When tasked with saving the world, what would you do if you knew you had infinite tries to get it right? How long would it take to break you? These are the questions that developer insertdisc5 aka Adrienne Bazir aims to answer in In Stars and Time, a monochrome lo-fi RPG about time loops, friendship, and family.
While you might immediately feel the need to compare this title to games like Undertale, In Stars and Time has more than enough going for it to stand tall amidst the sea of Earthbound-like indie games that have popped up over the past decade. As a sucker for LGBTQ+ representation, the diverse cast is what initially drew me to the game and I was quickly sucked in by all of its other selling points.
You play as Siffrin (he/they), a rogueish traveler on a quest with his party to stop an evil king from freezing the entire world in time. On your first excursion into his lair, you promptly die to a falling boulder trap, leading you to the realization that you’re stuck in a time loop. As you repeat this day over and over again, you learn more about Siffrin’s companions, the world around you, and the mental toll that watching your friends die over and over again can have on the mind.
When I play games, I like to inspect every single interactable object around me out of habit, and In Stars and Time really rewards this kind of gameplay without sending you on a wild goose chase. So much of what I’ve learned about Siffrin and their friends has come from interacting with a random object to trigger a conversation. I’ve found tons of useful battle items this way too. Once you start properly looping, the game kindly tells you, “hey, if that barrel was empty the first time, it’ll still be empty” so you don’t waste a bunch of time trying to find items that don’t exist.
The writing in this game is absolutely phenomenal. The pacing is great, the funny parts are hilarious, and I’ve cried a fair few times over some particularly emotional scenes. Even though we’re only seeing a tiny part of Siffrin’s journey with his friends, it feels like we know the group almost as well as he does.
Sif has a distinct relationship with each party member, as they do with each other. For example, he and Odile are outsiders, not as familiar with the country of Vaugarde’s customs, and he shares a bond with Isabeau as the only other boy on the team, and he finds Siffrin’s jokes hilarious. These human connections make it so much easier to care about the team’s cause, and even more painful when something devastating happens to any of them. Especially Bonnie. No one’s allowed to hurt Bonnie.
The only thing I’m not completely in love with in In Stars and Time is the combat system. It’s based around rock, paper, scissors, with combos, buffs, and cooldowns making it simple to pick up but difficult to master. The combat is intuitive and pulling off a ‘jackpot’ combo feels amazing, but with no option to run from battle it can feel a bit monotonous if, like me, you don’t have the most precise joystick control and find yourself running into enemies by accident frequently. But that’s really just a small nitpick as compared to other type matchup-based systems, this one is really quite fun when you’re facing a new enemy or challenge.
One pleasant surprise I’ve found is that this game is so much bigger than I thought it would be. RPGs are typically known for their size, but for a debut indie title from a lone developer, In Stars and Time truly gives you your money’s worth and more. I knew when I played the demo that this game would speak to me to some degree, but I honestly wasn’t expecting to fall so completely head over heels in love with Siffrin and his friends.
In Stars and Time has it all – intuitive combat systems, well-rounded, deep, and flawed characters, emotive writing, beautiful art and sprite work, and a catchy, retro-style score to tie it all together. I can see this becoming an indie classic, and I can’t wait to see what Adrienne Bazir does next. I’ll certainly read or play anything else featuring this ragtag band of heroes they release!
For a closer look at this game’s development, check out our In Stars and Time interview with the creator. If you’re after more turn-based action, we’ve got a list of the best Switch RPGs for you to peruse.
In Stars and Time is an RPG classic waiting to happen. This game asks new questions of the time loop genre, all while developing a loveable cast of misfit heroes and a mysterious fantasy world that you’ll want to stay in forever.