In 2021, gaming saw a major influx of one particular mechanic, time-looping. That mechanic where you, through a character, have to relive a moment repeatedly. What made these games unique wasn’t just creating a distinct story to explain why that character was being forced to live through something numerous times, but the different solutions to escape that loop. In Stars and Time by InsertDisc5 and Armor Games Studios takes that mechanic and applies it to the old-school turn-based RPG genre and finds ways to make it work and make it feel like one of the best time-looping games ever made.
In Stars and Time puts you at the end of a journey in the shoes of Siffrin, a traveler. He and his band of misfit allies, Housemaiden Mirabelle, Researcher Odile, Defender Isabeau, and the Kid, Bonnie, have finally arrived on their journey to stop a curse taking over the land. As the people around them slowly freeze in time because of the evil King’s curse, this group prepares for their final battle. And as the final part of the journey begins, it quickly ends with Siffrin being crushed by a boulder. But what could’ve been the end to an unfortunate journey quickly reveals itself as Siffrin reawakens in the meadow where the finale began. He retains all memories, but nobody else. So begins Siffrin’s journey to get closer to his allies, find the truth about the King and his powers, and why he is trapped in the time loop.
The introduction defines a lot very quickly and may take some time to grasp. It defines every main character’s personality, quirks, and relationships. It makes you feel like you’re missing key details with it taking place at the end of this gang’s journey. Finally, the whole game takes place in one dungeon. For a twenty-hour game, that is not a lot to work with. Many games of a similar variety have you meet characters organically, form your own connections, and discover everyone’s differences as you progress the story as the party also gets to know each other on their journey.
How it teaches you all these relationships and backstories of every character is genius and ties directly into the time loops. As you start to loop over and over again, you will interact with the same objects frequently. When you learn something new, that opens new dialogue from those same objects. And before it gets tedious from reading the same thing over and over again before you get to the new information, the game gives you a “tune out” feature. Siffrin will tune out and nod their head along as the conversation skips ahead, only paying attention again when something new is brought up.
This whole use of time looping for Siffrin to find ways to progress the story is genius in its own way. Everyone else has no idea that the day’s repeating. So it becomes an eventual challenge for Siffrin to balance finding out more about their allies, especially in the ally-specific quests later in the game, to get to know them even better, and pushing those conversations further without letting on that they are suffering from living the same events over and over again.
So how does time-looping work in this game? Every death will send Siffrin back in time, but other instances that trigger it later are introduced. The traps or off-hand triggers are regularly unexpected. Like eating pineapple (Siffrin is allergic to pineapple). Or reading a book that triggers a trap and drops a boulder, squishing Siffrin. When you are sent back, you can choose where to start next. Since the whole game takes place in a town and one dungeon, it can quickly get tiresome climbing through the dungeon to reach the next thing you need to do to push the story forward. Thankfully, when you get to choose WHERE you start next, that specifically means you can go back to the town, or a floor of the dungeon. Even better, you can go back to that floor at the very start of the floor or the very end before you fight the boss and all critical doors or obstacles are unlocked.
If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense, especially when it comes to just respecting the player’s time. Put yourself in the shoes of someone trapped in a time loop, repeating the same events repeatedly. You wouldn’t care about going through the stuff you don’t care about if you know you need to do something different or find something new on the second floor. Siffrin is already shown as someone who cares about being with their friends. They don’t care about what specifically is being said or done. They like being with people they care about. Similarly to a conversation, it’s believable that Siffrin will go through the motions as they go directly to a different floor they were on to get back to that point; you as the player don’t have to witness or replay it all if you don’t want to.
These player-respectful mechanics permeate throughout In Stars and Time, too. With your party not remembering anything that’s happened, that also applies to their levels and learned abilities. Thankfully, there is a workaround to ensure key abilities are still available if you don’t level as quickly. This is through equippable memories. After major events or a party member earns a new ability, you’ll unlock a new memory. When equipped, this will give that character that unlocked ability or improved stats. This also applies to equipped items, like weapons or accessories. You just get these and can find them once.
Leveling again doesn’t apply to Siffrin, though. Siffrin will always get more powerful and keep their level no matter where you reset. So eventually, you’ll have a level 70 Siffrin, while the rest of the party may be level 45 on a new loop. Why wouldn’t they get more powerful since they’re the only one who can remember what’s going on? This eventually leads to Siffrin steamrolling over enemies before any other party member can attack with their final form crafts or abilities.
So far, there hasn’t been much talk of combat, and that’s because it’s very straightforward. That’s not to say it’s overlooked, while other aspects of the game are finely tuned. In summary, combat is fun yet very simplistic. It’s very up-front that it’s rock-paper-scissors. It even uses rock-paper-scissors symbols to tell you what the abilities can do. It gets fun, though, because the game tells you what craft is most effective against an enemy. You need to pay attention to the enemy to figure it out, with the enemy making the hand sign in their model to give it away. Not every enemy does this, either. The more powerful enemies will have you pay attention to the damage they deal to your party to determine what they are weak to.
Overall, it all comes down to teaching you how to use that knowledge to succeed or progress, how to quickly get through fights and level up, where specific items are located on a floor to progress, and where specific items are or what they say are key. Very minor items like a book you can’t read initially become important later on. Even very minor things or stuff you may overlook become important for sidequests. Nothing feels overlooked or simply placed around the entire game to fill the map. It all builds the world’s lore and history, making it feel like a place where people live, with NPCs having full lives before you, the player, enter the world. In other words, the care in almost everything about this game is masterful. Even the twists in the story make sense, leaving you asking questions about what you may have missed or how deep the rabbit hole goes, with it all making sense.
Heck, even the grey-tone coloring makes sense, given the in-universe explanation. And with that explanation, using color is extremely effective when it does get used. Same for the art style. The hand-drawn looks of the characters and the world make this game not only unique but also add to the differences in cultures and characters as subtle changes stand out and are explained as cultural or regional variances in the game’s world. There is just so much thought put into everything in In Stars and Time, that once the credits roll, you can’t help but feel amazed at all the work that went into this unassuming game that feels like it will be a quick RPG to knock out.
At first glance, In Stars and Time seems like a simple turn-based RPG. It uses very upfront rock-paper-scissors combat mechanics that all takes place in one dungeon. But the game becomes so much more through its amazing story, worldbuilding, memories mechanic, visuals, and explicit placement of everything in this self-contained world. Its story of acceptance, identity, what a family means to anyone, and societal/self-imposed pressures is beautiful and masterfully told. While the gameplay can sometimes get repetitive, it finds ways to keep you involved. In other words, do not miss out on In Stars and Time.
In Stars and Time
At first glance, In Stars and Time seems like a simple turn-based RPG. But through its amazing story, the game becomes so much more.