Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The ‘power of friendship’ is the beating heart of In Stars and Time

Since time immemorial there have always been powerful tropes within stories that stick with us. We all have our favourites, different variants of choices and characteristics that pull at our heart strings and have us wanting more. In Stars and Time, an upcoming RPG game about protagonist Siffrin and their friends quest to save the world from a tyrannical King, is certainly not exempt from its fair share of tropes.

One such trope is that of the time-loop. The time-loop works a bit like a fun, if occasionally frustrating, Groundhog Day, where the same events happen again and again until the protagonist overcomes whatever’s causing time to loop in the first place. This could be something as simple as saying the right thing to someone, or going through an emotionally debilitating task – it really does depend on what sort of story the creator’s going for. With In Stars and Time, the time-loop adapts itself as both a gameplay mechanic and as something that, ironically, keeps the story evolving. All in all, it’s ambitious, and we were curious to know what inspired developer Adrienne Bazir to include time-loops, and how difficult it was to incorporate them into In Stars and Times narrative and gameplay.

Tales of Symphonia is a big [inspiration].” Bazir tells us. In Tales of Symphonia, the characters are split between two worlds, Sylvarant and Tethe’alla which may just be one of the most interesting hints about what we might see in In Stars and Time. It wasn’t just video games that Bazir took inspiration from though, they also found it in an unlikely place: fan-fiction. “I find it fascinating to read about a character reliving the events of their story, but with the awareness of what will happen… One might say time loop fanfics were the inspirations for ISAT!”

Bazir originally wanted In Stars and Time to be similar to that of a roguelike, where the time-loop would be enforced via the death of the player. Every time a player died, they would start right back at the entrace of the dungeon, which meant they would have to repeat the same path over and over again. “Appropriate for a game about time loops, but soooo tedious as a player!” Bazir explains. “I ended up adding some checkpoints throughout the dungeon, so the player is able to start at a specific floor.”

“Events were also another challenge: do I force the player to reread the exact same events over and over again? I stuck to my guns for a bit on this one, but I ended up adding a fast-forward mechanic, similar to fast-forwarding in visual novels, so you can skip events you’ve already seen. You might miss some insights on Siffrin’s thoughts if you skip every event, though…”

Dealing with the ramifications of being the only one aware of the time-loop they’re stuck in, Siffrin is a mysterious but clearly troubled hero. However, they aren’t alone in their adventure. If there’s one thing queer gamers love, it’s a found family, and Siffrin’s companions have that in spades.

In Stars and Time game
Image Source: Insertdisc5

““Power of friendship” is one of the best tropes ever invented, and you can fight me on this. The power of love, friendship, family, that allows you to defeat any obstacle in your path!” Bazir (insertdisc5) tells us, referencing to the relationships that play a key part in the story of In Stars and Time. “I really wanted to create a group that was very close to one another, and in different ways. Those two are Best Friends who would never say anything mean to one another! Those two always are mean to each other but that’s how they show their love! Those two haven’t had a real conversation in a really long time but would give their life to one another! Etc.”

Of course, friendship also has some pricklier, more negative sides that we can all relate to. Whether it’s feeling hurt by something a friend says, or being in an awkward position which can’t be solved… These painfully familiar moments are something which Bazir has made sure to include in In Stars and Time too because hey, who doesn’t like a little drama in their time-loop adventure?

The friendship that players discover and navigate through with the main cast isn’t just for the story’s benefit. Players are able to equip memories of previous interactions with said friends and use them to help benefit them during combat; a Rock, Paper, Scissors battle system. How the Rock, Paper, Scissors battle system works is that each character and enemy has a type. One of Siffrin’s companions, Odile, is a Paper type, so if you used her attack against an enemy who is a Rock type, then your attack will hit harder. If the system sounds a little simple, then that’s because it is because, as Bazir tells us, they’ve never been a big fan of numbers. There are even ways to make combat even more approachable, such as finding special items in dungeons and, if you’d like to make your experience be more focused on the story, the option to skip some fights altogether.

Image Source: Insertdisc5

That said, for players who are perhaps craving more of a challenge when it comes to combat, there’s the inclusion of Jackpot Attacks. This is a special team skill that is usable via Jackpoint Points, a combat currency that is earned through using five of the same attack types in a row. Once triggered, the Jackpot Attack will hit the enemies hard, all while healing everyone in the party. As Bazir puts it, the strategy comes from what works best for you and your team. “What to do then, make sure everyone attacks even if the types are different, or make sure some characters are solely on healer/buff duty to leave the other characters to do a combo?” And if that isn’t enough to make In Stars and Time a more challenging game, Bazir dropped us a hint that there’s an item which players will be able to equip which will greatly reduce their stats.

In Stars and Time’s diversity doesn’t stop with how you can play the game either. Siffrin, the game’s main protagonist, is non-binary with he/them pronouns and asexual. Their sexuality will be mentioned “here and there”, but as Bazir reminds us, Siffrin is a character that is supposed to be swathed in mystery from the get-go. As for Siffrin’s companions, all of them are queer too and unlike In Stars and Times prequel, START AGAIN: a prologue, which states that “all the characters are queer, you need to know, but it isn’t important to the story”, their sexuality and gender identity will be important to the story. How has yet to be revealed, but it at least lets us know this: In Stars and Time promises to be a game to remember for queer players.

In Stars and Time is set to release sometime in 2023 on the PC, PS4/PS5 and Nintendo Switch.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.