Wander Stars preview – A smashing homage to Akira Toriyama

Wander Stars is a delightful fighting RPG that owes much to Akira Toriyama in style and approach.
wander stars game preview

Wander Stars is going to be something special. This upcoming game from Paper Castle looks and feels like a big deal by nature, with an incredible Akira Toriyama-inspired art style, flashy combat, and a neat story hook combining to elevate the entire experience. As part of LudoNarraCon 2024, the game now has a demo out – and it’s absolutely worth experiencing for yourself.

In Wander Stars, you are a young fighter named Ringo looking to make a name for herself as a powerful, unmatched fighter in the art of Kiai. This is a form of magical, word-based combat that allows Ringo to deploy special actions against enemies, by combining words from an agile library.

It’s a novel system: you enter turn-based battles, and then work on combining words to form the strongest attacks, based on enemy types. SPECIAL and EXTRA words will add power to your PUNCH and KICK attacks, and you can also add FIRE for that extra pizzazz. A SPECIAL FIRE PUNCH will hit much harder than a simple KICK, for example. With one action left, you can also initiate BLOCK to gain points of protection against incoming attacks.

As you travel along the game’s map, you’ll find dozens of new words, allowing you to enhance your combat and eventually pull off dazzling, devastating moves against your opponents.

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>wander stars demo
Screenshot: GamesHub

While only a minor twist on turn-based combat, the wordplay adds a real sense of personality to battles. There’s novelty in combining new key phrases, and watching to see how newer words shake up your attacks. And even when things don’t go your way, you can marvel at pretty scenery and characters that look right out of Dragon Ball – so, it’s a win either way.

Character models are incredibly expressive and lively, with static models allowing for cheesy, cartoonish expressions that look fabulous in action. Wander Stars rocks a refined design that really elevates its anime styling, and allows the entire game to look and feel like a Saturday morning anime.

Paper Castle has also made clever choices in the overall design of Wander Stars. It’s an episodic story game where narrative beats are delivered slowly in your journey along a top-down map. You travel this map and stumble across events, fights, or slices of dialogue, with each presenting a reason to move forward, and to continue strengthening Ringo for tougher battles.

It’s strangely a bit Mario Party in this design, with each event spot you land on bringing new surprises – but the system works immensely to keep the flow going, and to keep the story’s mysteries ever-dangling in front of you. I also particularly liked the choice angle – that you can travel down whichever path you like, and spend any amount of time perfecting your turn-based moves.

>wander stars gameplay
Screenshot: GamesHub

While only glimpsed in the demo, which comprises the first “episode” of gameplay, it also seems like Wander Stars will tell a very compelling, very Dragon Ball-inspired story. As teased in this early chapter, Ringo meets a humanoid wolf (named Wolfe) in her adventures, and eventually joins him on a quest to reunite the pieces of the Wanderstar Map – a magical artefact that guides towards a treasure.

There’s also plenty of subplots working away in the background – the mystery of Wolfe’s identity, Ringo’s search for purpose, the nature of the Wanderstar Map and how a piece comes to Ringo, and plenty of other neat plots to keep the action thrumming.

With such a strong start, Wander Stars could be a real, loveable gem. There’s already a layer of familiarity to the tale, thanks to its callbacks to Akira Toriyama’s works, but there’s also layers of ingenuity on top. It doesn’t rely on nostalgia to tell its tale, but uses it as a leaping point for something new, fresh, and exciting.

Wander Stars is a game brimming with novel charm, and there’s every hope it can live up to its glittering potential when it eventually launches. You can now check out the demo for the upcoming game on Steam.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.