Star Fantasy: The Redshirts of Light
You know what? I’m still not sure.
After weeks of considering it, turning it over and over in my head, glancing over the notes of my experience like a hawk-eyed office drone, I still can’t decide whether Halcyon-6, the game that promises an experience that imitates Star Trek: Birth of the Federation eating Final Fantasy, is as good as it tries to be.
Let me try to explain.
Halcyon-6: Starbase Commander is a “16-bit” strategy-cum space sim with JRPG stylings, promising an expansive world and lots of squishy redshirts that live in it. You command a starbase, and do what you would expect: collect resources, clear out rooms, and manage what you have in order to make sure you’re fully prepared by the time the aliens and pirates decide to chew on the walls. When things go wrong, you line up your party and take turns knocking the enemy in the shins, JRPG-style, and upgrade them however you see fit.
This sounds pretty good, and that’s because it is. Halcyon-6: Starbase Commander‘s greatest strength is in the sheer amount of stuff you as a player are able to do with this universe that they’ve laid out for you on a silver platter. Everything is meticulously planned, from the missions to the flavor text describing each potential character you can take along on your journey. Sprites are charming and well-detailed, and even the aliens you’re meant to blast are endearing in their own way (though maybe that’s just me).
The strategy — you know, the meat of the game — isn’t half-bad, either. This works on four levels: Combat, resource gathering, base-building, and diplomacy. Resource gathering will be the thing you do the most, and it does admittedly get a bit old the more you do it, but nobody said that powering your giant space station in the middle of nowhere was going to be easy. Combat is less Star Trek: Echoes from the Past-style phazer shooting and frustration and more like your typical JRPG fare, with a bit of a modern lemon twist with multiple classes, abilities, and status effects to exploit so you can rack up combos and massive damage. The ever-present threat of permadeath adds a bit of urgency, too, and more than a little despair-tinged frustration when your favorite redshirt goes down fighting because you didn’t plan your moves accordingly. Base-building is right out of X-Com 2. with explorable rooms and a myriad of things to build. Diplomacy is where you can channel your inner Picard and talk to various alien races, weaving around potential alliances and betrayals like a space-age episode of Game of Thrones.
Everything works just fine, too. The JRPG combat is well thought out and strategic (at least, until you find a setup that will win your fights almost every time), requiring you to plan ahead instead of throwing the biggest kabooms at an enemy in hopes that it’ll go down before you do; the strategic gameplay is streamlined and easy to pick up, instead of being a micromanage-a-thon like Star Trek: Birth of the Federation or any given Koei strategy game; the writing is amusing and the world will suck you in if everything else won’t.
So why the hesitation?
All of this freedom, the different gameplay styles, and multiple influences bleeding together just make the building blocks all the more obvious. My references to old Trek games weren’t coincidental: strategizing plays like a stripped-down (and much more accessible, to be fair) Star Trek: Birth of the Federation, and the diplomacy segments are straight out of Star Trek: Echoes from the Past. Other game influences are just as obvious, and while each segment of the game (the strategy and diplomacy, the RPG combat, and the story) are great individually, they never mesh together quite well enough to make Halcyon-6: Starbase Commander a seamless experience. Instead, we get a buffet of various flavors that you can try out in however way you like, with whatever matches your personal play style. A space-sim JRPG sandbox, if you will.
Don’t get me wrong, though: despite how fragmented it feels, it never falls on lazy tropes, and is clearly a labor of love. Blending these different gameplay styles could have gone in a horrible direction, and Halcyon-6 succeeds in making most of its experience fun and engaging, with first-rate production values.
Still, the question pops up again: Is it as good as its ambition tries to make it out to be, or do the stitches show just a little too cleanly? At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters. Halcyon-6 is, at the very least, an interesting game-loaf of various old-school properties, blended into a package that tastes fresh, even when you can pinpoint every ingredient by name.
If you like space-sims, and you like JRPGs, check this out. What it lacks in cohesion, it makes up in content, presentation, and charm.
This is definitely one to check out.
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher / Developer: Massive Damage Inc; Players: 1; Released: September 9, 2016; MSRP: 19.99
Full Disclosure: This review was made possible by a copy provided by the publisher.