Astria Ascending review

Love the grind or it’ll grind your gears

Ever wondered what it would look like if Studio Ghibli produced a JRPG? Look no further, because someone’s gone and done (almost) that. Astria Ascending is a hand-illustrated, side-scrolling, turn-based JRPG that looks absolutely gorgeous. With bright, animated scenery and varied landscapes, it truly is a feast for the eyes. 

Aesthetically, I really do think it looks like a Ghibli film with it’s almost steampunk styling and anime design. Though it’s not just visually pleasing, the music is also phenomenal. Composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, who has done a few of the Final Fantasy soundtracks, it’s very atmospheric and sets the tone for each changing location.

Speaking of Final Fantasy, the story is written by Kazushige Nojima who also worked on a fair few Final Fantasys. And it shows. Astria Ascending follows the same pattern as those genre staples, though it does have a few new ideas to keep you entertained.

The basic premise is this: the world is stable, its many creatures live in peace because they eat the ‘Harmelons’ as ordered by the gods. Every generation has eight warriors that are elevated to Demigods. These Fateful Eight are given special powers, but in exchange for being chosen, they are only given three years to live. During that time they must use their powers for the good of the world. Suffice to say that the bad guys are trying to destroy the current system that keeps the world at peace, as per usual, and the bad guys are racing to get the magic macguffins that you need to get first.

Basically, you and your group of merry fighters have to save the world before your inevitable demise. Something I really liked about the inevitable death thing was that the game was interspersed with little flashbacks to what the character’s lives were like before Demigod-hood. Some hinted at much more of their previous lives than others, and some were pretty tragic, but I liked the characterisation that they added. 

Elsewhere the characters were a little lacking. I didn’t feel like I connected with any of them, and their one-liners got old really quickly. All of your units fit neatly into the JRPG mold and nothing about them was particularly standout. Their design was quite pretty, but there was more animation in the boobs than anywhere else, which is a plus point for some players, but wasn’t for me.

The thing that really took me by surprise with this game was that it’s actually secretly a dungeon crawler. With complicated maps, well-designed puzzles, and multiple bosses per dungeon that are really quite challenging at times. I genuinely enjoyed the dungeons, but I did feel at times that more consideration was given to their aesthetics than playability. When moving quickly across a large room, or jumping between vertical platforms, the camera struggles to keep up. It’s like they’ve anchored the camera to the room rather than your character, Ulan, so many times you’ll find yourself almost out of frame and unable to see where you’re going. This might highlight the backgrounds more, but it disrupts the smooth flow of the gameplay and is something I’d love them to patch.

Otherwise, the combat is enjoyable and often challenging. The difficulty level increases quite significantly from boss to boss, encouraging you to level up in the mid-dungeon levels and elsewhere. You encounter these blob things called ‘Noises’, which don’t indicate what monster combo you’ll find once combat commences. Sometimes you can avoid these, but mostly you’ve got to face them head on. Honestly, I got pretty annoyed at some of these as I felt that some of the battles were really poorly weighted.

In the second dungeon I kept being killed before I had the chance to move, and I felt like I hadn’t had enough time to build up my team before that point. Even more frustrating was the inability to access any menus during the battles, so I couldn’t just reload to get out of them. I had to keep sitting through my characters being stunned and electrocuted slowly, one turn at a time, without being able to move or reload. 

Aside from some of the poorly weighted battles, the turn-based combat is great. The moves are highly varied from one character to the next, and as you progress and work through secondary and tertiary roles for each character the ascension choices feel endless. The game also rewards you for using each character’s chosen career moves by giving you an extra meter that will randomise additional powers in combat.

The thing that really took me by surprise with this game was that it’s actually secretly a dungeon crawler. With complicated maps, well-designed puzzles, and multiple bosses per dungeon that are really quite challenging at times. I genuinely enjoyed the dungeons, but I did feel at times that more consideration was given to their aesthetics than playability. When moving quickly across a large room, or jumping between vertical platforms, the camera struggles to keep up. It’s like they’ve anchored the camera to the room rather than your character, Ulan, so many times you’ll find yourself almost out of frame and unable to see where you’re going. This might highlight the backgrounds more, but it disrupts the smooth flow of the gameplay and is something I’d love them to patch.

Otherwise, the combat is enjoyable and often challenging. The difficulty level increases quite significantly from boss to boss, encouraging you to level up in the mid-dungeon levels and elsewhere. You encounter these blob things called ‘Noises’, which don’t indicate what monster combo you’ll find once combat commences. Sometimes you can avoid these, but mostly you’ve got to face them head on. Honestly, I got pretty annoyed at some of these as I felt that some of the battles were really poorly weighted. In the second dungeon I kept being killed before I had the chance to move, and I felt like I hadn’t had enough time to build up my team before that point. Even more frustrating was the inability to access any menus during the battles, so I couldn’t just reload to get out of them. I had to keep sitting through my characters being stunned and electrocuted slowly, one turn at a time, without being able to move or reload. 

Aside from some of the poorly weighted battles, the turn-based combat is great. The moves are highly varied from one character to the next, and as you progress and work through secondary and tertiary roles for each character the ascension choices feel endless. The game also rewards you for using each character’s chosen career moves by giving you an extra meter that will randomise additional powers in combat.

  • Developer

    Artisan Studios

  • Platform

    Nintendo Switch, PlayStation , Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series

  • Release Date

    30th September, 2021

Leave a Reply