Mar. 31st, 2017

kjorteo: Pixel-style portrait of Celine's face (GOOD.)
These days I'm trying to pick which games I'm juggling via a more formal process and refrain from letting anything new just come in out of nowhere and cut in line, but... come on, it's Star Billions. What was I going to do, let it sit there on my list for months? Ahahaha no I'm tearing into this gift like a hyperactive child on Christmas morning, sorry.

As always, Star Billions is a mobile visual novel-type experience where the main cast (four furry AI programs on a mission to save humanity) gets into a jam, each one comes up with a mutually exclusive idea for how to get out of it, and you have to choose between them. Then, there's a real-world timer countdown between blocks of story, to sort of simulate the "our brave crew is flying toward their next destination now; they'll call you if something comes up" portion of the journey and pace out the story a little. There are retro-styled minigames that can shave time off the timer whenever you score points, and it's trivial to turn "15 minutes until the next event" into about one minute of Yes, Chef!, though if you're looking at eight hours or so then you may as well just wait.

All in all, this is not a game to be judged on its gameplay. It's a multiple choice personality test with some fluff and dressing around it, and even then, a lot of choices end up being glorified alternate-dialogue paths to get to the same end result anyway.

But oh my God, the fluff and the dressing.

This is a story, with characters. The core personalities have distinct and easily identifiable voices, which makes the contrasting decisions all the more clear. For example, one of the first obstacles in season 1 is an asteroid heading toward the ship, revealed after a quick scan to have signs of microbial-sized lifeforms on it. The gruff military-styled AI wants to blast it to protect the ship, while the pacifist friendly communications expert AI wants to fly around it just in case it might be home to more than just non-sentient space bacteria. Which one gets their way, and what ends up happening to the ship, the asteroid, and the entire overall mission as choices like these keep piling up? Well, that's where you come in....

At the same time, as strong as the characters' personalities are, they're also nuanced and fleshed out. These are not one-note gimmicks. These AIs live and learn and grow with their experiences. They are far, far more than the sum of their code (and without venturing too far into spoiler territory, this can actually be plot-relevant depending on how you handle a certain crisis in S2.) Similarly, everyone they meet on their adventures is has a strong and memorable personality as well. The writing is fantastic, and every word of it oozes charm.

The thing that struck me the hardest about this entire series, though, was just how much some of these choices stuck with me. Some of the hardest, most awful decisions you have to make also come during times of extreme crisis--"Hull integrity is at 2% and the next enemy shot will hit in about five seconds OH MY GOD WHAT DO WE DO, QUICKLY." The game does not actually hold you to this, of course. Like one of those burning house fires in a JRPG that patiently waits for you to finish the plot before actually consuming anything, the game will present you with the choice and then give you as much time as you need to make it. However, for personal role-playing reasons and because I was deeply into this story, I decided to go with it. I decided that if I'm only supposed to have a few seconds to make this choice, then that's exactly what I'll do. That means that some of the most heart-wrenching decisions I've ever had to make came in the form of "The first thought that pops into my head has me leaning this way, OKAY YES GOOD FINAL ANSWER GO." And that means that I spent a long time, and will continue to spend a long time even after this series has concluded, thinking about the fact that when it all came down to it, when the chips were down and everything was on the line, that was the first thought that popped into my head. In that sense, I feel like this game has taught me something about myself, that it's shown me something deep down that I normally don't get to see, and that, in at least that regard, this was my journey as much as it was that of the characters.

And really, how many games of any genre have you ever played that can say that?

I will try not to turn every single beaten-game book report in this journal into "please go buy and play this one right now" but I really feel like Star Billions deserves it. It's a lesser known hidden gem of a game that deserves several times the love it's currently getting. You can get season 1 for free on either the Google Play Store or... whatever the iPhone's app store is, with seasons 2 and 3 offered as paid (but very inexpensive) DLC. Please, I need more people to EEEEEEEE at about every major plot point and compare/contrast the choices we made. As [livejournal.com profile] xyzzysqrl opined, sometimes it feels like she and I are the Star Billions fandom, and that is an absolute travesty that I refuse to let stand without at least trying to signal boost it as much as I can.

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kjorteo: Pixel-style portrait of Celine's face (Default)
Celine Kalante Love

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