In Stars and Time feels like when a director takes their short film they made for school and decides to film additional scenes to turn it into a full feature, ruining it because its really just stretching out an idea that worked well as something brief.
Not that I particularly buy into the idea of a so called "unbiased" review but if you are looking for the perspective of someone who simply stumbled across the game and purchased it on a whim, this account most definitely will not be it. Back in 2021 I played a short game called Start Again, Start Again, Start Again : A prologue and fell in love with it. It was short and sweet, set up a very neat idea of an adventurer stuck in a groundhog day esque timeloop in the final dungeon of an RPG. Its concept was novel, its implementation for the most part smart, the characters were compelling, the LGBT rep was cool and obvious sequel hook aside, I think it worked well as a self contained story.
I liked it so much in fact, that I wrote a walkthrough for it, because none existed at the time I wrote it. It was an interesting experience, and made me respect every guide writer whos services I had benefitted from all these years. I did get a bit sick of the game by the end of it, having had to play essentially the same sequence about 6 times or so to write the guide. How naïve I was, If I thought that that was an overlong amount of runs for the game, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I loved the game so much in fact it was one of my first reviews on this very site and I even evangelized for it, getting my friend @MagneticBurn to play it and if my delusional ego can take the wheel for a second, I think I might have gotten the ball rolling on the site and now the page for the game is a lot more full of activity, and maybe even some of my mutuals' wishlisting/backlogging of ISAT? or Maybe not, but either way I was anticipating ISAT for a while now. I have definitely learned why I prefer to not do such a thing usually, and just let games drop on me without fanfare or hype of any kind. I think that was part of why I soured on ISAT.
If you have not played Start Again : A Prologue and are wondering if you need to play it to understand In Stars and Time, not only do you not, I would recommend that you do not play it if you are planning to play ISAT. A more appropriate name in hindsight would be Start Again : A Prototype because in the 17 hours I have played of ISAT the first 10 or so played out like a streeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetched out version of STAT:AP.
Sweet fucking merciful mother of mary, this game is way way way way way way way way way way too long for what it is. STAT:P was not a perfect game by any means but none of its flaws had a chance to become glaring in its short snappy package. The not particularly engaging combat? Whatever, the game was 4 hours long. The repetition of dialogue? 4 Hours Long. The writing not always landing the way it probably was intended to? 4Hours.
Its not as if ISAT is JUST STAT:P but stretched, there are some new bits of course, character moments, concepts, a whole ass hub town kinda. In short, it's a game which has expanded upon its original prototype to give a more complete experience, and oh how I wish I could appreciate it but I simply cannot. Clearly the developer has accrued a bunch of experience and the general production value has increased at least twofold, but its all in service of an idea which simply cannot support such an expansion. Its like building an airliner using toothpicks, impressive certainly but you'll have to forgive me for not wanting to get on it.
As much as the new interactions and character quests and all that are nice and well done, most of the game is in service to an appropriately named gameplay loop which is simply beyond tedious after a while. I don't even really want to discuss the mechanics at length but in short, like most timeloop games you will be going through the same areas over and over and over again. Somewhat ameliorated through the use of mechanics to skip forward and not have to redo the whole dungeon all over again, but still the game is not deep or interesting enough to make the repetition not grating. Especially when it seems to begrudge you at times for taking the skip dialogue options it keeps giving you. And that, in short is the issue I have. After 16 hours of the same thing over and over and not ending and not concluding and 3 million ways of saying the same thing I just want the goddamned game to end. And here's the thing, I'm sure at some point I am going to get the "that was the point!" from someone and admittedly I have not finished the game, but I reject this notion.
Spoiler Warning I suppose.
The whole thing in STAT:P which extends to ISAT is the absolute misery that Sif feels at having to relive the same day over and over again and their friends not even being aware of it, having to pretend to feel fine about it and not let them catch on to his existential nightmare. One could argue then, that the overlong nature of ISAT is meant to serve this, through putting the player through a similar experience. I reject this for 2 reasons: 1 in STAT:P a similar thing is achieved much more succintly, just because I agree to something being necessary does not mean you should not show restraint in how its implemented; and the other being that even if it was this point would not be worth making the game an unmerciful slog. Even the points which clearly are meant to at least be compelling on a first time around like the character quests and whatnot were so dampened by having to trudge through a million loops to get there that I didn't even really connect to their emotional cores much.
Anyways, the breaking point for me was getting to Act 4 after what feels like an eternity, trying to look up in the dev's own discord server the next steps in lieu of a walkthrough which does not currently exist (and Im definitely NOT going to be the one writing it this time) and seeing "act 6 spoilers" and my heart sank. NO, I'm sorry but get fucked. I will look up the ending on youtube whenever someone uploads a walkthrough, I am done. And I feel sad about it, I had looked forward to this game, I thought I would at the very least sort of like it. Clearly it has had a positive reception and I wish I could join the positive consensus but this game makes me miserable.