When a group of developers who have worked on well-known projects such as Final Fantasy, NieR Automata, and Bravely Default get together, you know something unique will come out of it. Astria Ascending is the product of a team of developers who really seem to love the JRPG genre, which shows in their past works and this new adventure. However, after playing through the opening moments of gameplay, some elements work, while others come off a little rough.
Astria Ascending introduces Ulan as the main protagonist. However, it seems that each character has a bit of spotlight within the story. Strangely, Ulan might look like a hardass, but her character voice-over makes her seem rather sweet and laid back. I’m not sure if this is what the team was going for, but it was just a surprise. In fact, the voice-over has its ups and downs, it’s really cool that it’s there, but you can skip dialogue events, and the pronunciation of one of the character’s name differ depending on who’s saying it.
The narrative is well put together in terms of worldbuilding, but the adventure has a rough time establishing its characters. I’m not sure if I was playing a final version of the game’s opening, but over demi-god was available in my party from the onset. After a few hours, I still didn’t know who some of the characters even were. Taking time to establish Ulan as a lead character and then slowly roll out new characters would have worked much better. As it stands, I couldn’t begin to tell you the names of all the characters in my party.
Direction is another issue I ran into early on. The quests are properly outlined, but I feel the game could have gone a step further by highlighting areas that you’re required to go. For example, when I encountered the train to take me to the first objective, having the gardens area highlighted would have shown me that this was the way to the next mission. Still, you’re free to go where you want in these early moments, but there’s no real reason to.
Gameplay is proving to be the highlight of this adventure. Exploring dungeons features puzzles and moments of platforming, all brought together by a unique 3D map UI. Speaking of UI, the game has an amazing UI menu screen, but I could have used a dark mode because there’s a lot of white being used. The UI marvels extend into the abilities and equipment menus that are easy to navigate and properly detailed.
While in a dungeon, you’ll encounter enemies. Fights are turn-based with four play parties. Each character has a range of skills they can use, and the entire party will gain experience regardless if they took part in the fight. Leveling up will unlock new abilities and the option to buff characters further.
The battles are enjoyable, but they did become repetitive after encountering the same combination of enemies in each area. Further, bosses were much more powerful than the grunts, so even though it’s possible to evade encounters, I suggest doing them for the experience, or you’ll meet an early end.
The art direction and music is standout. This probably isn’t news to anyone, but only look at Astria Ascending, and you’ll know it’s pretty. The environments also receive so much detail in terms of animation and atmosphere that really sold the experience.
I will gladly sink hours into Astria Ascending, but I’d really like a better introduction to these characters outside of an opening text crawl. Further, direction needs to be addressed to limit mindless trial and error, and text linebreak mistakes should also be looked at. However, I’m really liking the gameplay portion of this adventure and only hope the narrative can keep up, but for that to happen, I’d have to actually know the names of my party members.
Astria Ascending Steamis coming to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and PC-via on September 30, 2021.
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