Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing Secret of the Stars and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.
Welcome back, video game enthusiasts, fans of Japanese role-playing games (RPGs), 1990s arts and culture enthusiasts, fellow geeks and video game collectors!
If you were already a gamer who enjoyed playing games at home with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES or Super NES) back in 1995, chances are you heard about the buzz about the hot RPGs that were released for the console at the time. Square released Chrono Trigger (which is now a classic) and Secret of Evermore while Capcom released Breath of Fire II.
That same year, Tecmo (the company best known for Dead or Alive video games) tried to score well with RPG enthusiasts and other SNES-owning gamers of North America by releasing Secret of the Stars which itself turned out to be the English-language version of the Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) Aqutallion.
This RPG caught my attention when I read about it in gaming magazines. After completing Final Fantasy II (actual title Final Fantasy IV) and Final Fantasy III (AKA Final Fantasy VI) on the SNES in 1994, there was a period several months when I was not able to play another RPG and had to settle with other types of games (note: I had a lot of fun with Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi). In the 4th quarter of 1995, I finally obtained a copy of the Tecmo-published RPG.
With those details laid down, here is a look back at Secret of the Stars (or Tecmo Secret of the Stars as presented on the game cover).
The story begins with a young lad named Ray who gets oriented with some people at the house of Mrs. Sonya. By merely asking a question, she reminds him about his personal search for a crest which once belonged to his father. Sonya also revealed that their island has been hit by several earthquakes which caused many wild animals to arrive.
Ray travels to the nearby town talking with the locals who gradually update him about what has been happening. Someone reveals to him that a journeyman arrived and talks about something called Kustera and Aquatallion.
Ray meets with the journeyman named David who is a native of Kustera. After reminding Ray that his father was the great Aqutallion, he emphasized that an evil being called Homncruse is a major threat to everyone and must be stopped. He tells Ray that he must seek out the crest of the stars to become an Aqutallion warrior and be able to defeat Homncruse.
Ray gets urged to go to the mountain to find the crest…
To put things straight, Secret of the Stars has the basic elements of turn-based role-playing that involves the heavy use of menus for item management, fighting, defense, item use and others. The most unique game design feature here is the ability to switch between parties as the game goes on but what is clear is that the party involving Ray is the default party.
On the creative side of things, the concept about Ray being the chosen one to protect his people, lead a group composed of individuals to not only fight evil beings or monsters and achieve goals on quests (read: this includes going through personal trials at different sites in order to receive additional powers) and take on Homncruse and his evil agents has always been generic and the overall game design reflects that as well. Being the protagonist, Ray is clearly the most developed character but the same cannot be said about Tina, Cody, Leona and Dan who are all uninteresting.
The production values of this game are clearly sub-par and the weak Japanese-to-English translation is only the tip of the iceberg. With the exception of the monster and enemy designs, Secret of the Stars looks like an 8-bit game and really stood out among 16-bit RPGs of its time when it comes to field of inferiority and primitiveness. The level designs lack creativity and the location background art lacked variety. When it comes to the story, its concept was interesting at first but there really is not much depth to it nor are the characters worth caring about.
What really defined this game is its slow-pacing in terms of interactivity. Adding even more to the sluggishness of the game are the slow movements of your character (representing your party) on-screen and the rather high rate of random battles. There is also a lot of grinding (defeat enemies in lots of repetitive battles to gain experience points to level up) required and the sad thing is the level-up is not very rewarding especially when you take into consideration the many enemies or monsters who are often strong with high hit points each.
The sluggishness and tedium are so bad, Secret of the Stars really turned out to be more of a chore than an actual fun game to play. It is so bad, the game’s unique feature of allowing players to control the 2nd party (Kusterans) became even more tedious and pointless to do. It is so bad, you will care less about the story of Ray, and you will prefer to ignore the other characters even more. It’s so bad, you won’t care anymore about Ray’s quest and the danger Homncruse has on the people.
Secret of the Stars was a bad RPG for its time and clearly it was a waste of money. On my experience, I ended up being very disappointed not only because of the game’s quality but also because of an absence of fun and the fact that my time playing it became a big waste. For me personally, this JRPG was definitely the worse SNES experience of 1995. It seems like the game developers made this game to literally torture gamers.
Overall, Tecmo’s Secret of the Stars should be avoided!
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