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8-Colors Star Guardians Plus Review – 5.5/10

Contributed by DJMMT

The thing I like most about indie games is that you can never really judge a book by its cover. You can play something that looks terrible, and it can be one of the most amazing gaming experiences you’ve ever had. And you can play something that looks stunning, and it’s one of the most boring slogs you’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. When it comes to AAA titles, they’re usually pretty easy to predict at this point. But with indies, it’s the wild west. It’s for that reason that I’ll try just about any indie title, so long as it’s being billed as part of a genre I enjoy. That was the mentality I went into 8-Colors Star Guardians Plus (8CSG+) with. Sadly, the game did not surprise me in the ways that I hoped it would.

8CSG+ is a turn-based battle game. I can’t call it a turn-based RPG, because while it does have stats, techniques, weaknesses, and buffs, it doesn’t actually let you develop your characters organically. All character development is scripted. Meaning that you have to tackle battles as they come with no recourse to get stronger in the event that they are too hard. So it feels inaccurate to call it a turn-based RPG, even though it’s very clearly inspired by that genre. When I think about this game, I can’t decide if it’s a really good game actively pretending to be a bad one; or if it’s a really bad game trying it’s absolute best to be a good one. There are clear signs of skill, innovation, and interesting concepts from the developers here. However, the core structure of the game is very flawed in a way that the turn-based combat makes feel even worse. But I’m getting ahead of myself. More on the gameplay later.

The nice way to describe the graphics in 8CSG+ would be to call them “retro inspired.” But that’s just a fancy way of saying low budget. It’s pixel art, but not to such a degree that it feels like an intentional style choice. However, I would not call the art low effort. There is a lot of detail here with distinct design choices to differentiate the characters, enemies, and settings. I appreciate that both the characters and monsters you fight are constantly moving/dancing during battle sequences. Later in the game there are even cutscenes, or the text box equivalent anyway. As you defeat bosses, they show up dead in the title screen. While the gameplay in no way requires the level of visual effort that was put in for the game to function adequately for the intended experience, the developers took the time to throw on a decent amount of extra. All that said, I can’t in good conscious say that it’s a good-looking game. The monster designs are cool, but would have looked way cooler in a different art style. The characters are distinct, because they’re identified through their respective colors, both in and out of their battle suits. But color isn’t really personality, in this case, so it comes off feeling more limited than inspired.

When it comes to lower budget games, I think text font can go a long way. Taking advantage of more stylized fonts and capitalization practices can do a lot to make a game look more professional, but 8CSG+ fails to do that. It uses a default PC text font with colors as the only real factor of differentiation between different types of information. It’s in no way bad or unreadable, but it also adds to the game’s presentation feeling low budget. I do appreciate how the developers tried to use color in the text to denote different types of information though. For instance, when a character is giving the player a clue about how to approach the gameplay, as part of their dialog, that text appears in yellow, while most dialog appears in white.

The writing is probably where this game shines brightest. Or flounders, depending on how you feel about ironic dialog. If I had to describe the characters in this game, I would sum up the five protagonists as a group of cringe twenty-something year old women. While protecting Earth from a group of giant alien monsters, the clearly Power Rangers inspired “Star Guardians” spend a large amount of time talking about things like relationships, jobs, and the quirks of each individual character. The way these characters talk is extremely cringeworthy. However, the characters are aware of this and at one point one of them even says as much to the rest of the group. Meaning that the writer knows his characters are cringe. So the question is does it count as good writing or bad writing when you intentionally write cringe dialog? In either case, while I wouldn’t call the writing in this game necessarily good, I would call it entertaining. I laughed multiple times while playing this game.

Make no mistake, 8CSG+ does have an actual narrative. It’s not amazing, but it is very reminiscent of Power Rangers storytelling, which again is what the developers were going for. So it’s hard for me to decide if I should consider this good writing or bad writing, because there is merit in choosing to tell a story in an ironic fashion; and that’s exactly what happens in this game. Even the way they deal with the villain in the first chapter is funny in a cringeworthy way. While I can’t say the game’s plot is particularly impactful or memorable, I can say that I never felt like skipping any of the dialog.

The audio experience in 8CSG+ is fine. It’s very straight forward in a standard turn-based combat sort of way. There are a few different attack sound effects, that digital typing sound you hear in a lot of text-based games when adding new dialog, and one song that plays during all battles. The music is fine. Maybe even good; but it’s just the one song over and over again, so it gets old. You’re certainly not playing this game for the audio, and in all honestly could just play it with the sound off while you listen to music. That said, you absolutely should not skip the dialog.

What’s interesting about the gameplay in 8CSG+ is that the credits roll after you complete Chapter 1, but Chapter 2 is a much more dynamic and impressive experience. However, Chapter 2 also feels way less polished and balanced. Chapter 1, which does have a complete story and can be considered the end of the game proper, is very straight forward in its design. There are eight bosses that you can fight in any order you want. That’s technically true anyway. While you can choose the order you plan to face bosses in, there are certain factors that limit which bosses you will be able to defeat at a given time. For example, there’s a boss that requires a specific power to defeat. But you can’t acquire that power until you’ve defeated a certain number of bosses. So, while you do have a choice in the order you face those bosses, that order is manipulated by the limitations of your abilities.

While this game does operate like a turn-based RPG when it comes to combat, it lacks the ability to grind. Characters do get stat upgrades and new techniques as you progress. But they are scripted boosts and upgrades based on your story progress rather than the accumulation on XP. Characters have HP, SP, status effects, and techniques. Again, it’s standard turn-based combat a la Dragon Quest or OG Final Fantasy. SP is limited per battle, but you eventually unlock techniques to recover it. Same with HP. Status effects are also standard fair. Characters, and bosses, can be poisoned, shielded, slowed, and so on. In fact, wielding and maneuvering around status effects is the major challenge of the gameplay. There are bosses that you simply can’t beat without taking advantage of status effects.

Stats and effects do not carry over between battles. You start every battle with full HP and SP with no active status effects. Dying has no consequences. You just go back to the boss selection screen and try again or choose a different boss. You can run from battles at any time. Similarly, there is no long-term consequence for doing so. It’s much more a game of trial and error than meaningful challenges. Since you’re always as strong as you’re going to be and have the techniques you’re meant to have, it just comes down to learning the strengths and weaknesses of the particular boss you’re currently trying to deal with.

Chapter 1 isn’t really creative in its approach to gameplay. You just pick the bosses in the order that makes sense. Once you’ve beaten all eight bosses, you unlock the final boss. After defeating him, the credits roll. Chapter 1 is very well balanced though. While you may struggle, you never feel like the fights are impossible. It’s a straightforward experience that uses gameplay as the means to tell a story. Not necessarily a memorable story, but the entire thing runs smoothly from start to finish. Everything changes when/if you decide to play Chapter 2.

Chapter 2 is optional. It unlocks after you’ve already beaten Chapter 1 and seen the credits. If the game wasn’t so short, it would probably feel like optional DLC. However, all the game’s innovative gameplay choices appear in the second chapter. Chapter 2 is structured in a completely different way from Chapter 1. For starters, you aren’t given eight bosses all at once to tackle in whatever order you prefer. You have to follow a set path of encounters in order. Additionally, not all those encounters are giant monster boss fights. In fact, some of them aren’t even present sequences. There are flashback fights, cutscenes, and even limited character selection options for certain fights. In Chapter 1, you can only use up to three characters at a time, but you can choose them freely from among five options. In Chapter 2, you can use all five at once, unless it’s a sequence with a set roster. It’s impressive how interesting and dynamic Chapter 2 feels compared to Chapter 1. Like that should have been the whole game. It feels even less like an actual RPG, but it’s a much better overall experience. However, Chapter 2 has massive balance problems.

In Chapter 1, when you get stuck on a boss, you can just try a different boss and come back later. In Chapter 2, you have no such recourse. If you get stuck, you are just stuck. Imprisoned in a never-ending loop of getting close, but never being able to finish the job. This actually happened to me eight steps into Chapter 2, ultimately leaving me unable to finish it. I replayed the boss fight I’m stuck at countless times, but I just couldn’t pull it off. This problem is further exacerbated by a lack of data.

While it was not always a feature in turn-based RPGs, data transparency has become a standard. The ability to view an enemy’s information is key to succeeding in turn-based battles, and 8CSG+ is no different. Using the right attack for the specific monster you’re fighting at an opportune time sometimes feels like the only way to win a fight. The problem is that other than HP, SP, and current status effects, you can’t see any enemy data. You are stuck trying to remember an enemy’s weaknesses. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if there weren’t fights that were basically impossible without taking advantage of weaknesses and other status effects. So while Chapter 2 is a much more interesting gameplay experience, the flaws in the design are much more prominent to the point of almost being game breaking at times.

8SCG has very little in the way of meaningful replay value. There is one setting that appears to affect the gameplay experience, but I wasn’t able to discern what it actually changed about the gameplay. Chapter 1 can be played in a different order with different combinations of characters, but it honestly won’t add to the experience enough to warrant repeat playthroughs. Rolling credits also unlocks an arcade mode, but it’s little more than a chance to re-fight bosses from the story mode with slight changes to the limitations placed on you. Also, beating Chapter 2 unlocks some cosmetics, but given the lack of reason to keep playing after that, who really cares? While I don’t think $5 is an unfair price for any indie title, I can’t say that you’ll get your money’s worth of gameplay time out of this game. Especially if you end up hitting a wall, like I did.

Ultimately, 8-Colors Star Guardians Plus feels like an interesting, but unfortunately unpolished attempt at streamlining the turn-based RPG experience, which I can appreciate at a theoretical level. But the execution is flawed. What is probably meant to feel accessible and less monotonous ends up being unfulfilling and even impassable at times. While I wanted to like this game, sadly, I can’t recommend it. My final score is 5.5/10.

XPG Terrence

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