Clear as crystal.
At this year’s E3, Cartoon Network brought us in to get a look at two of their newest video game projects. One was the OK, K.O.! game, which you can find previewed here. The other, glinting like a diamond, was Steven Universe: Save the Light. And by Pink Diamond’s palanquin, let me tell you this: it’s awesome.
The game starts out with series protagonist and adorable lil’ mascot Steven Universe himself, accompanied by his dad Greg and his best friend Connie. The three are looking for the three crystal gems, the magical Earth defense force of which Steven is a part. One of the first points of action I got to take was in choosing who I would encounter, and in doing so, who would become my fourth party member. Being the rough-and-tumble bad boy that I am, I chose Amythest, the sassy and purple whip-slinger. The cast finds Amythest on the sands of Beach City, fighting against a small horde of crystal creatures which, I would shortly learn, are connected to the previous game, Steven Universe: Attack the Light. The prism creature featured in the previous game has been kidnapped, and is being used for some form of nefarious deeds. The monsters it spawns are cute at first. We were told they will get more and more ferocious over time, due to a nefarious influence. I learned this in the heat of Save the Light‘s surprisingly robust RPG combat system.
Steven Universe: Save the Light is an RPG full of timing-centric battle mechanics. Actions take up stars, which regenerate five at once over time. During those periods of time, enemies can move and attack just as easily as you can. Precision and planning become important in harder moments. Early on, it wasn’t too hard. I had time to learn what kind of assets I had going for me. Amythest was a wide sweeper, sporting a main attack that wiped a low-moderate amount of damage across multiple enemies. Connie was built around giving herself buffs and engaging with singular enemies, while Steven was a combination healer and charge-attacker, able to bowl over any number of enemies in a straight line. My favorite was Greg, though. I was told by our guide that Greg was essentially a bard, and I could instantly see the point. Any action taken with Greg starts by spending two points to tune up his electric guitar. That done, he can freely switch between three songs until he is hit. One sends out damage waves, one heals, and one quickens the speed at which more stars are generated.
If this all sounds a lot like a thorough RPG, that would be because it is. Considering it comes as a sequel to a mobile game, Steven Universe: Save the Light is a stride above in terms of detail. I managed when to give characters a shield or have another guard them during battle. I chose who to hit when and how. There was even a Fire Emblem Awakening-style relationship system, where characters get bonuses and aid each other when they fight together, or defend one another. These build up towards special combination attacks. For Steven and Connie in particular, Connie and Greg became a go-to pairing for me early on. Connie was a good guard while Greg strummed whatever tune gave the right boost for the scenario. To top it off, battle even featured some Paper Mario-style timing prompts. A tap of the X button on my Dualshock 4 could give the character being hit a quick dodge.
Bright Lights, Beach City
Outside of battles, Steven Universe: Save the Light also looked gorgeous. As a sequel, it picks up the almost chibi stylings of Attack the Light, comma-eyed faces and all. As the representative who guided us commented, though, the team decided to get ambitious with the platform of a full console. The end result of that ambition is a pop-out storybook rendition of Beach City, using cel-shaded 3D art direction to create a setting that looks right out of the show, save for teh way things move.
As I progressed into a nearby forest, I was told that area design became a much more important part of how the team thought about the game they were making. My team of heroes came upon a mysterious pattern on a rock wall that seemed to respond to music. Switching control from Steven to Greg, I was able to discern that what I was looking at was actually a note map. I used the D-pad to play the right series of notes to clear the way. Any party member can be controlled, too. After the rock pattern, I switched to Connie, and was able to use her hulking pink sword to cut grass and get items. Some of those items even included crafting materials, going towards upgrade trees that can unlock new abilities for characters. Steven, for example, can eventually get improved luck that can double his heal outputs, or add spikes to his signature bubble shield.
All of these details culminated in a big final battle that I almost lost. A prismatic wood chipper monster faced off against my party in the middle of a forest, backed by an army of smaller creatures that fed it logs, single file. Amythest had been switched out with the addition of Pearl. Steven and Connie fused early, giving me Stevonnie in her hair-flipping glory, but leaving my side of the battle one fighter thinner. And boy, did that fact almost cost me dearly. After every three logs, he would launch a pulverizing superattack, that eventually put poor Greg out of commission. Being a dad is hard. That final battle was about time management, positioning – especially with Pearl’s spear-throwing ability – and endurance.
We’ll always save the day.
Steven Universe: Save the Light shines with promise. I got a first taste of a plot that we were told would last 10 to 12 hours. I’ll be honest; I absolutely loved what I got to play, and can’t wait to pick up side missions in Beach City, fight with the Crystal Gems, fuse like nobody’s watching, and save the world. Save the Light comes out of practically nowhere with quality attention to detail, and packs every assured punch with its cast of delightfully colorful characters.
Steven Universe: Save the Light launches this summer on Playstation 4 and Xbox One.