In Stars And Time has it all to become a lot of people’s favorite game. It contains a rich world with unique twists and ideas, as well as a very diverse cast of characters that are surely going to be beloved and cherished by many communities. It looks and sounds beautiful. Its combat is easily approachable with just enough customizability to make it interesting. With a little push, it could undoubtedly match the most popular RPG Maker titles when it comes to longevity and fan support.
Yet, despite it all, I struggled with finding the will to beat it on numerous occasions. This time loop title by insertdisc5 and Armor Games Studios does not compromise when it comes to its vision. It homes in on an underexplored (by video games standard) aspect of such stories and executes it expertly, but by doing so leaves the gate open for the player to wonder whether it is worth finishing.
The initial impressions are insanely strong, with a beautiful opening area. Siffrin (he/they), the protagonist with a big pointy hat, awakens from a nap on this lovely field, and information quickly, but naturally begins pouring for the player to take in. Siffrin is a bit of a forgetful fella—a perfect fit for this type of game. They, as well as the rest of the venturing party, feel real and unique, with quirks that do not define their presence throughout the adventure.
These four adults, and a preteen, all have a role in this group’s dynamic. There’s a strong man, a little rascal of a child, an overly serious bookworm from abroad, or a devoted nun trying to follow her religion while dealing with the task of saving the world. Considering they are embarking on a quest that might doom them and everyone they know, they often earnestly divulge into more serious topics and exchange nuanced takes on identity, religion, and culture when the opportunity arises. It is a great ensemble, whose diversity makes for very enjoyable dialogue.
There is a lot to take in at all times, and paying attention is not only rewarding emotionally but also required for knowing how to progress. As is tradition for RPG Maker titles, nearly everything is interactable and has some text attached to said interactions. But unlike other time loop games, the player character has a very strong sense of agency. It is best if you remember as much text as possible for future runs, as something that might stand out for the player might be missed entirely by Siffrin. There is a reason he wears an eyepatch, after all.
With time loops, repetition is not uncommon. Here, it is achieved either by going back all the way to the field Siffrin wakes up at, or a bit further thanks to a checkpoint system. Progression is inherently tied to failing, dying, and getting stuck. Restarting and redoing sections is the definitive hurdle that may stop certain players in their tracks. The game never lets up this frustration related to backtracking or trial and error mechanics, making that devastating repetitiveness more potent than any game I have ever played.
I was far from discouraged by this, as In Stars And Time does a great job of spoon-feeding bits of information to keep up the intrigue, while also letting Siffrin make their own choices. He is constantly aware of how frustrating it all is, with moments where he doubts his abilities, feels useless because of his failures, and dejection due to the amount of times he has seen the same thing. There are so many great little moments during each loop where the writing feels so relatable that I couldn’t help but empathize with their predicament.
This is all tied up nicely with an engaging, but not too tedious, RPG combat system based around rock, paper, and scissors. Each enemy has a weakness, which can be determined by observing their hand gestures. It strikes a good balance, making it not too time-consuming whenever the player is required to do some grinding or run through an already-explored area. Encounters can also be avoided with some skillful dodging or escaping from when needed.
I was surprised by the amount of builds and strategies available thanks to the equipment system. These items, and the protagonist’s experience, are the only things that are fully preserved between loops, provide a satisfying variety, and make exploration feel extra satisfactory… for a while at least. Though the bosses introduce some spice into the mix, just like everything else they eventually also become a routine. At that point, I finally started to doubt the game myself. Is it worth doing the same thing all over again, feeling that same tedium as the protagonist does, just to see what happens next?
Thankfully the answer is a resounding “yes,” though the game is not without its issues. It goes into some fascinating territory with strong, thoughtful, and resonant writing, but the way it lands its finale leaves a little to be desired. At points, it tends to get lengthy with its textbox time, even at the fastest text speed, which feels out of place given how much it excels at shorter visual moments within this seemingly limited visual style. All it takes to see that is going through its excellent, wonderfully stylized menus.
In Stars and Time is very good at what it does, but I had a few moments of doubt. At times it incites certain negative feelings, but not ones akin to those of playing a bad game that I just want to finish. Neither is it a feeling of getting tired of the game. It just has elements that push the player away, and it is entirely up to them to find the determination to continue, but it is certainly not something worth spoiling to warn about.
With its strong visuals and a heart-wrenching soundtrack during its most emotional moments (questionable bitcrushed track in the first village aside), my one big problem is that I believe it could have provided stronger incentives to keep going during its lowest moments. It could speed up the pace of battles, provide an option to make the text appear faster, add even more things in the village, and make the side quests complement the pace of the main game more.
Yet, these are merely things that may have made that experience easier for me. It is hard to say how much they would compromise the vision the developer had for it, and whether it would truly be worth changing. They are the kind of quirks these games have—ones that those invested enough are willing to look past after many hours of experiencing something this unique. I could never stay dejected for long myself.
I greatly admire In Stars And Time. It is an incredibly special title that desperately needs to find its audience sooner rather than later, as it deserves that sort of recognition perhaps more than any title I have played this year. Though I wish I never wavered, I also understand that an experience like this going smoothly is exceptionally rare. A lot can be forgiven when I know that what I have just finished is one of those rare titles that will undoubtedly be the most momentous experience of someone else’s life.
Mateusz played In Stars And Time on PC with a review copy. In Stars And Time is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.