Honkai Star Rail first impressions preview - "Gorgeous game with engaging turn-based combat"
"Countless meteors shoot past the night sky…If you can pick the correct one, it will bring your wish to thousands of distant worlds." These words by Adrian Spencer Smith from the game's "Fables about the Stars" perfectly encapsulate the interstellar adventure that is Honaki Star Rail, as you go about your trailblazing journey across a multitude of galaxies. I was fortunate enough to get a taste of the game for its second Closed Beta, but is this highly anticipated title really worth all the hype?Table of contents:
HONKAI STAR RAIL STORY AND VISUALSAfter a really cool opening cinematic and action sequence, Honkai Star Rail lets you pick your character from the very beginning. As someone who wasn't able to play Honkai Impact, I was pretty confused about the narrative right off the bat. Thankfully, though, it didn't seem like I needed to know the full backstory to enjoy the game as a newbie to the franchise.
Essentially, you'll journey through the stars on the Astral Express with a cast of colourful characters on your quest to learn more about the Stellaron that has been embedded inside you. The first stop is Jarilo-VI, a snow-covered planet struggling from the effects of the Eternal Freeze with only Belobog as its last bastion. Things get complicated as they do, of course, and you'll soon learn that your visit to the planet isn't going to be all about sightseeing.
And sightseeing really is something you'll definitely want to do in Honkai Star Rail. The visuals are just absolutely stunning - everything from the backdrops to the little details in the environment around you are crisp and vivid, with lovely background music accompanying you on your journey to boot. The character designs are, in particular, truly top-notch - a quality we've come to expect from the creators of Genshin Impact.
Thanks to the excellent visuals, exploration in Honkai Star Rail is an absolute thrill. You can interact with plenty of random items around you, and smashing things in the background may or may not reward you with extra in-game goodies as well. You might even be in for a surprise or two (or a little side quest) when you investigate certain markers on the map.
THE GAMEPLAY OF HONKAI STAR RAILWhile you're exploring, you can switch the main character in your party (a feature I just adored), use Techniques to buff your team before battle, and sneak around trying to avoid enemies if you want to. They'll have a cone of vision indicated on the mini-map, and if you're not feeling confrontational, you can try to run past them or sneak up on them from behind for an ambush bonus.
Engaging enemies will take you to a combat sequence, and let me tell you - the turn-based fights here are pure joy, at least for me. You can toggle the auto function if you wish, but honestly, why would you want to when the combat is this strategic?
Characters you deploy onto the battlefield will each have their own very unique regular and special attacks, with Ultimate skills you can fill up and unleash any time your metre is full (ignoring turn sequences in the process). Enemies will also have their own elemental weaknesses that you can exploit, and each time you deal some devastating damage, you'll be treated to lovely animation sequences where your characters display their moves with flair.
One thing I wish the game had was that iconic victory pose and music at the end of each battle in typical RPGs - it certainly makes each match more fulfilling rather than just having everything fade to black after a win.
By the way, there's also a Simulated Universe you can challenge, with multiple floors you can clear along with buffs you can collect and bosses you can put your skills to the test with.
WHAT'S THE APPEAL?I was probably a little biased going into this game, since before I even knew what it was like, I was already expecting a lot of Star Ocean vibes in it (and it totally delivers). I love the Star Ocean franchise so darn much, and the fact that Honkai Star Rail made me feel all the feels is already a plus for me.
The voice acting is also top-notch whether in English or in Japanese, and you can set the dialogue to run on auto when you don't feel like tapping away each time. I also had the privilege of trying out the game on my PC, but while the screen is definitely bigger and didn't give me a headache, I still found the controls on my phone more intuitive because of all the simple tapping rather than the mouse-and-keyboard combination. Still, my phone did tend to get hot even after just a few minutes of gameplay, so spending too long on your device might not be ideal (I'm using a Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Android phone).
As for the menu items, I loved scrolling through the archives to read the stories behind the Aeons and the lore of the game. I also enjoyed the descriptions for the Light Cones - I always appreciate how developers take the time and effort to craft these things even if they're just text that won't necessarily contribute to the overall gameplay.
Speaking of Light Cones, I did feel like the rates for the gacha wasn't too generous - at least, for the time being. My first two ten-pulls from the summons pool only got me some Light Cones - it was on my third ten-pull that I finally got an actual character. Thankfully, the characters the game gives you for free are actually not too bad - March 7th and Dan Heng, in particular, do a bang-up job of acing those battles even at level 1.
Honkai Star Rail definitely ticks all the right boxes for me at the moment. It does require you to spend a good chunk of your time playing the game as there are no auto-explore functions here, but since each new place you hop into looks gorgeous, you might just want to explore every nook and cranny yourself. After all, when you're aboard the Astral Express, anything's possible.
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