Turn-based role playing game that’s so good it’s bad
Thank you for this super interesting opinion piece! If I may be so bold, I think you would benefit from going a bit further in the story for multiple reasons:
- Combat gets harder. Since increasing your Trailblazing level upgrades the enemies, there's always a balance that is achieved between your characters' stats and theirs. One of the last bosses of the currently available story presents a considerable difficulty spike, and there is a roguelike mode called Simulated Universe that goes a bit farther.
- Eventually, players get to a point where their characters are "maxed out" and get very powerful thanks to the Relics sytem. You didn't mention it and I'm pretty sure that you would not enjoy it - I don't either, it's a frustrating and messy take on the classic RPG equipment system that is entirely dependent on randomness and farming. But, like in Hoyoverse's other game, Genshin Impact, it's the "endgame" that players will spend days, weeks and months doing in order to optimize their characters as much as possible so as to see bigger and bigger numbers in combat.
- The story on the first planet is very good! I genuinely enjoyed Jarilo-VI. It's a bit more jarring on the second planet, with overly verbal prose, confusing pacing and less interesting environments. This is all my opinion, but I feel like the writing quality definitely goes down as Star Rail progresses.
I would be interested in seeing your opinion on what you haven't seen yet and these systems, if you do keep playing it! Star Rail is a confusing beast that does some stuff super well in this 2023 gaming ecosystem ; it's got a generally good main quest, especially for a free to play mobile gacha game, as well as a bunch of very well written secondary quests, competent (if a bit lacking in complexity) combat and a monetization model that's both super generous and awful gambling.
Got linked to this and it's always interesting seeing an analysis from a gacha game outsider.
For the gameplay, given the Producer is a decade-long megafan of the Trails series, it's clear that a lot of inspiration is taken from that series. JRPG gameplay may seem similar at first, but it's in the way it emphasise certain aspects that they shine - such as how SMT/Persona cares a lot about elements and buffs. For Trails series, it can be described as turn-order manipulation, with turn delays, multiplier effect stacking, and randomized per-turn effects. HSR took that, streamlined a lot of things, and turned the presentation up to 11.
The gameplay gets harder at Trailblazer Lvl 30, where skill point management and ultimate-skill timing becomes more important. You also start to rely more on Light Cone and Relics for stats as Character Level and skill tree level ups gets slower - which, on the one hand, can be somewhat transferred to other characters, but on the other hand, is a tedium compared to just having a decent enough equipment for your non-mains and only re-organising once every few weeks, on top of each characters having their own optimal setups. I think them making certain characters such as Seele and Welt work well in various team comp is a conscious decision, to reduce that cognitive overload.
It helps that you can play Mihoyo games on PC and other consoles as well. A lot of people in developing world don't have a good phone, but they may have a PC or laptop. You can use the phone for dailies but you can get a much better graphics and feel playing it on PC for when you're try-harding or doing a lot of stories. Other gacha games don't have nearly the same continuity - most don't even have a native PC version, and the few that do, still have a UX and graphics optimised for phones that it doesn't feel worth it.
The monetisation is disgustingly brilliant to me. The 30-day sub gives you a drip feed of F2P currency every day you log-in and a small sum of premium currency - and they're cheap enough to afford on a kid's allowance even in a developing country you'd be stupid to not buy. And once you get to playing enough, well, you also have a BP which you're missing out the extra rewards on, which is a ton of resources you could use to get your other characters up to snuff and farm more stuff - it lasts for 45 days and it's 2.1x the price of the 30-day sub, but if you're playing that much, then that would be "worth it".
The duplicate system isn't that unique. Other games have uses for duplicates as well, like in GBF you do use duplicates for certain weapon grids (though the best weapon sets are often only gained from grinding) and getting characters in that game is done by getting their weapon. What's unique is that each duplicates alter each characters in a minute but noticeable way, as well as in how it "refunds" your currency a little. You may not get the ones you want, but as the character gets better, you have more characters you'd want to level up and more Cones that's great for certain characters, making you want to grind more resources. And your "refund" in the form of tertiary currencies from duplicates that can be used to get those resources, with a separate currency pool for low-rarity duplicates to buy upgrade items and high-rarity dupes pool to exchange for guaranteed character and light cone copies exchange that really isn't worth it unless you're a whale (but both currencies can be fed back to rolls if you're a poor non-whale). This is still separate from the complicated 50-50 pity system as well.
The fact that I have that much to say about the monetisation system really says how well they thought it out. It's so labyrinthine you don't think about it at first, but much like everything else about the game, it clicks and it starts to "feel good" the more you understand how to properly optimise it to your circumstances. All under a really good flows of UX and aesthetics.
Really refreshing analysis and much more useful than the mainstream press coverage I've seen about this game. I'm a Genshin liker (lapsed player) and I've specifically avoided starting this game *because* I am somewhat concerned that I will in fact get hooked by it. Now I'm fairly certain that's the case. Anyway, great stuff. Thanks.