Japanese role-playing games have enthralled audiences with their battle systems, storytelling, and character rosters with nearly four decades of history. Astria Ascending draws heavy inspiration from its predecessors while providing new twists on the genre. Spearheaded by experienced industry talent, the game showcases gorgeously painted environments, detailed sprites, and captivating symphonic tunes. The game’s turn-based combat, battle options, and party management closely follow established JRPG conventions. However, the platforming, tactical options, world structure, and party members give the game its identity. Despite its familiar mechanics and stiffness, the game provides a well-crafted enthralling audiovisual experience.
Astria Ascending takes place in Orcanon, a world populated by diverse races and consisting of fantastical locales. Players control Ulan, the captain of the 333rd wave of Demi-Gods. Each Demi-God squad is fated to combat evil for three years before ascending to the next plane. Each member of Ulan’s diverse eight-person team represents a different race and class. Some members resemble classic role-playing tropes, while others have distinct animal-like features. These members often bicker with each other, but they come together to conquer bosses and acquire summons and other new powers to stabilize their world.
At its core, the game follows a familiar role-playing structure that takes place in side-scrolling areas. Players venture to a variety of towns and then venture to dungeons to fulfill designated objectives. These dungeons feature opportunities to search for optional treasure as well as light puzzle solving. These puzzles involve using abilities to activate specific nodes and open the path to the next area. The game also features extensive side content that includes the omnipresent card-like battle game J-Ster and other minigames.
Astria Ascending provides a lush visual presentation packed with luminescent hand-painted 2D art. Each background is luminescent and carefully hand-painted. The game transports players to a series of ornate fantasy environments in which each city indeed looks majestic. These cities are also populated by plenty of residents as well. Each outdoor space looks verdant and densely lush. Characters showcase heroic proportions and distinct silhouettes, and their animations feel dynamic and expressive.
The audio experience is also equally delightful, with beautiful tunes that accompany the journey. Storied musician Hitoshi Sakimoto produced and directed the music, and the compositions are simply astounding. The symphonic tracks truly help battles feel epic. Furthermore, the game features dual voiceover audio. The English and Japanese voice tracks both feature compellingly delivered battle cries and dialogue.
The turn-based battles closely follow established conventions with a bit of a twist. Engaging a glowing object initiates combat, but players can perform pre-emptive attacks or avoid encounters altogether. Players designate four party members to be on the field at any given time. Each party member can use regular attacks, skills, and items, but the one distinguishing feature is the Focus System. Any member can expend their turn to build a stock. Another member can then empower their turn by spending stocks, which often inflicts extensive damage. As bosses often have substantial amounts of life, knowing when to accumulate and spend Focus stocks becomes extremely important. While the Focus System rewards strategy and consideration rather than attacking mindlessly, the need to build stocks to score substantial damage can also feel a bit rigid.
Astria Ascending features extensive menus and customization opportunities. In terms of menu options, Players can enable battle rewards and various heads-up display text. One notable case is showing whether the player’s attacking element will be practical or not. Since the game revolves around exploiting weaknesses in battle, this option allows for a much more brisk battle experience. These menus also include the ability to watch any prior cutscene. The game’s mechanics allow for some degree of freedom as players can spend a turn in mid-battle to swap multiple party members. Each party member also has an extensive grid for unlocking buffs and skills.
The game’s flow can feel arbitrary and overbearing. The game immediately grants access to the entire eight-person party, which feels like a double-edged sword. Players can experiment with their party configuration right away, but building any substantial emotional attachment to the cast isn’t easy. Furthermore, the mechanics’ explanations appear randomly and are loaded with lists of terms. Even though many elements and status effects will undoubtedly be familiar to role-playing veterans, it still feels a little strange to see so much information at the same time. The boss battle balance is also intimidating and overwhelming as bosses inflict widespread damage and can wipe out the party quickly.
Furthermore, the game structurally feels stiff. The areas feel like a series of interconnected rectangles in which players frequently travel to the far edges of the screen or through doors. While the game’s platforming breaks this feeling somewhat, the areas still feel relatively similar. Traveling between worlds can also feel a bit disjointed as it can feel like teleporting to new locations without any interconnectedness. The game is also clearly steeped in lore, but comprehending its terminology can take a while. The party members’ personalities can also be dry, and some of their bickering seem unwarranted.
Astria Ascending is a wonderful audiovisual treat as the vibrant hand-painted backgrounds and moving orchestral songs help the world come to life. One of the game’s primary features is its length, as the main story can last around thirty hours with plenty of other side content. On the other hand, the pacing sometimes feels arbitrary, especially with some overwhelming boss battles. While the game primarily sticks to established mechanics, the side-scrolling progression, tactical Focus System, and vibrant assets can still entertain and enthrall fans of the genre.
Astria Ascending Review
Astria Ascending is full of wonderfully hand-painted visuals and fantastic tunes. While it provides plenty of customization options and sticks to established roleplaying mechanics, the arbitrary pacing and balance can dampen the experience.