Hoshi wo Miru Hito Impression
My God, It’s Full of Crap
Last summer, I found myself in an unfamiliar situation. A game that I really wanted was digital only, so I had to put money into my Nintendo account for once, and after the purchase I had some yen left over. The next question was, what to get? There are plenty of reasonably priced options on the e-shop, after all.
As it turns out, the biggest and most difficult question to answer was, with all of the choices available, why the heck did I choose to buy Hoshi wo Miru Hito, also known in English as Stargazer or Person Who Sees The Stars? The answer, of course, being that there is a strange and interesting difference between dreading that a new game might be awful and knowing full well that you’re running head-first into a dumpster fire to see the pretty colors up close.
Such was the case with Hoshi wo Miru Hito. Amongst the retro and import gaming community, there is a common term imported from Japan: kusoge, or, to put it in the politest possible translation, “crap games.” This title has earned its place on the long list of kusoge, but that is not the entirety of it: this game is a legend amongst kusoge. Entire fan pages are devoted to just how awful this old Famicom title is. So, for the record, the following issues can be found listed almost anywhere this game is mentioned, and they are all true:
- The general graphics scheme looks like Dragon Quest‘s poorer cousin, with a clunky menu interface to match.
- The hero’s walking speed is outpaced by snails, not to mention every NPC in the game.
- The controls lack a return button, meaning that you cannot back out of a choice in battle, even if it’s a dead end on the menu that you cannot use.
- There is exactly one place in the entire game that functions as an inn, and it is in the hidden village located due west of where the player starts the game.
- Exiting towns, caves, dungeons, or other spots in the game will take the player to unrelated locations, including straight back to the start of the game, for no logical reason.
- The menu in combat cuts off the final digit of the heroes’ HP totals from view, leading to some guesswork early on to figure out how close to death anyone is.
- The player starts out at level 0 and has no means of running from battle until much later on. Adding insult to injury, the first weapon at the store actually reduces the hero’s attack strength compared to hitting unarmed.
The list goes on and on. There’s no need to touch on the issues with the game’s password system or the inherent headaches of an all-hiragana Japanese text. Past a certain point, such details become irrelevant. It’s not that words can’t describe how awful this game is. To the contrary, there are plenty of goodly bad words in the dictionary that would fit. However, due to the family-friendly nature of the RPGamer site policy, I am heavily discouraged from using the best and most appropriate ones.
There are a few nice things which can be said of this game. One of them is the music, which is acceptable for its time. Another would be the graphics, which are a mixed bag. Most notably, the character images in battle are a unique style of custom spritework that actually changes as the party levels up, going from younger kids to seasoned sci-fi warriors over the course of the game.
Lastly, there was an attempt to put field abilities into the game, with the heroes gaining the psychic power to break rocks, leap over certain obstacles, or communicate via telepathy. While interesting, the lack of explanation, or even of indicators that obstacles can be jumped over, makes this one more headache.
Hoshi wo Miru Hito also gets some recognition for being a psychic science fiction RPG in a time when that was quite rare in the genre, and its tale of ray guns and mind beams versus superintelligent, sociopathic dolphins was done a disservice by its developers.
All this describes the game as it was in 1987 for the Nintendo Family Computer, which is mostly the same as it is now in 2020 for the Nintendo Switch. There are some attempts in the modern port to ameliorate the worst issues. The first is a quick save function, which means that the player can actually save to a game file instead of relying on a quirky and broken password system. This alone saves one from several headaches, early on. It’s paired with a new game plus option to allow the player the ability to restart from some greater value than square one.
The ZR button is now the designated ‘speed up’ key, which mitigates, but does not eliminate, the issues with the hero’s walking speed. On the other hand, the ZL button’s new function is a literal game changer. The ZL button, when pressed, rewinds the game. It was meant to be a solution to the issue of accidentally getting into useless menu items in combat and losing a turn of action, but it does the game one better by allowing the player to rewind as far back as they desire. With this function, one need never suffer a missed attack again (though it may still take up to five rewinds and repeats before an attack strikes true for minor damage on an enemy). It can roll back character deaths, return fleeing enemies to the field, or take the party out of battle completely. In fact, if the player holds the button and does not let go, it will rewind the entire game back to the very beginning.
Hoshi wo Miru Hito is the diametrical opposite of a gold standard in RPGs, in that it provides a perfect example of what a 1 on the RPGamer review scale should look like. While I have experienced games that were less playable in my day, few of those were officially published products. Would I ever in my life recommend this one to anybody else? Yes, actually, for the same reasons that I might recommend the opus of Ed Wood to an aspiring student of cinematography. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to take a look at the depths to which a medium can sink in order to better understand how not to make the same mistakes. Hoshi wo Miru Hito has a fan community in Japan in part because it inspires others to try better, which is the reason why it’s been reworked by hackers and completely remade by fan groups, not to mention somehow getting a Switch port made a full thirty-three years after it managed an abysmal 19/40 review score in Famitsu magazine. At this point, it has become less of a game to enjoy and more an experience to endure for the sake of saying that you have, and that’s probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about it.