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Twinkle twinkle.

  • nhubi
  • 06/28/2015 05:47 AM
Your Star is a beautiful game, there's no two ways about it, it is just an aesthetically rich experience. Everything visual in the game is custom and hand-drawn. The backgrounds, the face sets, the sprites, the menu, everything. In addition all the aural accompaniments are likewise non-RTP, though unlike the visuals are sourced from a variety of composers, most of whom have made their work available via newgrounds.com. The blending of these two elements makes for a game that feels unique and well presented.

The opening premise of the game is not unique, though given the genre the trope is a fairly useful one and acts as a short-cut to clue the player into the mindset of the protagonist from the get-go. A young boy awakens in an unfamiliar setting, a large and apparently empty mansion with abandoned rooms and overgrown gardens. He is suffering from retrograde amnesia, though his procedural memory is still intact and he knows one thing with absolute clarity, somewhere within this labyrinthine structure is his sister Maya, and he needs to find her.

Raison d'etre established.

The game has been translated from the French and has been done very well with only a few errors most of which appear in phrasing, the rare spelling mistakes only show up in explanations, never in dialogue that I noticed. I don't know if the developer is French or could simply be from a French speaking county but there is a very European mood to the game, a stylistic attitude that speaks more to the art house than the blockbuster, it is both refreshing and intriguing.

The main game play element in Your Star is investigative, searching for clues as to your lost memory and the fate of your sister. This involves a lot of rummaging through neglected and dilapidated rooms, sifting through the detritus of other people's lives to find those nuggets of information or useful items that are hidden amongst all the dross and decay. Along the way it becomes obvious that our unnamed hero is not actually alone in this run-down edifice, but that its halls harbour some malevolent beings who either have his sister or who know where she is, and are using her image as bait in a trap.

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Whilst adventure is the primary element to the game, combat does play a part. Of course it is not the standard turn based that comes with the XP engine. That style of combat would neither suit the style nor the mood of the game. Instead combats are real time onscreen encounters requiring you to be facing the enemy and hitting the S key whenever it gets within range. You can also hit the D key to give the boy temporary defence but it's very short-lived. Since at this stage the only thing in the inventory that is bigger than a candle is the battered and raggedy teddy bear that was discovered in the room our hero woke up that's obviously his weapon. Needs must it seems, and if Imagine Dragons can make plush toys into weapons anyone can. Though the worse-for-wear bear does pack a bit of a punch and enables you to continue. In fact the bear is more important than first assumed.

Soon after your first combat encounter, you find a room with a young boy strapped to a hospital bed in need of a precise dose of morphine in order to feel better. Once you've worked out the puzzle and administered the dose you find yourself in a cleaner version of the same room, in which you discover one of the bear's missing eyes, if you decide to take it the bear speaks to you, thanking you for repairing him and promising to stay with you until the end. So it seems that not only is the rescue of your sister an important goal, the remaking of the bear, or what it represents, will also be needed in order to succeed. It is at this point you realise the importance of the W key (not Z as indicated in the in-game control description) as it allows you to scan a room to discover if there are any useful items in it, though not where they are located. However according to the manual that action also consumes some of your willpower so use it sparingly.

There is one slightly odd aspect of the combat that is never really explained, whilst you can be killed, there is no indication of how much health you have and no way of telling by how much it decreases during battles. You do get both a visual and aural indicator that you have been hit and it does force you back a step, but there is no way to tell how healthy or not you are during combat. Whilst you do have a clue via the menu in regard to your health it's a delayed and inaccurate indicator which isn't very useful and if you haven't read the manual you would have no idea that the jagged line is your will, which equates to HP, and the percentage of the hanging figure you can see indicates your mind which is your MP. Also given the majority of the game takes place in dark places you can't see the hanging figure, which I believe is meant to represent your faithful teddy bear, most of the time. Whilst I have already indicated I am enamoured of the game's visuals there are times when they need to take a back seat to practicality, in a game which can end if either your Will or Mind drop to zero an accurate indication of those values is imperative.

It's appealing, but not very practical.

Also since there seems to be very few opportunities to replenish your health during the game, combats are something you should actively avoid, only engaging the occasional blocking shadow or boss battles required by the game in order to advance. The only problem is there is no indication from the developer that this is the case and instances where combat situations arise with the shadows that stalk the halls are fairly frequent. Some suggestion that fighting the random enemies that appear is a fatal flaw would have been helpful.

After a run in with a mini-boss and a somewhat disjointed cut scene we are introduced to a new aspect of the game, the altered realm. This mansion appears to exists on multiple planes, the normal one in which you awoke and the altered one which is much more dangerous with slug like 'despairs' that kill at a touch and cannot be fought and a great many more wandering shadow monsters that you can defeat or dodge around. This alternate version of the mansion is more menacing, with a darker red palette, but it also contains items not found in the normal version of the place. There are also barriers in your path in the various iterations of the mansion that shift depending on which plane you are currently in, which means areas which are closed off to you in the normal mansion may be open in the altered one.

Access to these different versions of the mansion is via static churning shadows, touching one sends you to a different version of the same place to allow for either access via now cleared passageways or to enable you to find items which you do not exist in the other version of the mansion. During the course of the game you will spend quite a bit of time dimension hopping between these two alternates and then after a certain point between the altered and the third, known as the Silent, which replaces the normal for the remainder of the game.

The setting is evocative, the crawling despairs not so much.

Save is always on in the game but it is restricted, you write each save as an entry to your diary and each entry takes up a pot of ink, when you have no more pots you can no longer save, so you need to conserve them. You are given four at the outset of the game and can find up to six more in various other places as you travel but they are a scarce resource and need to be treated accordingly.

The game is peppered with riddles and puzzles and they are far from easy. Most require not only back tracking along previously visited paths, but the application of logic and a modicum of secondary school level mathematics. There are two modes to the game, Normal and Easy and I don't know if the developer made the puzzles less complex in the Easy version, but for people who may have trouble with algebra he has included a walkthrough in the game files which include the answers, or the process by which the answers are reached. You will need to take notes however as during the game I had to replay a particular puzzle sequence and I found that certain riddle clues gave different numbers which changed the final answer and leads me to believe they have been randomised. There is also the unfortunate confluence of certain clues only being available in rooms where you are being stalked by shadows so you need to gather information quickly before your will is depleted too much by ambush attacks and you die.

Not if I'm being attacked whilst trying to solve the riddle clues!

Working your way through these puzzles and fighting the level bosses along the way reveal more and more of your memory, though none of it is particularly rational, just flashes of scenes and disjointed dialogue, images and sounds which feel familiar but you can't place them in context, though they do slowly build on one another to create if not a coherent at least a cohesive whole. When you have finally met all of the myriad characters and fought against all the enemies in your path you come to the endings, for which there are two. The simplistically named 'good' and 'bad', which of these you get depends entirely on how many pieces of your teddy bear friend you managed to find during the game. There are six pieces to find, two eyes and four limbs, finding any four will give you the good ending, less than that will not. However since finding all of the teddy bear enables you to attack enemies whether you are facing them or not, you really should have found all of the pieces before you reached the end of the game. If you did get the good ending you then have a choice as to what you will do going forward, either seek a new life or seek retribution. In order to get option two you need to have found the video tape. From then irrespective of the final choice you made you get two 'bonus' scenes. If you found the music box, you'll get the 'treasure' scene and if you found the hospital bracelet you get the 'stranger' scene in a post-credit epilogue. This is the one you really should aim for because at the very least you get some idea of why all of what occurred happened and you finally learn the name of the boy.

In the end Your Star is a complex but rewarding experience. It has some issues with some of the game play mechanics; it needs the player to use outside resources to solve in game problems, a dynamic of which I have never been a fan, it requires some nimble finger work to dodge and avoid some of the later pursuing shadows and does have a few stumbling moments in regard to narrative flow. Irrespective of all of that it is innovative and interesting; with a unique and compelling mood and the ability to draw you into the murky depths of this game and not let you go until you find your way to the surface.

If you like a slow build and reveal, a hefty dose of resource management and have a knack for outside the box puzzles in a visually appealing setting, then I heartily recommend this game for your enjoyment.