In Stars and Time is the second game from insertdisc5 and closes out the series that began with Start Again: a prologue. Start Again told the story of Siffrin, a traveller stuck in a time loop with no one else knowing. The catch for the prologue was to complete the loop without letting on to your party members the predicament you’re in. In Stars and Time stretches out that concept into a full game with a definitive end to the story, as you play once again as Siffrin. I was excited to jump in immediately after checking out the trailer as it’s evident that insertdisc5’s art and characterisations of their heroes has a precise tone.
Whilst the game comes across as whimsical, there’s an underlying breadth of emotions that are extremely relatable. The Cartoon Network show Steven Universe and games like Ikenfell, Unsighted or older titles like Mother sprung to mind, and after playing it I feel those comparisons are apt. Very different in execution than my examples, but I couldn’t escape that feeling, much like Siffrin couldn’t escape the loop, or do they? Let’s get into it.
Siffrin wakes up in a field, it’s the day before he and their party take down an evil entity known as King. This King isn’t a ruler, much rather a tyrant who’s slowly freezing the land of Veguarde in time. Playing as Siffrin, the game opens with you meeting the cast of characters you’ll be spending the rest of your time with. Firstly woken up by Mirabelle, a housemaiden under the belief of Change (which I’ll get into), then scattered across the village is the mighty defender Isabeau, the wise and logical Odile and child chef extraordinaire Boniface – who really shouldn’t be tagging along, it’s dangerous!
It’s a simple yet effective way of setting up the characters, one which soon becomes almost a ritual for your ‘run’. You spend some time with them, you eat with them and further down the line, you start to go through all the emotions Siffrin faces. The next day, you’re infiltrating the Castle of Change, which is the dungeon portion of this adventure and where you very quickly learn of this loop you’re stuck in.
The tutorial walks you through the trappings you may face that will reset your progress. Traps are the same, item locations too and even dialogue, so to alleviate the repetitiveness is the ability to loop back to key points as well as blast through the dialogue if it’s something you’ve seen before. Whilst this did do some of the said alleviating, like Siffrin, I grew so tired of going through the rigmarole of playing the same two days.
I Hope This Day Never Ends
What I initially thought to be a sizeable 8-10-hour story was actually double that. There were so few full-blown revelations during the narrative and in its place was an extensive breadcrumb trail, always on the verge of a breakthrough. I kept telling myself “just one more loop” and maybe I’ll get to the bottom of this mystery. It’s a testament to the quality as no matter how many times I wanted to give up, I persevered. As cheesy as might be, I did it for the characters I had come to love.
The cast of friends you’ll be living the same days with are an eccentric bunch, brimming with their own powerful thoughts and feelings when you get to know them. The belief of Change, as I mentioned earlier, is this openness and acceptance of people changing who they are physically and spiritually. An allegory that may be on the nose but it’s so welcoming and accepting of the characters and by proxy, yourself, it is a shining star to the narrative.
The camaraderie, the open dialogue of vulnerabilities and the quiet happy moments between friends fuel the dark and merciless journey that Siffrin goes on mentally as he struggles through the loop. It’s a tale that comes across as very personal to insertdisc5 but one that everyone can relate to in one way or another; resulting in a universally deep, witty and impactful story that put me through the wringer.
As you’re going through the three levels of the dungeon, you’ll be fighting enemies known as Sadnesses. The combat is turn-based where every character and enemy has a bar that fills to pull off an attack. Each party member has a different type of attack based on the classic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Obviously, that means everyone has a weakness and resistance depending on what type of attack – Rock beats Scissors, but Paper beats Rock etc. It’s a simple combat system that encourages you to use your ‘Craft’ (Magic) abilities, without the penalty of an arbitrary Magic Point counter you’d see in other RPGs.
If you pull off 5 of the same type of attacks, the whole gang automatically unleash a powerful combo based on that type. Not only does it unleash great damage but it also heals all your party members, making it an appealing aspect to strive towards every combat encounter. I learned early on that certain party members can pass the baton to keep the streak of attacks going. It’s a tight and flawless combat system that does wear out its intrigue once you’ve mastered it, which I did at maybe hour 3.
Making the next 17 hours feel par for the course, considering it’s the only thing you do outside of sifting through all the items in the castle. As this isn’t a rogue-like – despite its persistent loop – you won’t need to pick up every key item on every run. With that said, you’re never explicitly told what to look for in each loop despite a very helpful character that I won’t spoil. What ensues is a lot of frustration going around the castle, clicking on everything I could find to stumble across a new lead.
Castle Of Chaos
You can identify when you’re in a dead-end loop very quickly and you’re incentivised to restart to push forward. You then know the ins and outs to proceed and go the same way every time, but what you might miss are the key items or rooms that will help with your investigation into the loops. It feels oxymoronic, I never felt inspired to experiment and explore until I was banging my head on the same wall every loop. Maybe some extra hand-holding or more than one specific way to make it to the end of the castle would have made some runs feel more fruitful, but the problem could very well be just me.
Thankfully, the walls I was banging my head against – in my more frustrated loops – were at least in a lovely monochromatic pixel art style. Through sight and sound, I felt immediately transported back to the times I spent playing RPGs on my Game Boy Colour, partially due to the 4:3 aspect ratio, but its the overall nostalgic charm of In Stars and Time. Whilst there aren’t a whole lot of areas to explore, what you do venture across is magnificent in detail.
On top of that, there’s also the classic artwork from insertdisc5. The bold and endearing character designs are so charming that you can’t help but feel an affinity to Siffrin and their party members. This is a warm and fuzzy world clearly going through turmoil and the juxtaposition is so palpable just through the design alone. This notion follows through with the music, as the fanciful Chiptune soundtrack bolsters the feelings you and Siffrin go through on the journey.
Wishing Upon A Star
It’s been a few days since I beat In Stars and Time and I still keep thinking about it. When I wasn’t playing it, my mind would wonder with theories about the cause of Siffrin’s predicament. I cared deeply for Siffrin and all of his party members to a degree that put me off guard and I think that’s all down to insertdisc5’s amount of love poured into the game. I’ve mentioned how personal In Stars and Time is, which I think has been passed onto myself.
Games like this are rare and whilst I did have significant chunks of time playing where I was frustrated to continue, I still did. I’ve already stated that the characters kept me going, but it’s all down to the fantastic writing, intriguing plot, alongside the cleverly designed combat. It was questionable if my patience with the loop format would pay off, but I’m so glad I chased after the ending. This is a big star, burning the brightest but lasting half as long for me, but I came away experiencing some magic.
In Stars and Time will keep you captivated in its loop for the majority of the run time. However, if you’re not completely sold on the brilliant cast of characters, the simple yet effective combat or the unwavering plot, you may struggle to want to finish it. It’s a bold choice to make your player suffer the same fate as the protagonist through gameplay, but one that pays off in spades if you give it the time of day. Uniquely emotional, ambitiously honest and a wonderful yet flawed game by Insertdisc5.
In Stars and Time is available now for PlayStation 5 (review platform), PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
Publisher: Armor Games Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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