No matter where you look these days, no genre remains safe from roguelite influence. From platformers to bullet hell shooters, it continues that swift march and Star Renegades is the latest to fall in line. Developed by Massive Damage Inc, this interplanetary strategy RPG first launched two months ago on PC but is finally making its way to consoles this week. Offering some interesting combat and high replayability, there’s fun to be found, but it just isn’t that thrilling.
Within the depths of space, we start with a lone starfighter called Wynn Syphex. Finding her fleet swiftly destroyed by the Imperium’s space armada, she escapes but crash-lands on the nearby planet of Norosh. Elsewhere in a different dimension, Professor Zurek has created a service robot called J5T-1N, sending it into our world to warn her other self of impending doom and meeting up with Wynn. It offers some light humour in places, making fun of your standard sci-fi tropes, but the dialogue can be rather cliched.
Every second counts
Naturally, it wouldn’t be a roguelite if every mission wasn’t procedurally generated, so all playthroughs are unique and whilst there’s some overlap between runs, it keeps proceedings fresh. You can save mid-campaign, but if your whole squad dies, everything will reset. Each world offers an explorable map, letting you interact with objects or speak to certain citizens, and though you have free movement, progression is strictly linear. Enemies are completely visible before entering combat, so there are no surprise encounters.
Once you start a fight, you’ll be introduced to the “Reactive Time Battle System”, offering a turn-based approach and everything is set within an action timeline. Showing you what moves foes are planning, units have unique sets of actions, offering different damage types including light, normal, heavy, flurry, AoE, counter and combos. You can scan foes at any time to reveal specific weakness, resistances, or even full-on immunities, so take full advantage for increased damage. It’s all quite in-depth, giving players an array of options for how to take down foes.
Actions take specific time to execute, and only a few are instant, with every round lasting for 60 seconds (not real-time). Each action indicates the time taken to execute it, possibility for critical damage and impact on armour. If you land a crit attack on enemies before their turn, it lets you stagger them to delay their action, eventually breaking if it exceeds 60 seconds. If you can’t counter them before their turn, defensive options are available to reduce your damage.
All units have three stats to consider: health, armour, and shields. Shields are impacted first when damaged, needing to be exhausted before you can hurt their armour. Once both are depleted, you can start damaging their health. Some attacks can pierce that armour, however, bypassing that requirement to directly hurt them. Shields automatically regenerate upon finishing combat, but armour and health aren’t as easily restored, so it pays to prioritise recharging shields if a unit has that move available.
Taking the fight to The Imperium
Each area is capped off by an Adversary, which are essentially mini-bosses and they all come with unique abilities and personalities. Upon taking them down, you earn a special item crate that grants various stat buffs, giving you three options to choose from. Players can then proceed to camp out, letting them restore health, armour, and even deepen relationships between your crew. It’s not as in-depth as similar examples like Fire Emblem but levelling up between units unlocks new combo abilities and even grants “progeny” units if you max out. Everything cost action points to use, so use them wisely and once expended, your team goes to sleep, ending the mission.
Though it’s easy to get overwhelmed by these details at first, Star Renegades does take time to explain it all via tutorials, but it still feels bogged down by everything. The core gameplay loop does offer some entertaining combat, but when the story isn’t particularly thrilling either, I never felt gripped by it. Where it shines though is within the artistic direction and good pixel art is timeless. Delivering a neon aesthetic and moody electronic soundtrack to an interplanetary setting, the character designs are a bit generic, but this approach really brings each world to life.
Star Renegades is a decent effort from Massive Damage Inc overall. Presenting a highly layered combat system with an interesting premise, there’s a good strategy RPG game at the core, but it struggles to ever thrill you. Though there is considerable overlap between playthroughs, it offers a good degree of replayability thanks to the roguelite mechanics. If you’ve been looking for a different kind of strategy game, this might be the one to fill that niche.
[Reviewed on Nintendo Switch]