I love a good sci-fi yarn, and when you throw in elements of time travel, alternate dimensions and a war against seemingly insurmountable odds, chances are you’ve got me hooked. To me, Star Renegades is a heady concoction of these ideas, charging you to lead a small band of rebels time and again, hoping to push back the domineering Imperium as they invade dimension after dimension. Sometimes you will succeed, sometimes you won’t, but there’s always a new dimension, a new warfront, a new challenge to overcome.
The opening 15 minutes only tease you with this, though. You meet the trusty robot J5T-1N (probably pronounced Justin) as it’s awoken by Professor Zurek amidst the ashes of her scientific installation. Luckily, she’s able to, not send him back in time, but to another dimension just before the Imperium’s invasion, seeding the information needed in order to take on the coming attack.
Suddenly it cuts to Wynn and Davion Syphex as they battle against the technologically superior Imperium forces, leading you through early encounters and seeding some of the narrative hooks in an ultimately doomed attempt to survive. Well, for Davion, anyway. Thankfully Star Renegades doesn’t quite fall into the trap and trope of wiping out your team at the first boss fight, but it will be a similar feeling blow if you’re not sure of the kind of game you’re getting yourself into.
You see, this is a roguelite married to turn-based deterministic RPG battles. Similar to the film Live Die Repeat or indie game Into the Breach, your failure is just a part of the learning process, giving you more information and experience for your next attempt. It’s thematically similar, but the core gameplay is rather different.
After the opening, you lead a small group of heroes on raids against Imperium controlled planets, hoping to foil their plan to, for example, steal an energy core that will let them open a wider inter-dimensional gate. You have a world to navigate, with J5T-1N able to take down a set number of Imperium blockades each day, dropping you into a battle and letting you grab goodies from a weapons cache, boost your characters with health and armour, and more.
Each patch of land you set foot on will invariably suck you into a battle against a set of enemy soldiers. The turn-based battles are clear and concise, but feature dozens of nuances and elements to factor in. Each round sees actions play out on a timeline of 60 seconds, with enemies lining up their attacks and then you deciding your own actions depending on how long they will take, how much damage they will deal and their ability to stagger and delay your opponents.
Through this you can often avoid letting them attack you entirely for a turn, pushing them beyond that 60s limit and breaking them, but you have to consider that you can only stagger them so many times before they will definitely attack. At that point, it’s a case of accepting your fate, choosing to defend and block some incoming damage, or using support characters to quickly refill your shields and avoid taking damage to armour and health. With abilities that buff and debuff, character immunities and weaknesses and so much more, there’s a lot to consider in this wonderful brain-teasing battle system.
There’s also some lovely visuals to soak in. Massive Damage call their spin on 2D pixel art 2DX, with character sprites arrays on a 3D plane, with lighting and dynamic camera movement to emphasise the attacks and animations. You might also draw comparisons to the HD-2D visual style of Octopath Traveller.
After all of J5T-1N’s charges have been used for the day, it’s time to hunker down at camp and recover. It’s a nice little respite, letting you recharge your batteries briefly before wading into the next trio of battles, and it also allows for some character building moments as you play cards that have various stat effects and create bonds between characters. As they level up and get closer, they earn combo attack abilities that can be unleashed in battle.
You’ll need those moments to help with the brutally difficult battles against named boss characters. In a system lifted from Shadow of Mordor, the captains and lieutenants of the Imperium are seeking to mark their way up the ranks with your blood. If you defeat them in battle, you get a pat on the back for creating a hole in their ranks, but if they defeat you, they’re shuffled higher up in the ranks, earning new abilities and generally becoming far more challenging adversaries for when you next meet.
For you, defeat means abandoning a timeline and going again. Then again. And again. But not quite yet. The demo came to an end leaving me wanting more, but I’ll have to wait for it, with the game coming to PC on 8th September and PS4, Xbox One and Switch versions planned for later in the autumn. I can’t wait.