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Honkai Star Rail Showcases A Lot Of Sci Fi Turn-Based Combat JRPGing Potential

Platform(s): PC (version reviewed), iOS, Android
Genre: Turn-based JRPG set in space and anime time continuum

If you can count developer/publisher HoYoverse on one thing, is that the Chinese game makers know how to style and profile.

Right from the get-go, Honkai Star Rail’s opening intro features a mysterious and hot anime woman who pretends to play imaginary violin to the tune of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major” while the space station she’s infiltrating is invaded by space aliens. And then she proceeds to kick everyone’s ass in turn-based form, with the segment playing host to the game’s combat tutorial. You then switch perspectives to your Trailblazer main character (male or female; up to you) as you team up with a host of space combat friends to help clear the universe of its evergrowing space cancer -a cosmic-proportion destructive force called Stellaron- while visiting many planets and locations. Oh, and find out a bit more about yourself since you have JRPG anime protagonist amnesia, but the game only has incremental updates, so the tale’s far from done.

The Space Between Us

The 8-hours or so I spent on Honkai Star Rail’s early chapters are captivating because of its presentation alone. From its simple-yet-gorgeous animation and anime aesthetics in sci-fi form, to the immaculate English dub and charismatic soundtrack featuring orchestras and speedy synths fit for its world, you’d forgive the game for having the bog standard “save the galaxy one planet at a time in Star Trek form” plot. Half the time, the writing overexplains simple ideas and conversations one too many times that you’re glad the English voice-overs from amazing voice-over talent like Skyler Davenport and Su Ling Chan soothe the pain monumentally. Hopefully the game’s future updates and additional stories can right that narrative wrong.

I’m just thankful that all this style comes with substance, as the meat of Honkai Star Rail keeps you on your toes. I’m referring to the game’s turn-based combat.

You encounter battles by approaching and attacking enemies on the overworld and dungeons. Battles require you to take turns hitting the opposing team for damage until your team is the one left standing. Agility and speed take priority as it determines who acts on the turn order UI on the top left. Your basic attacks generate combat points (shared in a party pool), which you use for your stronger skills that usually buff your team, or deal big damage to groups. Enemies also have a white bar “stamina” gauge that when emptied, stuns them for a turn and prone to bigger damage from your team. That’s where your Element and Path come into play; if you hit an enemy with an Element they’re weak against, their white bar goes down faster and they get specific debuffs based on the Element they’re waylaid with. Physical attacks deal bleed damage, Ice attacks freezes targets, and so forth.

Paths also determine your party setup. The colourful cast of scifi Trailbreaking train riders that constitute your party have set roles determined by their Paths. Destruction Path users deal damage, Harmony Path users buff the team, Preservation Path users prioritize defense and turtling, and so forth. While having a full team of DPS users via Destruction and Erudition can mean fast damage, your defenses are paper thin.

For the majority of the game, having one of each Path in a four-team party is essential for survival. This is especially when you fight against Elite opponents and partake in the optional-but-difficult-over-time Forgotten Hall and Simulated Universe challenges. The Elite enemies and bosses will have tons of battle phases, and with healing on the fly hard to come by, you need to use all your available resources and your combat know-how to tackle these literal gatekeepers. One boss actually had me changing up my party and also reminding me that your party members’ Ultimates can be activated at any time regardless of whose turn it is.

There’s a lot to experiment with and a ton of nuances in the game’s seemingly-streamlined combat. And if you feel those are easy enough, the aforementioned challenges let you work with restrictive parameters like limited turns and consecutive dungeon-crawling with tougher encounters. All in all, it’s a ton of fun especially if turn-based combat with big animated payoffs sates your jollies.

We also have to address the obvious elephant in the F2P room: the fact that the tougher challenges may entice you to gacha for 5-star characters on the Warp menu. In truth, there’s really no need to spend a lot of money as the free characters you get in the main quest (and the pre-registration bonus) are adequate enough to help you out in the main game. Having a 5-star powerhouse doesn’t mean squat if they don’t complement your current party setup against a specific boss.

Though this shouldn’t stop you if you feel that certain characters in an existing or future banner entice you just because of their fashion sense and backstory; I know a ton of people online who would simp for the current banner duelist-type character Seele. I’m one of them, to be frank.

Star Power

Even if Honkai Star Rail is a free-to-play RPG like its cousin Genshin Impact, the major differences are the exclusion of open-world mechanics and the tedium that follows. Honkai Star Rail cuts to the chase and caters to being a faster experience for its PC and mobile trappings, while also retaining the magic of anime JRPGs that just aims to be itself. Except the price point is really up to you to decide.

Chalk up another win for HoYoverse in making an easy-to-get-in JRPG with simple-yet-deep turn-based combat mechanics that enthrals and challenges you simultaneously, at least for the current version we’ve played. Honkai Star Rail has both style and substance, dishing out triple-A production values while also being backed up with fun turn-based gameplay and a modicum of events and activities to keep you busy on your PC and/or phones for months (or years) to come.

 

Pros

  • Great turn-based combat gameplay with some layers of depth.
  • Lovely art style & music.
  • Stellar voice-acting work (English dub).
  • Fast-paced JRPG experience with tons of places & plot bits to experience, at least for launch.
  • It’s free!

 

Cons

  • Dialogue & narrative choices get tedious to sit through.
  • May not convert people who hate free-to-play titles.

 

Final Score: 90/100

 

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Comment(5)

  1. Honkai Star Rail Flavour Text & Writing Is Out Of This World | Kakuchopurei

    May 9, 2023 at 3:30 pm

    […] while ago in my glowing Honkai Star Rail review, I dismissed the game’s main plot and narrative choices as being tedious. In that same […]

  2. Honkai Star Rail 1.1 Release Date & Banner Guide | Kakuchopurei

    May 10, 2023 at 3:15 pm

    […] Honkai Star Rail is out now for PC and mobile; if you love turn-based RPGing with scifi trappings and new heroes to recruit, you’ll find a lot to love here. We sure did! […]

  3. Honkai Star Rail: All Ministry of Education Quiz Answers | Kakuchopurei

    May 11, 2023 at 10:53 pm

    […] Honkai Star Rail is out now for PC and mobile devices. For more on the game, check out our guides and review. […]

  4. TechyList

    June 1, 2023 at 8:34 pm

    I’m definitely interested in seeing more of this type of game!

  5. Kakuchopurei’s Best Games Of 2023 | Kakuchopurei

    December 21, 2023 at 11:40 pm

    […] #13. Honkai Star Rail (PC, PS5, PS4, iOS, Android) […]

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