Welcome to Save State, where I write six to eight paragraphs on random games I’ve played in the last couple weeks, usually to try and shine some light on lesser known titles, or give my insight on one-time popular games that may have been forgotten, and why someone might want to pick them up in this day and age. This week, though, I’m thinking about doing something a little different – I’ve spent the last two weeks primarily playing Dragon Quest XI S in my off time, which isn’t exactly a game anyone needs me to point out why it’s good. Dragon Quest XI is a well-balanced turn based JRPG with a simple story but loads of content; this is something everyone already knows. I did, however, spend a bit of time streaming an older game that I thought was absolutely awful to friends of mine, and I think that might make for an interesting change of pace for this August edition of Save State.
If anyone reading Save State has listened to the Game Industry News podcast, the GIN Lounge, then you’d know of a game that I played years ago but it left such an impact that I never forgot its name: Hoshi wo Miru Hito. The game’s title, which roughly translates to Stargazers, was an RPG on Nintendo’s Famicom system many, many years ago. Designed to be a direct competitor to Dragon Quest, Hoshi wo Miru Hito has players venture about a somewhat futuristic world where you use psychic powers to defeat your foes in a turn-based combat system inspired by the aforementioned Dragon Quest.
The story of this game is actually pretty interesting, as the impetus for your character beginning their adventure is the existence of an evil supercomputer that’s brainwashing humans without psychic powers on earth, driving them to extinction. The four characters you play as, all of whom are psychics, venture across the universe to… find a new home, I believe. It’s funny, the beginning information for the story is several times more interesting, but I don’t believe that supercomputer is ever brought up again in-game, as at some point you find out that it’s not actually the supercomputer that’s the problem, it’s dolphins. It’s inventive if nothing else.
The story is fun for the time, but what makes Hoshi wo Miru Hito legendarily awful is how it plays (it earned the nickname, “densetsu no kusoge” in Japan). When you click start, you’re dropped off in the middle of gator country faster than Michael Westen after getting burned – with no cash, no credit, no job history. There’s no information of what you need to do, either, as you’re on a small continent with nothing but forest tiles at level 0. Wandering around aimlessly could have you encounter groups of enemies too powerful for you to defeat (there exists a random encounter enemy who can one-shot you from full HP at your starting level, for example), so you might game over before finding the first town, which is completely invisible on the world map. There are people in the town will tell you they made it invisible on purpose, but combine invisible town tile with random enemies you may not be able to beat, plus the fact that you can’t flee battles until much later in the game, and you have a poor starting experience.
Once you find your way into the town, you can heal and buy items, but don’t buy any of the starting weapons, because those actually make you weaker since enemy defense doesn’t apply to unarmed blows, but it does apply to weapon hits. If you buy a weapon, the old is automatically discarded and you can’t unequip them. Also, you have no way to know if the weapon you’re buying actually deals more damage, because no stats are listed on the buy screen- just the astronomical price.
Other problems the game experiences, beyond unmarked towns, poor difficulty balance, and weapons oftentimes doing the opposite of why you’d buy them, is the fact that at least a couple times through the game you will need a specific key item to continue on in the game, but the item is invisible and on the floor in a completely random location with no direction pointing to where it is. Trying to find this item without a guide basically involves walking across every single tile in the game again until you locate it, and when you do find it there is no dialogue to tell you what happened, just a beep.
Each world you visit in Hoshi wo Miru Hito has a default spawn point, and exiting any location in that world drops you back at the default spawn point. What this means is that if you were just exploring a dungeon in the first world, finish it and exit, you will find yourself back on the small continent with the invisible first town from the very beginning even though the dungeon you entered was nowhere near this location. This holds true for every subsequent world, and there is no in-game reason given for this other than the fact that the developer forgot to set up teleport spawns at the appropriate locations. Combine this with the insanely slow walking speed mentioned previously (taking a full second to move across a tile), you can quickly understand how tiresome the forced backtracking of Hoshi wo Miru Hito is, especially when you’re not abusing glitches.
In combat, the ones digit is nonexistent, so the game will display that you’re at 6 health, you’ll take 15 damage, and now be at 4 health, mostly because you actually had 60-some health, but the game simply can’t display that information to you (when you hit hundreds of health, you still only see two digits. It’s pretty asinine). You also can’t press B to cancel a selection while in battle- even if it’s the ESP menu the game defaults to. When you have no points to cast a spell and you’re stuck in the ESP menu, you skip your turn instead. There also exists a status effect that paralyzes your character and forces their turn to be skipped, and for some reason it has 100% accuracy. If all of your party members get hit by enemies with the paralysis attack, the game doesn’t end… you can only sit there and wait for the enemies to kill you.
Playing Hoshi wo Miru Hito with save states, if you ever feel compelled to punish yourself for the sins of a past life, is the strictly superior way to play. The save system in this game is implemented in passwords that are extremely long and mix Japanese katakana with the English alphabet, for some reason. Notwithstanding, the game only saves levels in batches of 4, and does not save your exact position on the map- so if you’re in the first world, reach level 3, save and quit, then you’ll be back to level 0 and at the continent with the invisible town when you next input the crazy long password- though, hey, you’ll at least get to keep your items.
All of these problems likely sound like dealbreakers in their own right, which they absolutely are, but there are some things that Hoshi wo Miru Hito did that were absolutely impressive for 1987, albeit implemented poorly. Leveling up your party, for example, ages your characters and their battle portraits change. This is an extremely cool feature that not many other RPGs have ever really implemented, though the final portraits require such a high level that it’s unlikely you would ever see them naturally while playing. The sci-fi setting is also extremely interesting, given that this game was a year after Dragon Quest, and released the same year as Final Fantasy, though Phantasy Star would go on to use the setting and genre mechanics in a much better way just a couple months after Hoshi wo Miru Hito’s release.
There’s even a basic crafting system, where you can combine items you found into potions- which is extremely impressive in 1987, though it is important to state that the potion menu has the same commitment issues the rest of the game does- you can’t back out if you make a mistake and selected the wrong fruit for that MP-restoring potion you desperately needed. Similar to the crafting system is a field skills system- like what you’d see in Wild Arms or something, where leveling up can give you powers to jump over obstacles or break rocks, though there’s no indicator differentiating what is a rock you can break, and what is one that you can’t, so it actually winds up being excruciatingly annoying to use these abilities without a guide because the areas in which you use them are almost random and not intuitive at all.
Should you stick with Hoshi wo Miru Hito until the end, for all of your efforts to reach the end of the game, Hoshi wo Miru Hito still has one final middle finger to flip the player. Once you’ve acquired your gear, items purchased, and readied yourself for the final boss encounter, you speak to the Boss Dolphin in Charge, who is supposed to be the last enemy of the game, to initiate the final boss battle… only to discover the final battle wasn’t even programmed into the game. You’re treated to an unceremonious “You lose” screen, and are ejected back to the title screen without so much as a credits screen. This is technically an unfair criticism, as there are multiple endings from what I’ve read, but the option to fight the final boss is presented, and there is an ending for fighting the final boss in the game, but the boss fight itself simply isn’t coded in so the game defaults to the bad ending, instead. So there’s one good ending, a normal ending, and two bad endings, because the ending for beating the last boss isn’t accessible by normal means (the text is in the game, you just can’t reach it). In any event, I selected the option to fight the crazy space dolphin, and the fight skipped due to poor programming, which basically sums up my revisit to Hoshi wo Miru Hito.
One thing that I hope any reader would be able to glean from my column is that I don’t like badmouthing games for the sake of doing so- these are things in which people poor blood, sweat, and tears into, notwithstanding many other issues that crop up all of the time in this industry (lookin’ at you, Activision Blizzard. And Ubisoft. And EA… you get the point). Someone worked very hard on Hoshi wo Miru Hito and had a lot of great ideas that were simply implemented so poorly that they hampered the experience of the game. Due to the moniker of, “densetsu no kusoge,” this game actually has a small cult following that made a patch to fix much of its flaws, such as increasing walk speed, difficulty balances (weapons, especially at the start of the game, work now), upgraded graphics, and more. There’s even a couple groups working on full remakes of the game with vastly improved visuals, sound, and more, though they’re only available in Japanese as far as I can tell.
Hoshi wo Miru Hito is a piece of history, and a reminder that not all history can be ideal. The momentary flashes of brilliance seen beneath the frustration is yet another reminder of how the game designer had a grand vision for this game, but RPG design was so new that almost every single idea was implemented in an infuriating way meant to waste your time, or was incorrectly programmed. Hoshi wo Miru Hito earned the reputation of an impossibly difficult game, but it earned this for all of the wrong reasons at basically every turn. If, for some reason, you want to play this game yourself, it’s available on the Japanese Nintendo eShop for the Switch, though I would recommend playing with the patches available online, since making your weapons, you know, do stuff makes for a better experience.
With that, we’ll ctrl+S this week’s edition of Save State. Stay safe, healthy, and sane- things are crazy out in the world right now, and you don’t need to go fighting with a dolphin to prove it.