By John Shadle (Sephorus), OnRPG Journalist
Starlight Story is a free-to-play anime-styled browser-based MMORPG title published by Aeria Games. Billed as a “dreamy browser MMORPG” with “devoted companions, powerful transformations, frenzied PvP, and a vibrant world”, I set out to find out if the newest addition to Aeria's portfolio was worth playing – and you know what? Even as just a casual game, it kind of is.
Starlight Story's, erhm... story is simple enough – at first. A demon is threatening to conquer the entire world, and you're the only one who's all-around awesome enough to foil her nefarious plot, thanks to your ability to transform into a Superstar (*coughPowerRangerscough*) when the need arises. The less-than-simple part comes in with the ensuing wackiness of roosters with trumpets for mouths, homages to Iron Man, and demon children with severe sweet tooths; apparently, there's also time travel involved, as you're from the future. It elicited a head-scratch or two from my grown-up self upon trying to make sense of everything, but I imagine that younger kids giving this game a whirl might agree with my inner six-year-old's professional assessment of, “This is AWESOME!” Either way, it's a quirky story with even quirkier characters – which could be part of the charm, if that's your thing.
Getting started is amazingly simple, as there's not a whole lot to character creation. You've got your choice of one of five classes – Apprentice, Duelist, Magus, Rogue, or Squire - gender, name, and... that's it, actually. There's no customization available of any kind beyond this, which is a bit jarring in today's age of “sliders for everything”, but it makes the game that much easier to get into and start playing. With ease of accessibility treated as a key benefit for browser-based gaming, it's a feature that may have intentionally been left out, so I couldn't complain too much here. What's left is pretty straight-forward, with few options to get people (like myself!) sidetracked, getting their look 'just right' and a combination of nicely-drawn class portraits and concise descriptions as a snapshot of what each class is like.
Once you're in-game, there's a brief tutorial segment on the basics – moving around, attacking things, equipping items, and utilizing your amazingly awesome Superstar transformation ability – before you're sent off to chase down the forces of evil through time itself. The NPC dialogue is... okay at best – it conveys the information you need to know, but can never quite decide if it's actually quirky or if it's trying too hard to be quirky and ends up landing in full-blown strange territory. Quests themselves are similarly okay, as there's plenty of the Go-Talk-To-X or Kill-So-Many-Of-X variety; I'm not sure if it's more of a casual or uninspired thing here, as it could probably be seen either way. However, your quest log has a handy auto-pathing feature, so you can choose to complete these quests as manually or as automatically as you want. There's some boss battles thrown in as well, which were actually (given the medium, anyway) pretty well done – and a good excuse to leverage Morphin' Ti-... I mean, Superstardom!
Starlight Story keeps pretty close to its self-proclaimed anime style. While I wouldn't go so far as to call the game gorgeous, that's primarily because I'm used to more fully-fledged titles. For a title that plays in a browser tab, it looks pretty good and runs well enough. The musical score, while simple, has enough of a whimsicality to it to add to the overall charm. Sound effects – things like smacking foes with a sword or slamming down with the force of a small comet – are hit-and-miss overall, but are generally good and can at least be construed as “close enough”.
There are also a bevy of additional features and systems designed to give you a ton of extra things to play with and have multiple avenues for you to become ridiculously powerful. You'll have a pet fighting alongside you right from the beginning, which can be leveled alongside you, trained in a variety of skills, turned into more powerful versions, or trained to provide passive benefits to you and it. Equipment can be forged to become more and more powerful with each successful attempt. Magic crystals can be collected and harnessed to improve your overall statistics. You can tend a small garden to grow either money or experience – don't ask how it works. Your Superstar roster can be powered up to access better and better versions. Eventually, you can turn into one of two improved versions of your base class, and even gain levels in new classes entirely. You can even – hold on to your hats, folks – summon and harness celestial bodies to bolster you, your pets, or your superstars. That's right - the Big Dipper can now turn you into a walking pile of awesome.
That said, there are a few minor gripes I can point to with Starlight Story as a whole. For starters, a few of the ongoing tutorials for each of these new systems are downright pitiful. While I've seen enough forging/upgrading in other games to know how it goes here, the planet-summoning system's tutorial amounted to “Well... here it is!”, and it wasn't until I jumped on the forums before I figured out just what I was looking at. Secondly, while none of the systems are entirely gated behind a VIP/subscriber wall and you can earn everything in-game – even allowing for sale of cash shop currency for in-game currency and vice versa – it's clear that dropping a few dollars is going to get you pretty powerful pretty quickly, which has the potential to grate on some nerves. Thirdly, the game is plagued with system-wide messages whenever someone on the server does something epic, like surviving a certain number of floors in a dungeon or achieving a certain overall Superstar rank. It at least added to the same quirky tone as the rest of the dialogue, with people being “totes jelly” instead of “totally jealous” that So-And-So made it as far as they did, and it might be good for a laugh or two if it wasn't so... frequent.
Having said all of that, though, Starlight Story has a lot of things going for it that are sure to get it some attention in the casual game scene. Its art style and accessibility will probably draw in a younger crowd, but there's enough meat here to appeal to a relatively wide audience. Some people might balk a little at the anime theme, and I doubt that many gamers would turn a browser title into their main go-to over whatever else they're playing... which is a shame, because underneath the appearance is a game that's quite a bit of fun to play.
Now, if you'll excuse me, my inner six-year-old demands that we go save the world LIKE RIGHT NOW.