With the plethora of new games coming out nowadays, especially “indie” titles, it’s hard to “keep in the know” about every one of them. No matter how long one is in the business of writing games reviews occasionally one game will sneak up on you and surprise the hell out of you. That game for me this year is Artisan Studios‘ Astria Ascending! This game falls into the category of being a JRPG. And it’s one that seems to pull together a lot of the things we’ve loved in other classic JRPGs including the Final Fantasy series. Astria Ascending‘s publisher, Dear Villagers, invited us to play the first five hours of the game via a preview build. The net result is we’re very excited so far by what we’ve seen!
What Is Astria Ascending?
From the little we’ve seen of the game, around an estimated 1/10th of the full release, we’re in a fantasy world where chaos looms. You as the player takes control of a team of “Demigods”. This is a squad of eight heroes, all from different backgrounds and races, appointed and charged with protecting the world. It’s purported to be a mature story written by Kazushige Nojima with an epic-level musical score composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto.
The game is full of original fantasy characters played in a 2D presentation complete with turn-based combat with some mild platforming thrown in for good measure. In the full release, it’s expected that each character will have their own story, players will be able to explore across five cities, twenty-five dungeons which encompasses up to fifty hours of gameplay for 100% completion. There are side quests as well as mini-games, including an original fantasy-themed token game.
The Many Things We’ve Loved So Far
Right off the bat, just by looking at the Start screen, we were treated to nice, pleasing 4K hand-drawn artwork. The whole presentation right from the start had a “Final Fantasy vibe to it”. As we dove into the game itself we were treated with plenty of voice-overs and easily fell in love with several of the main players especially Eko who is a “Peyska” an aquatic species. For our hand-on, I used Eko as my main healer and his story is one of proving thyself. Eko also had the best voice acting in my opinion. Overall the voice acting was impressive but some of the voices weren’t as identifiable or caused me to care as much as I did about Eko’s story. Eko seems poised to be a fan favorite indeed!
The 2D sidescrolling format threw me off guard initially but was easily accepted with open arms. Especially since this opened the game up to some mild platform jumping involved to find hidden areas and chests. With the Steam PC build we previewed, it appeared to only support a gamepad controller versus that and mouse/keyboard. Either that or the game assumed controller as I always leave my Xbox Controller dongle plugged in. Nevertheless, it worked exceptionally well with the Xbox controller!
Once the story started to unveil you’ll take on the typical “almost random, but avoidable” JRPG style encounter mobs which are called “Noises” in this game. Combat is turn-based using a team of four characters choosable from your party of eight. Combat does have a couple of nice touches to it. For example, at the cost of a turn, you can swap out party members during battle. This was a nice option to fall back on when I entered an encounter a bit unprepared.
There is also the use of what’s called the Focus Point system (FP). It’s a system that was conceived with the idea that “no character should ever be useless during a battle”. If you played any RPG or J-RPG for that matter, you’ve typically been in a situation where one of your characters had no useful ability during a particular battle. This usually leaves you with the only option to defend or pass your turn. With the Focus Point system, a player character can spend Focus Points on an ability to exponentially increase its effectiveness, or use the Focus command to give up their turn to increase the Focus Point pool to be used by another character. It’s a very cool system and it came in handy for many of the particularly challenging “boss battles” we encountered.
Detailed Progression System
We also loved Astria Ascending‘s implementation of an Ascension Tree. You’ll have your base class job and then there appears to be the ability to pick the main class job, sub-class job, AND support class jobs as you progress. Your characters also accrue skill points as well as Stat Orbs. These allow you to invest in the Stat Star Node where you can increase base stats, learn new spells, etc. You decide how to invest in each of the eight playable characters.
Things Outside The Main Quest
We also got a glimpse of the game’s “Hunt System”. As you advance you’ll open up “guilds” which gives you access to the “Guild Master”. Guild masters hand out more challenging “hunt quests” for “ferocious” monsters. These are purported to be more challenging quests with meatier rewards.
We also took part in the main mini-game called “J-Ster”. It’s a card-collecting battle game that plays similar to a mix of dominoes, Mah-jong and Othello using six-sided tokens with numbers on them. Once you unlock access to this mini-game you can challenge NPCs to play it. Games played can also have varying rules like “Open” where both players’ tokens are visible or “Closed” where players’ tokens remain hidden. To supplement this mini-game one of your playable characters, Arpajo, also has the ability to turn a mob into a J-Ster Token!
We look forward to seeing everything else that Astria Ascending has to offer! So far we’ve fallen in love with its beautiful artwork, exceptional musical soundtrack, and memorable characters. While not entirely unique we also look forward to opening up more of the game’s progression systems. It’s slated to hit Steam PC on September 30th and I believe the team is looking to get it onto the five major consoles and maybe Xbox Game Pass perhaps? And with the advent of the forthcoming Steam Deck, I can already feel the need to have this game on to play on the go as well!