Title: Astlibra Revision
Release Date: October 13, 2022
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Action JRPG
Months ago, I stumbled upon the Steam store page for an action JRPG I’d never heard about called Astlibra Revision. Its reception was staggeringly high, and it now has over 13,000 user reviews, where 96% of them are positive. Yet, when asking others I knew about this game, no one had heard of it, so my curiosity was naturally piqued. Recently, I actually got around to playing through Astlibra Revision, and the best way I can describe my time with it is that it’s among the wackiest and most imaginative JRPGs I’ve ever played. I’ve never had a game experience quite like this, and there’s a fair chance you haven’t, either.
Astlibra Revision is about… a lot. A lot of stuff happens that I can’t truly summate. The main character and his sole companion, a crow, are wandering in search of their origins. Bizarrely, the former has dreams of living an inherently different life in a familiar yet altered world.
Regardless, as the duo travels, they eventually find the first human they’ve seen in countless years, eventually leading them to form new relationships, acquire an artifact that can change the course of history, and endure unimaginable trials. Without spoiling this absolutely wild plot, that’s about all I can reasonably say.
Astlibra delves into several ideas and concepts, with time travel being a core catalyst that goes into some expected territory. But a vast number of events in this narrative are unpredictable, and at least to me, they gave off the impression that the creator was doing whatever they desired without confining themselves to a specific plot structure.
While this can obviously have considerable drawbacks depending on execution, it works out brilliantly here because every story breakthrough is genuinely gripping. This is probably one of the most challenging games to discuss the story of without going into accidental detail; just know that what’s presented here is unconventionally emotional with decently effective worldbuilding.
Character relationships and interactions feel genuine, and they get their points across poignantly. Well, somewhat. The major issue most English players will have with Astlibra is that its translation is inadequate. Countless grammatical, spacing, and tense errors litter the script, causing unfortunate confusion in select scenarios, including a few puzzles that initiated needlessly wasted time.
Given the small-scale nature of this project, I suppose this lacking quality is understandable, but it does sadly harm events to varying extents. Granted, it was never enough to ruin the experience for me outright. However, if you’re sensitive to flaws of this nature, especially in more severe cases, you’re likely better off waiting until a potential translation improvement patch arrives.
Still, despite those problems, I’d argue that Astlibra is perfectly enjoyable even if one solely focuses on its gameplay because the action combat here is sublime. Most standard enemy fights are essentially hack-and-slash, with every hit you deal producing a crunchy, immense impact.
While the other mechanics and attributes make Astlibra’s gameplay hooking, the sheer feel of the combat is ultimately what makes everything click. Impressively, even though the protagonist can become quite agile, each hit, regardless of the weapon, has weight necessary for titans of the genre to boast.
Over the years, I’ve found that I’m kind of hard to please in this general genre since I always prefer freer, swift movement, and Astlibra, though nowhere as elegantly refined in that department as other action games, gets the job done nicely. Many grind-heavy systems complement the combat, and they’re all pretty self-explanatory.
For instance, the gear you can equip, spanning weapons, armor, and shields, earn their own experience, eventually building up to an engraved skill, incentivizing variation for players to try out more of their toolkit. Skills can also be equipped, and aside from the usual RPG fare, there’s enhanced movement, such as a double jump which becomes borderline necessary in later sections.
The magic system deserves emphasis since, at least in my time, its usage is far more frequent than in other RPGs. Spells require a mostly filled ST gauge viewable from the bottom of the UI, and they’re immediately useable via D-pad shortcuts. Further, the animations only slightly impede movement, making encounters relatively seamless. Admittedly, in the early hours, the suddenness of the creatures embodying these spells as they’re summoned was jarring, but you’ll probably get used to it in little time.
My favorite implementation of the RPG systems comprises the skill tree, housing countless branching paths with stat boosts and spells, with there, thankfully, being a mini-map of what has not been acquired to better inform you of where to hone in on your efforts. There isn’t anything all that unique about how Astlibra approaches this concept; I just like a good skill tree.
Yet, for as simple as these numerous ideas are and cleanly meld together, they do require effort to get the most out of because, as previously noted, this title is rather grindy. Currency and materials for the to-the-point item-crafting must be gathered en masse from enemy slaying and exploration to ensure you’re adequately prepared for boss battles and such.
Astlibra is as much of an RPG as it is an action game; being prepared is more than half the battle. Aside from equipping corresponding accessories resisting elements and statuses, as well as stocking up on items, your stats are what will make bouts feasible. Reflexes alone, while vital, especially on the higher difficulties, are not the be-all-end-all for victory.
Still, if you’re like me and found the combat enjoyable to its core and have a history of RPGs, grinding doesn’t fundamentally hamper the experience. There’s also an arena that I’d argue is borderline required because of the monumental benefits it gives you as rewards. Yet, there are undeniably some questionable gameplay integrations I had.
Firstly, when retrying a boss, items you used in previous attempts will not revert to their initial amount, which seems like an unfortunate oversight. Additionally, while not common, a few optional and required paths ask players to navigate and platform to specific parts of a map. It can be challenging to pick out what is climbable since the objects can blend fairly well with the background assets. Then again, I do have poor eyesight, so who knows, really?
Admittedly, you can somewhat brute-force these segments until you find the intended walkable spots, but they should’ve just been given a teensy higher degree of perceived emphasis. One last issue I had worth bringing up solely rooted in personal preference and no objectivity is how select bosses were simply unfun. A classic example is Chapter Three’s main boss, which, even when I understood it, felt unnecessarily drawn out. In fact, in hindsight, particular bosses overstay their welcome.
The presentation of Astlibra Revision does not hold a candle to genre contemporaries, being passable at best. There is an undeniable charm to a few maps and character models, but none of it will impress you or truly immerse you as the story does, and, to be fair, that is the facet that should be given the most care. Music-wise, this game is incredible; easily becoming one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. The intensity and tranquility of the battle and event themes, respectively, are highly reminiscent of the Ys games, except with their own distinct flair. On the other hand, the artwork is hit-and-miss. The character portraits are gorgeous, but the environments and sprites come off as plain more than anything else.
Astlibra Revision is the most unconventional JRPG I’ve ever played. Its story is absolutely wild and unpredictable, making the experience a captivating one. Even when considering translation faults, this plot will strap you in for the long haul. Further, the gameplay systems are refined, giving rise to cathartic growth and customization. On top of that, the soundtrack is masterclass.
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