Reviews - Updated on March 29, 2022

Astria Ascending is a Japanese RPG created by a true dream team. The universe and story were created by Kazushige Nojima, screenwriter of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X. The character design was done by Akihiko Yoshida and Hideo Minaba, who worked on the characters in the same Final Fantasy series, and also in NieR: Automata and NieR Re[in]carnation. Finally, the game features the music of Hitoshi Sakimoto, who wrote the soundtracks for Final Fantasy XII and Vagrant Story. Everything else was done by Artisan Studios, who previously created the Super Neptunia RPG. So what are the problems with Astria Ascending, a game that seemed destined for success?

The Magnificent Eight of the Doomed

Astria Ascending makes a great first impression. It looks exactly how a game should look from the people who drew and wrote for the Final Fantasy series. Here, rich colors, hand-drawn panoramas, somewhat exaggerated, but stylish characters – you can feel the author’s style.

Astria Ascending: Overview

You want to admire the starting locations already – they are so beautifully and subtly drawn.

Astria Ascending is definitely one of the most beautiful JRPGs to date. And the variety of locations, where autumn forests are replaced by red ruins, only emphasizes this impression.

Astria Ascending: Overview

Autumn here is almost like in St. Petersburg.

The setting itself and the plot at first also please with their non-standard approach. At first glance, he is just normal. A world called Orcanon is in danger, and local superheroes must save it – a team of eight so-called demigods, each of which represents one of the races of this colorful universe. And the races and characters here come across interesting – there are, for example, sea dwarfs dressed in the likeness of diving helmets; huge and strong men, resembling a mixture of man and beast; refined bird people; even intelligent … ostriches.

Astria Ascending: Overview

Here they are, our demigods. And on the right is an enemy with another boss.

Happiness and harmony in this world are built on the regular use of magical fruits called Harmelon by the inhabitants. Demigods are selected from the strongest representatives of their race, endowed with even more powerful abilities, almost invulnerable. And after three years they die (the body simply cannot withstand the loads) and give way to the next team. Therefore, each of them is called the Doomed Eight.

As you can see, beauty, happiness and harmony in Orcanon have a second side and in general everything is not easy here. Many children grow up terrified at the realization that they can become the kind of demigods that every race actually sacrifices. But they serve well. True, with a constant awareness of the transience of life – at the time of the start of the game, our eight remained exactly three months. This imposes a shade of sadness on what is happening – we are shown how the characters left their native lands, how their wives and beloved girls saw them off.

Astria Ascending: Overview

One of the flashbacks. On the left is our winged transport.

Looking for vulnerabilities

Naturally, sooner or later in such a situation, something had to go wrong. It went – the attacks of monsters began, some began to refuse to eat the magical fruits of Harmelon. Even the statues of saints, who can and should be prayed to, rebelled and turned into very difficult bosses.

The 333rd Demigod Brigade has to deal with all this. Everything is traditional here – we accept the main and side quests, set off on the world map or on the local express train to the areas that are to be cleared, return to the capital to restore mana reserves (only health is regenerated in combat locations), buy new equipment and consumables.

Astria Ascending: Overview

Equipment can also be found in chests while exploring the world.

The exploration of the combat spaces takes place in the mode of a two-dimensional platformer, where you still need to jump to some chests and passages. And the fights themselves are made in a familiar turn-based format for JRPGs. True, with the exception that at any time you can change each of the four attackers to fighters from the reserve. And it’s useful to do this, because the enemies are strong, have vulnerability or resistance to a certain type of elemental damage, and also actively use skills and magic – for example, they can cancel our witchcraft, blind or force us to attack their own.

Astria Ascending: Overview

Some skills allow you to turn enemies into tokens for a mini-game that harkens back to early Final Fantasy.

Therefore, we often have to change fighters, focusing on the situation and the characteristics of our wards. Each of them is unique in its own way – it belongs to one of the classes, uses its skills and spells. And everyone has a choice of four professions that provide access to new groups of abilities: some improve performance, others give active combat techniques, and others provide support skills that help, for example, find hidden chests. We pump them for points received at new levels, as well as for special star cards.

Astria Ascending: Overview

Professions, like skills in them, are unlocked gradually and actually work as prestige classes.

Many skills are focused on dealing elemental damage. Therefore, it is very important to determine the vulnerabilities of opponents. If we use the right attacks, we accumulate focus points that allow us to increase damage. And if, on the contrary, the enemies are resistant to them (and even begin to heal instead of taking damage), then we lose focus. Unsurprisingly, particularly powerful actions, such as calling strong allies to our side, just require focus points. Then special attacks and combos are also opened, which are activated when a special scale is filled.

Astria Ascending: Overview

The summoned creatures are able to single-handedly decide the outcome of the fight.

Difficult, slow and boring

The picture and battles are the main arguments of Astria Ascending. Fights here are difficult and require you to use all the possibilities even at a normal difficulty level – you need to pump and learn skills in time, choose the right professions, shuffle the party, and so on. I started the game on a high difficulty level, but eventually switched to “normal”. Otherwise, you would have to grind even more – enemies respawn after leaving the map. In addition, the difficulty can be flexibly adjusted by adjusting, for example, the amount of experience gained by the active squad and the reserve.

Astria Ascending: Overview

Both we and the opponents are able to impose a lot of positive and negative statuses.

The problem is that, despite all this, it quickly becomes boring. Battles are slow – you can’t speed them up. The plot also develops at a snail’s pace, as well as the relationship between the demigods, which clearly developed before us – because of this, we simply do not feel an emotional connection with them for a long time. Story quests are usually straightforward – go there, check what’s wrong again. Some characters are weakly voiced, how-scenes are often short and primitive, dialogue is the same.

Astria Ascending: Overview

Enemies speak extremely succinctly.

The most offensive thing is that both in the plot and in the relationships of the characters there are strong, emotional, adult moments, but you need to endure them. The authors seem to be telling us: “You love big JRPGs, so play 50 hours, overcome and wait.”

And in principle, it could be tolerated. But the problem is not only in the plot rhythm. The very process of exploring the world and clearing locations is also boring. As a rule, it consists of numerous runs through one and a half or two approximately identical screens from one door to another. Moreover, there is no map of the area – it is difficult to navigate.

All this is accompanied by primitive platform exercises, which were introduced as if for show in a press release.

Astria Ascending: Overview

Falling down, we will not die and lose nothing.

Yes, sometimes you come across a kind of riddle when you need to use artifacts to activate runes with their help or raise the water level with platforms and cross them to the other side. But the key word here is “sometimes”. At first, you can’t get to some places, but don’t expect any special joys for connoisseurs of metroidvania: as a rule, we will simply be told that it is dangerous there and it’s not allowed to go there yet.

Astria Ascending: Overview

Even the solution to the puzzle resembles a work of art.

Astria Ascending is a very beautiful JRPG in a non-trivial setting and with an excellent combat system, but all its potential for me was ruined by sluggish plot development, as well as a boring, not very comfortable process of exploring the world. Although if you like challenges, difficult fights and grind, then you can try. Just remember – it’s almost impossible to play on a PC without a gamepad.

Pros: non-trivial world with colorful races; interesting plot; sufficiently deep role-playing and combat systems; difficult battles; Gorgeous picture and stylish character design.

Cons: outside of fights, the gameplay is boring; fights are sometimes protracted; the plot develops slowly; you don’t feel any feelings for the characters for a long time; there are no basic amenities like a mini-map in dungeons and speeding up battles.

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