Right as April was beginning to end and we prepared for May Day, the gaming world received a disturbing piece of news from a Japanese video game company known as City Connect. According to the company, they will be re-releasing a piece of gaming history. However, it's the type of history that's known by few and reviled by those that know it. The game is Hoshi wo Miru Hito, and it's releasing this summer internationally on the Nintendo eShop. Japanese video game fans know it as the "densetsu no kusoge," or "legendary shit game." Joining us for this look at a foreign "classic" is Dowolf, one of the game's more avid speedrunners.
Dowolf's interest in Hoshi wo Miru Hito started a few years back with an annual bad games tournament called Kusogrande. In one match he played, featuring Mike Uyama as the GM, the game was Family Dog, a 2D platformer based on the spin-off show from Amazing Stories. At the time, Dowolf thought it was one of the worst platformers ever.
"Flash forward a couple months, to RPG Limit Break 2018," Dowolf said. "I wanted to wash the taste of that kuso [Editor's note: Japanese for "crap"] out of my mouth, and for some reason decided that the Legendary Kusoge, HoshiMiru, was the way to do it. I messed around with the game for a while, got sick of it, looked up what the speedrun was at the time, and was like 'Wait... how are they moonwalking?' And so I fell down the rabbit hole."
So What's Up With This Trash?
Originally released back in 1987, Hoshi wo Miru Hito (which roughly translates to Stargazers) is a sci-fi RPG published by Hot B and developed by an indie developer known as Another. The game is about a group of four children who team up to fight against an evil supercomputer known as Crew III, which has brainwashed most of humanity to drive them towards extinction. The only ones immune to the brainwashing are Psychics, who are being hunted down by the computer's team of bounty hunters known as Death Psychics. However, just about all of this story is never brought up in-game, and at the risk of spoilers, the multiple endings the game offers certainly make things... interesting.
But just having a bad story or none at all doesn't necessarily make a game terrible. But that's where the gameplay comes in. If you just take a look at the announcement trailer above, you can see plenty wrong. In the single combat encounter alone, Minami, the first party member, looks like he only has a single-digit HP. The game truncates the last digit of a character's health, so having 5 health really means you could have 50-59 health. Minami also starts at level 0 with no way to run from battles, meaning he has the combat ability of a wet tissue. It's very telling that the trailer shows us what an average playthrough looks like if you haven't been spoiled on the game.
A glitch that often shows up in speedruns of Hoshi involves "moonwalking" by using two controllers at the same time. By going one direction on the first controller and going the opposite direction on the third one (which requires an expansion port for more than two controller slots), the game becomes confused about which way you're going and shenanigans ensue. Some of the more strategic uses of this include bypassing obstacles or dragging NPCs so you don't have to walk as far. While the game itself is (generally) well-programmed other than the moonwalking bug, it's "an RPG that makes every bad design decision possible," according to Dowolf.
And there's quite a list of poor design decisions that makes Hoshi legendarily bad. Damage formulas make weapons worse than your bare hands (unarmed attacks deal 0-3 damage but ignore enemy defense)! A combat menu that puts ESP/spells as the default option with no way to take back an improper input! Damage tiles that give zero indication that they're hurting you! Many invisible plot-relevant locations and items, including the starting town!! Playing a game like this makes you very appreciative of proper game design.
Crappy Games and the People who Play Them
You may think there's not much of a market for an '80s JRPG with no translation and programming held together with a mix of scotch tape and prayer. However, there's a strong community of people who "enjoy" playing through these sorts of games. AGDQ has an entire block in their charity livestreams known as the Awful Block that showcases speedruns through games including Hoshi. There's also the annual tournament called Kusogrande, currently on its fifth year, that has players compete to get as far as they can in a game in a one-hour time limit. It's one of the only places where you'll see an adventure game based off of Homey D. Clown from In Living Color.
Another bit of appeal behind kusoge is in finding ridiculous games that could have been lost to time. The '80s and '90s, where a good number of kusoge can be found, were a wild time for game developers, and there weren't as many industry standards back then. It was a time where developers had yet to figure out that using WASD to move around 3D environments was the best option. Those times were also filled with bizarre licensed games. These days, you're unlikely to find an adventure game based off of a British beef jerky or a first-person shooter licensed by Forbes. Although we do have I Love You, Colonel Sanders, so perhaps bizarre licensed games are a timeless thing. Nevertheless, the return of Hoshi wo Miru Hito is big news for connoisseurs of awful retro games—not to mention those folks looking for gag gifts.
Final Thoughts on the Re-release
As for the re-release of Hoshi, Dowolf feels like speedrunning the game was a mistake. He suspects that running the game drew attention to it and potentially helped it get a re-release.
"If I did inadvertently play a part, I cannot apologize enough. The software is not fun in any sense of the word," Dowolf said.
Dowolf isn't sure if he'll get the re-release since the price is high, but he's almost certain he'll lose a bet somewhere down the road and have to pick it up. His suggestion to anyone thinking about picking up the game, likely those with an extremely high tolerance for pain or the morbidly curious, is to "approach it with the mindset of trying to look for, if not the diamond in the rough, then at least the least-smelly garbage in the middle of the dung pile."
Hoshi wo Miru Hito is re-releasing on the international Switch eShop sometime this summer for $9.99. There's no word on what, if any, changes will be made to the game.