In Stars and Time Review
Let’s Do the Time Loop Agaaaaaain…
Being in a time loop is one of my nightmares. The anxiety of reliving a day over and over can truly take a toll on anybody’s mental health and force people to confront parts of themselves that they would wish to hide. In Stars and Time is a beautiful, important story about friendship and mental health, which it explores through being trapped in a difficult time loop.
In Stars and Time’s story begins at the end, with a group of five adventurers storming the House of Dormont where the King lives. Mirabelle, a young housemaiden, is saved by the head housemaiden before everything gets frozen, telling her to save Dormont. With the assistance of Odile the mage, Bonnie the snack-wielding cook, Isabeau the handsome clothier, and Siffrin, our non-binary protagonist, the party meets one last time before storming the house. However, immediately upon entry, Siffrin is killed by a boulder trap and becomes doomed to repeat the same day over and over again. It is up to Siffrin and the player to uncover the mysteries behind the time loops and save the people of Dormont.
The narrative that this game presents is compelling because of insertdisc5’s willingness to confront uncomfortable topics. There is a warning before booting up the game that lists the specific topics, which is absolutely warranted. The mystery behind Siffrin and the time loops is such an emotional rollercoaster. It reminds us of the importance of friends, and how powerful a person’s inner demons can be. Siffrin’s friends are especially important, since they’re so much fun. Each of the cast is distinguished by their sense of humour and personal struggles.
With each time loop, players learn more about the party members and their goals once the King is defeated. This information is presented so the player is given just enough each time to keep the intrigue going. Even the final few twists, which could have fallen flat with a less nuanced team, are smartly written and impactful. It’s clear how much care insertdisc5 put into all of the characters and the overall story. Even in simple moments of exploration, characters have memorable and often engaging conversations that highlight their quest’s difficulty and the importance of hope. In Stars and Time is so emotional, but it’s also stressful; taking breaks from it is encouraged after especially exhausting sections.
That being said, time loops are a difficult gameplay mechanic to keep engaging. While the narrative remains interesting throughout, repeating earlier scenes and dialogue can get exhausting. Even though more information is granted every time Siffrin loops, one of the core issues is that it’s not always easy to progress. Sometimes the provided hints are obtuse; looping multiple times for a sliver of information can feel like a punishment rather than an investigation. In Stars and Time is one of those games where stunted progress can feel frustrating, but it can also be incredibly rewarding when a puzzle comes together.
Since repetition is a key component for better or worse, be prepared to redo multiple skirmishes, and boss battles become a boring routine when repeated. While the combat system is a simple rock-paper-scissors turn-based affair, key battles become routine if players have to keep repeating them. Each hero has an affinity toward a specific craft, be it rock, paper, or scissors, though they can learn more diverse skills as they level up. If players use five of the same craft type in a row, they initiate a Jackpot attack, where the characters unleash a group attack that inflicts heavy damage and provides healing. The process is made considerably easier because most enemies show through their designs what craft type they are weak against. For example, if an enemy is throwing a scissors sign, then the player knows to use rock. It’s an interesting concept, but it does make the battles a bit on the easy side.
Another interesting element in the battle system comes in the form of Bonnie, our snack-loving companion. At random, Bonnie appears during battles to heal or buff the party or smack the enemy with their frying pan. Bonnie is a delightful companion, but the help they provide is too random to regularly change the tide of battle.
Visually, In Stars and Time pays homage to GBA games: its colourless world is a bold and interesting choice. Having no colours other than black and white enhances how still and rigid the world is. The character and enemy artwork are distinctive and full of personality, while the backgrounds and pixel art are clean and well-defined. The soundtrack is serviceable, but there are no real standout tracks. What sound effects exist are definitely what one would expect from a game emulating something from the GBA era.
In Stars and Time brought forth one of my fears and forced me to confront it with its premise. While the game has such a fantastic story with wonderful characters and a powerful twist, a lot of the repetitive elements can and will be a turn-off to some. I mostly adored my time with the game, but I won’t sugarcoat my frustration in having to constantly replay the same battles and dialogue. For those who stick with it, In Stars and Time is an emotionally engaging tale that is worth the effort.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Adorable cast of characters
Great storytelling and writing
Repeated story and dialogue are grating
Repeated battles also become grating