title: In Stars And Time
Release Date: November 20, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Armor Games Studios
Genre: Adventure RPG
Introduction to In Stars And Time: Exploring the Concept of Time Loops
Time loops and Groundhog Day scenarios are nothing new in fiction, especially within the realm of video games; it’s a concept that is rife with storytelling and gameplay potential, so it’s hardly surprising to see the concept explored so thoroughly. Haven’t we all wondered what we would do if we had the ability to alter our mistakes, to change an outcome that we once couldn’t foresee? But equally, the idea of being trapped in that loop, with no foreseeable way out, is horrifying. How would you cope living in a world that repeats itself, no matter what changes you make? Would you lose your mind, or would you push forward no matter what?
Gameplay and Narrative: A Unique Twist on RPG Adventures
In Stars And Time, an RPG from developer insertdisc5, puts you in the shoes of Siffrin, an adventurer who is set to save the world from an evil king, along with their party of stalwart and lively companions. Unfortunately, poor Siffrin ends up dying moments after entering the king’s castle… but then wakes up the day before entering the castle, and their allies seem to be completely unaware of anything unusual. After encountering a mysterious star-faced stranger named Loop, Siffrin decides to use this time loop to his advantage to help their party get through the castle’s tricks and traps unscathed.
In Stars And Time’ brilliantly transforms the familiar time loop concept into a fresh and emotionally engaging RPG experience.
What makes the game story somewhat unique is that you are essentially playing the final portion of an epic adventure; you and your companions start at level 45, and you already have plenty of skills at your disposal. The game still takes the time to teach you the basics, but it’s framed in a way that makes sense for the narrative.
Despite the game focusing on the end of Siffrin’s journey, it doesn’t take long for the game’s story to become engaging. Each of the other members of Siffrin’s quintet is written in a way that makes them immediately likable and easy to root for. While they definitely fit certain roles you’d expect for an RPG party, they each have their own surprising character traits, and their camaraderie is so incredibly wholesome, heartwarming, and at times, exceptionally poignant. It’s easy to pick a favorite right from the start, but by the end of the adventure, you’ll be emotionally attached to all of them.
Visuals and Soundtrack: Crafting an Engaging Aesthetic
This is only bolstered by the design work and portraits, which are wonderfully charming. The simplistic cartoon art style really lets the emotions of these characters shine. The entire game is presented in monochrome, which is pretty striking itself and leads to the world of Vaugarde leaving a big impression on the player. Focusing on two main environments, the town of Dormont and the king’s castle, you very quickly become familiar with the world and all its details. The visual style might be too simplistic for some, but to me, it just makes the game all the more appealing to look at. I have to commend the soundtrack as well, as it is beautifully done and compliments the distinct graphical style.
Equally straightforward is the gameplay, which sees you playing from a top-down perspective, like in many other RPGs. Controlling Siffrin, you solve puzzles around the castle, fighting creatures with your party and steadily progressing up to the castle’s peak, all while factoring in your new ability to time loop. Spicing up battles a bit is the inclusion of a Rock Paper Scissors weakness triangle, and a good deal of thought has to be done to fight efficiently, as the large variety of enemies have their own gimmicks to consider. By looking at the hands of an enemy, you can usually tell what sort of attacks will be more effective against it, but it’s not always immediately obvious, so each new encounter will keep you on your toes.
The game’s charming characters and poignant narrative make it an unforgettable journey in the realm of video game storytelling.
The game’s time loop mechanics play into these battles, too; Siffrin retains all his abilities and EXP after each reset, but his party doesn’t, so while he will eventually be much stronger, you have to balance that with however strong your companions are at the portion of the game you have looped to. Your team still keeps their equipment at least, and equipable memories allow them to retain individual abilities no matter what level they are. Eventually, battles can feel a little trivialized by not only Siffrin’s power but also by some of the better equipment you can find, but I never found myself getting particularly bored by the combat.
The time loops play into both exploration and puzzle solving as well since consumable items can also be lost during each loop. So you have to become familiar with where consumables are if you want to stay stocked up and ready for anything. Keys, of course, also return to their original locations upon resets, and although you can loop to a point where all the doors on a floor are unlocked, that comes at a cost, and some locations will be locked off to you anyway as a result of your decisions.
You have to loop, and you have to loop a lot. The game will roadblock you at points, or you’ll be faced with a choice that will require you to reset if you make the wrong choice. Can this be frustrating? Sometimes, but it never feels like it inconveniences the player too much since the spots you can return to are very evenly spaced out. It really feels like a great deal of consideration has gone into making the looping mechanics a vital part of the experience. There are a lot of moving parts with both the gameplay and the story, and it’s commendable that it all comes together as neatly as this.
Its simplistic art style and compelling soundtrack perfectly complement the depth and emotion of the story.
There is a great deal of memory work involved when it comes to objectives, especially in the late-game sections; the game will have you running around, backtracking to find a specific book, object, or location that’ll help push you forward. The game will push you in the right direction, at least, and it doesn’t get complicated to the point it becomes obtuse or obnoxious. Your guide, Loop, is usually on hand for most of the game to help you out, and the game map is compact enough so that nothing is ever that confusing. There was probably only one objective in the game that had me scratching my head a little more than usual, and it was purely just down to my own memory failing me.
Time Loop Mechanics: A Double-Edged Sword in Gameplay and Storytelling
Before I continue, I want to elaborate that although what I’m about to say is likely to come across as negative, I think overall, what it does for the narrative experience is a huge positive and should be commended. As the story progresses, the objectives become more and more fatiguing as you constantly backtrack through the castle, through time, and through conversations you’ve seen before, as they all repeat themselves again and again. The repetition started to become draining once I was about fifteen hours in, and I was eager to feel like I was making some sort of progress. But then I realized I still did not want to put the game down; In Stars And Time is so compelling because it really makes you connect with its protagonist, and it turns what should be a failing into something that drives you to want to see the game to its conclusion.
I felt a very real empathy with Siffrin because of this; eventually, the loops do start to take their toll on them. They get more and more desperate, more and more impatient, more and more exhausted, but still, they keep pushing forward to find a way to move on. The repetition of the gameplay is bonded to the repetition of the narrative and somehow creates something uniquely brilliant and spellbinding. It leads to some amazing and emotionally powerful moments, both before and during the conclusion, and the catharsis you feel is just so satisfying because you truly empathize with what Siffrin has been through. Sticking with the game is truly worth it for moments like that, and it made me truly happy to push through.
While the time loop mechanics offer innovative gameplay, they also artfully reflect the narrative’s emotional depth.
It only makes me consider if this repetition was intentional or not; perhaps I am just being hyperbolic, but it feels like it was baked right into the experience; that emotional harmony is right there, and it is just so transfixing. Whether it was part of their plan or not, it just made In Stars And Time that much more of an emotional rollercoaster for me, and that’s the kind of experience that I live for.
For some, the repetition of In Stars And Time might not resonate in the same way as it did for me, and I completely understand that. I feel as if the latter half of the game will lose some people, but regardless, I say it is worth having some patience for this one. From the charming characters, the excellent execution of the time-looping story, and the lovingly crafted visuals, In Stars And Time is a unique experience I never want to forget, and I do believe it to be an indie masterpiece.
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