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A star is born.

I'd been meaning to play and review this game for some time, but it wasn't until Karsuman recommended that I play it that I finally got around to checking this game out. And it's definitely an experience.

Star Stealing Prince is an extremely charming if challenging traditional RPG created by Ronove in RPG Maker VX. The game was RMN's 2012 'Game of the Year.'

The game takes place in the magical kingdom of Sabine, a wondrous land populated with idyllic citizens, terrifying phantoms, and snowmen. The kingdom is ruled by the young Prince Snowe (why he's still a prince is never explained, shouldn't he be the king? He's clearly the one in charge.) According to legend, as long as Snowe remains happy, all of the citizens of Sabine will remain eternally happy as well, just as in the old fairy tales. Everything is going well in the kingdom until one night Snowe stumbles across a secret that reveals that maybe his kingdom isn't quite as idyllic as he thought, and maybe his parents were not quite the good, kind and noble monarchs he remembered. Determined to discover the truth and protect his kingdom, Snowe embarks on a quest to rescue a princess and steal the very stars from the sky.

It's no mystery why everyone was so enamored with this game and its setting. The land of Sabine is beautiful, whimsical, and charming, Snowe greets each citizen by name and they always respond with a smile and a kind greeting or a gift to show their appreciation for their young ruler. Exploring is a lot of fun, and there's a lot to see. And most of it is beautiful. But at the same time, there are cracks in the idyllic facade, just enough hints that something is subtly off, something not quite right that intrigues the player and urges them to know more.

Oh...well, that probably doesn't mean anything...

The setting is also surprisingly well thought-out. Everything from why the land is eternally covered in snow to where the innumerable phantoms that haunt the countryside come from has an explanation that furthers the narrative.

The story is kind of all over the map, however. What starts out as a simple, charming tale of a young hero trying to save a princess quickly spirals out of control and starts to become very complicated. So complicated, in fact, that the details quickly get muddied and plot elements are brought up only to never really be explained. See, the main narrative really flows more like an interconnected series of tales, similar to a Greek epic or fairy tale, where the hero must face numerous unrelated trials.

There are two main plot threads, one involving Snowe's parents, and another involving an older king, which interconnect with each other in strange ways. After a while, I had lost track of which side had done what, and why, and kept waiting for someone to explain just what exactly had been going on. But no one ever really did. And I'm not saying everything needs to be broken down into walls of exposition, but I legitimately had a hard time following. I kind of feel like the author had two stories she wanted to tell and they kind of got jumbled together. I mean, the game is paced very well, there's a decent mix of fast-paced and slow scenes, but the slow scenes don't really help us digest what's happening, if anything they just give us more reasons to be confused.

What's interesting though is that I only noticed this in retrospect. While playing through the game, I was too busy being charmed by the current scenario to really notice that it didn't really seem to make sense as part of a greater whole. This game just sort of does that to you.

So pretttty

The characters are pretty generically-charming (if that makes sense), none really seem to stand out on their own, but as an ensemble that fit pretty well together. The dialogue is nice and accented by a lot of movements and posing by the characters to bring scenes to life, and they don't really force exposition or drama down the player's throats. They just sort of naturally react to the events happening around them as you might expect a normal person would.

But while I didn't think the characters stood out that much at first, my mind was changed when I discovered optional cutscenes revolving around each of the main characters. Each of these scenes is so poignant and heartfelt that it immediately changed my perception of each character involved. I really enjoy this style of optional development that doesn't get forced in the player's face, it's just there for the player to find if they go look for it. And this game nailed it.

A dual-sword wielding skeleton warrior with a cape? It'll never catch on...

Which leaves the combat.

General encounters tend to be pretty good. They start off as less than harmless and become increasingly vicious as you progress, requiring you to stay on top of your character's development. Learning new spells by finding spell tomes, and finding the various hidden items in the game can be the difference between victory and decisive defeat. The game is actually very generous with items, especially early on, but you need to put some effort into tracking them down. Levels come at a decent pace and have an immediately noticeable effect on your performance in combat. Towards the end of the game, even random encounters are very dangerous and need to be taken seriously, but they really aren't so hard once you get into a rhythm and figure out how the best way to deal with dangerous foes is. The game gives you quite a few options for incapacitating enemies before they kill you, so take advantage of them. It becomes quite satisfying to demolish a squad of dangerous phantoms without letting them get a shot off.

Bosses are a different beast. They are brutal death matches with zero room for error. One mistake, one slip up can cost you the battle. But as you get later in the game, even a well-prepared party can find themselves crushed by a boss with no real opportunity to prevent it. Using status effects is very important, but this really only serves to even the odds.

One battle near he mid point of the game pits you against two powerful spellcasters who fight in tandem. They both have extremely powerful spells that affect the whole party, and if they both use them you could find yourself with a flat-lined party before you even get to respond. The game does give you accessories to block the most debilitating status ailments and elemental weaknesses, but sometimes a battle just goes against you and that's that. A later boss (one you fight with only three of your four characters) is even worse, and I quickly became convinced there was no way to win that didn't involve getting lucky. Even when I looked up a strategy on the developer's own site, I still lost this fight upwards of sixteen times.

I can absolutely see why someone would find these battles to be unfair, frustrating, or not enjoyable.

The best analogy I can come up with is from Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals. About a quarter of the way through the game, one of the four main villains, Gades, appears and challenges the party to a fight. A 'typical' party will lose to him, badly. His offensive power and hit points are leagues above what you'd reasonably be expected to face at that point. The intention of the plot here is to demonstrate how powerful and dangerous this new adversary is by having him crush your squad of heroes. However, it is possible to defeat Gades here, without aggressive over-leveling, if you know what you're doing, and have the right gear, equipment, items and spells. You'll spend half the fight buffing your characters defense, healing every round, debuffing the enemy's attack so you can survive his attacks, debuffing his agility so your healers act before him, and generally play it really safe, only attacking when you have a clear shot and don't need to spend the whole round playing defense.

This is what every boss of SSP feels like, where you need to exploit and leverage absolutely every asset at your disposal to even stand a chance. Anything less, and you'll get demolished.

And to some people, that might sound like a really awesome, intense experience, and to others, that might just sound frustrating.

For me, it's somewhere in the middle. I'd rather beat a boss the game didn't intend me to beat by being a badass and feel cool about it than have every boss in the game give me that treatment and make me feel like I'm terrible at the game. But if you're into that, you'll probably like Star Stealing Prince a lot.


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RMN's Official Reviewmonger
(great review; very fair!)
Good stuff, but of course you're an old pro at this.

I remember on my first playthrough, I got destroyed numerous times by the same two bosses you mention. However, on the playthrough I'm doing now, I've been doing much better all around on all the bosses so far and actually have yet to lose a single battle. A steep learning curve, I don't think anyone would dispute that. Haven't gotten to those two yet in my new playthrough, we'll see how it goes.
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
Okay, so I just have to know. Shroud vs Astra; who would win?
Heh, Ronove and I have had this conversation. I think it depends on which items Astra has equipped, some of those have really powerful skills attached. In terms of their innate skills, they're pretty evenly matched. We figure they'd just go on a date instead. In terms of another potential match-up, I'm pretty sure Hiante would know better than even try and take on Stoic during his prime.
More like Misao Stealing Prince
I don't think Astra would want to get into a fight with Shroud! Unless he threatens Snowe or Erio she probably wouldn't even dream of it. Same with Hiante, if Stoic isn't threatening Astra or Erio, he wouldn't even try (but if he does who knows what'll happen).
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
Hey, I'm just sayin'.

When you drop that bomb, you drop that bomb.
Needless to say, Shroud was not happy when Astra grabbed his bag of gold pieces and tossed them to the bottom of a hill.
The gameplay portion sounded very MegaTen-esque, which, obvo, I won't have any issues with. Gonna check this out.
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