The roguelike really is unique in how it defines games. Often described in tandem with another genre of game, their very mechanics often bleed into the story they’re telling, usually through surviving ridiculously hostile environments and being pitted against terrible, grotesque odds. And built upon the tenet of consistent failures, inter-dimensional space strategy RPG, Star Renegades hews closely to these traditions, even though it trembles, quite staggeringly, when walking the roguelike tightrope between complexity and sheer frustration.
That frustration is slathered so generously into the mix, that it calcifies the game with a rocklike, impenetrable exterior. As a result, it’s an experience consumable only by hardened players, who are willing to take a beating over and over again. If you’re looking to satisfy some masochistic thirst for constant agony and death, you may feel right at home here.
Star Renegades coats this bitterness with dollops of fluorescent, saccharine pixel art, which is as intricate as it is impossible to look away from. You’ll be commanding a squad of intergalactic space soldiers, each with their own quirks and strengths, seeking to eliminate armies across a galaxy of planets. There’s the melee fighter Wynn Syphex, who will usually be at the front line of battle, there’s the mecha alien Xurx Nrza, who specialises in regenerating shields for your party, a gunslinger named Nado Kalthoris, who is a guy who’s very good at shooting things and being a smart mouth, and a gamut of other fighters you’ll get to recruit along the way.
The thing is, every explosion and skirmish between your super squad and their mecha aggressors radiates with a scintillating orange hue, and every map shimmers with vibrance, be it in its coral-coloured trees or greying structures. It’s inexplicably picturesque, but these sights will soon be cluttered by an abundance of information, from inscrutable icons to cascading grids of numbers and data on encroaching enemies.
The breadth of all these details is simply a glimpse of the game’s immense mechanical density. Star Renegades is not the sort of game you can swiftly dive into and start messing around with. The combat lifts its turn-based RPG combat form from Grandia, with a timeline at the top of the screen to indicate the series of actions that will occur through each turn. This means you’ll know exactly what attacks will take place and when – the goal through each battles, other than to make mincemeat of your enemies, is to make sure that they get nudged so far right to the timeline that they will miss their opportunities to attack and you avoid damage. Your squad can do this via specific actions, which includes attacks that can injure and cause enemy soldiers to recoil.
This is an oversimplification of how combat works, of course, because there are a whole host of actions you can perform – restore your shields, put up auras to improve your attack speed, inflict critical attacks, and so much more. There are also different types of attacks, ranging from light attacks to AoE attacks, which affect an area.
Outside of these battles, you’ll also need to plot and manoeuvre your team across a map and reach your objective, which is usually at the centre. That’s because you only have a limited number of turns to get there. And with a small troop of soldiers standing guard over each segment of the map, you’ll definitely need to plan ahead so as to minimise damage to your team, while also collecting as much loot as you can, which is indispensable to making battles more manageable.
I’ve only just scratched the surface of this game’s labyrinthine elements, but the point is that with so much to take into consideration, playing through each run of Star Renegades is tactically demanding and mentally exhausting. Your first session will inevitably be spent trying to understand how the game functions, and getting into the swing of things will take more than just a few moments.
Even after understanding how every cog in this Rube Goldberg machine works, you’ll still need to study the various symbols, numbers and data the game throws at you, particularly during its combat rounds. Only when you finally get the hang of this whole confuddled system do you get to the real meat of Star Renegades. Here’s when you can truly immerse yourself in the sweltering heat of battles; there’s a giddy, intoxicating joy to be found in executing the right moves, and making it to the end of a level without significant losses or casualties.
Even for a roguelike, mistakes here are excruciatingly punishing. Complacency and foolhardiness can likely doom your team, sending you all the way back to the beginning of the game. Given how much time you tend to spend on each battle, that can mean losing hours, even days of progress. In one session, my squad was performing at its peak, only to be subdued by a hulking automaton in the next battle. The sinking feeling of knowing that there’s no way to undo this terrible mistake–that is, by avoiding this particular route in the first place–was agonising.
I didn’t return to Star Renegades for a while after that, but I did eventually go back, tail between my legs, to face a certain doom once more. The truth is that there’s a certain quality about Star Renegades that keeps me coming back. I couldn’t really stay away. Despite its relentless steep learning curve, discovering – and then mastering – its intricate and overwhelming system and rules is the point.
New lessons are painfully learned through every brutalising failure, and the only way around this sense of constant peril is to simply keep on trying. It’s through repeatedly refining your best laid plans and overcoming your compulsion to quit that you may gradually forge a path towards victory. Star Renegades demands a whole lot of commitment from its players, and I have a feeling most won’t stay, but those who do may find something worth sticking around for in the midst of all the devastation.