So, you didn’t manage to snag a Super NES Classic. Yeah, neither did we. But instead of whining about it—okay, in addition to whining about it—we’ve decided to put together our own “DIY Super NES Classic” collection by replacing retro SNES titles with the best indie games we can find. It’s the next best thing to actually owning one!
The game: Cosmic Star Heroine
Play it instead of: Final Fantasy VI
Why we chose it:
There’s an idea among hardcore Final Fantasy players—a group of which I am proudly a member—that, like Star Trek flicks, you can split Final Fantasy games into evens and odds. As the theory goes, the odd-numbered games focus on game design and technology. Story drives the even-numbered entries.
Once you get the hang of Final Fantasy’s convoluted numbering scheme (what the US got as Final Fantasy II is actually Final Fantasy IV, while our Final Fantasy III—which appears as such on the Super NES Classic—is actually Final Fantasy VI), you can see that the theory mostly holds up. Final Fantasy invented the franchise. Final Fantasy III and V codified the popular “Job System.” Final Fantasy VII is the franchise’s first 3D entry (although its story is pretty great, too). XI serves as the first Final Fantasy MMORPG, and whatever’s good about XIII, well, it’s not the story.
Meanwhile, Final Fantasy II details a Game of Thrones-esque political struggle. IV is the first truly character-focused installment of the franchise. Final Fantasy VIII and IX could probably swap places, but otherwise, the trend holds true for X and XII, too.
And Final Fantasy VI? It’s all plot, all the time. The game begins as the Empire’s Magitek warriors march through the snow, getting ready to invade Narshe. As the attack progresses, players meet Terra, a young magic user, and Kefka, an Imperial general who wants to use Terra’s magic to conquer the world. The charming thief—sorry, treasure hunter—Locke and some blade-wielding teddy bears rescue her, and then we head to Figaro, where a flirty king rules over a mechanical castle.
Oh, and by the way: all of that happens in 30 minutes.
Look, Final Fantasy VI is one of my two all-time most favorite games (we’ll talk about the other one in a couple of days). And yet, I’ll be the first to admit that combat isn’t its strongest point. Once you know what you’re doing, you can easily exploit the Esper system, which teaches characters magic spells. Mashing the A button will get you through most of Final Fantasy VI’s minor battles. Accordingly, the most memorable moments in Final Fantasy VI are all plot-driven: Kefka poisons Doma Castle. Celes performs an opera. The heroes sit down for dinner with the Emperor. Kefka destroys the damn world.
That’s why I was so delighted by Cosmic Star Heroine. Thanks largely to the RPG Maker tool set (which I recommend to any would-be RPG developers out there), many games look and play like Final Fantasy VI. Some, like Skyborn, are actually pretty good.
But Cosmic Star Heroine (which isn’t an RPG Maker title, in case that’s not clear) is one of the few JRPGs I’ve played that replicates Final Fantasy VI’s breakneck pace. It kicks off with action—a secret agent named Alyssa needs to rescue a group of hostages—and builds from there. We’ve played enough RPGs that begin with amnesiac hero, or a rebellious youth suffering through a tutorial disguised as “chores.” Just get straight to the good stuff. We know it’s coming.
Pixel art aside, Cosmic Star Heroine doesn’t really look like Final Fantasy VI. Its sci-fi setting marks a big departure from Final Fantasy VI’s steampunk-Narnia vibe. But, like Final Fantasy VI, Cosmic Star Heroine raises the stakes at the very beginning and never lets up. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of world and character development, too. It just happens alongside the action.
Now, in the interest of transparency, I haven’t actually finished Cosmic Star Heroine. Maybe it’ll let me down in the end. So far, however, the combat system is a goddamn delight. Better than Final Fantasy VI’s button-mash extravaganza, even. The writing is sharp and funny, and the characters are interesting. I actually want to know what happens next, and I haven’t felt that way playing an JRPG since… well, the last time I played Final Fantasy VI.