Another day on the PSP, another sub-par role-playing game (RPG). Seriously, people… it's getting a bit ridiculous. If I have to play another old-school game that starts with the main character waking up in bed and getting dressed for his "big day," I'm going to scream.

After getting the main character ready, Astonishia Story proceeds to not amaze me with stereotypical RPG design at every turn. Leaving my house, I knew to head directly north, because all old RPGs place the castle at the "top" of the town. I wasn't at all surprised to see the magical staff I was escorting get stolen within the first ten minutes of gameplay, and my mentor killed in a sneak attack immediately after. A few details may be different, but this is the basic set-up for more "young man on a quest for greatness" RPGs than I can shake a beginner's sword at.

With Astonishia Story though, part of the marketing is that it's supposed to be "basic." Evidently, someone thought that a simplistic, boring, by-the-numbers adventure would be a good starting point for "both sexes" on what I assume they expect will be a lifetime of happy RPG consumption. In this case, I think the concept fails… I could name a dozen harder and more complicated RPGs that would be far more interesting and worthy introductions to the genre than something so drab and dull.

It's not that the game gets anything really wrong, it's just that it never tries to achieve. It's so thoroughly vanilla that excitement seems to be as unreachable as peace in the Middle East. The graphics are decent in that tired 16-bit way, there's a really nice anime intro, and I do admit that the menus and control system are very streamlined—with no tricky systems during combat or any complicated magic or item customization, one button takes care of all of the functions. It's certainly clear and intuitive, but it goes so far as to feel stripped-down and bare.

The game is what it is, although "not painless" isn't exactly a sterling recommendation. There's nothing juicy about a boring hero on a boring quest walking around aimlessly searching for the next area to continue a story that I had a hard time caring about. Is Sony so desperate for content that their approvals department is willing to give the green light to dusty, outdated titles that don't showcase what the PSP is capable of? I can understand the desire to build a diverse library of titles; after all, it was one of the PS2's most formidable features. But, stocking shelves with the kind of software that makes people regret spending money after they buy it isn't the way to go. Fanatics who must play every single RPG on the market might find a few shreds of decency here, but Astonishia Story couldn't be more inappropriately named. Rating: 4 out of 10

Brad Gallaway
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