The Power Of Fruit

HIGH A lengthy, high quality Japanese-inspired RPG with plenty of modern amenities.

LOW A few frustrating enemy encounters and a sometimes-confused story.

WTF Why does everyone hate the little fish people so much?

Astria Ascending makes an excellent first impression by putting its best foot forward via art. The visuals are undeniably gorgeous, with hand-drawn illustrations giving life to characters through subtle animations and beautiful backgrounds that give each environment a unique feel.

The story follows the eight demi-gods of the 333rd Cohort. They are protectors of the realm of Harmony, each with their own personality quirks and unique skills. In this game, each group of demi-gods serves for just three years, and at the tail end of this three-year term, strange occurrences signal a series of events that could forever change the world they know.

In terms of gameplay, Astria Ascending is a JRPG that takes cues from the classics while adding in some changes and quality-of-life additions to keep it feeling fresh.

Players will be traversing 2D environments featuring platforming and plenty of puzzles, with each dungeon offering new (or at least different) mechanics in order to progress, as well as chests to loot, although sometimes players are required to return after obtaining new powers needed to reach them. When battles occur, a party of four will take on an enemy team in standard JRPG turn-based combat, with turn order mainly determined by the agility stat. One nice feature is that any of the four on the field of battle can be switched out at any time with four who are in reserve. The player can even swap the whole team in one turn if so desired.

Each character offers a unique moveset and skill tree that gives access to powerful spells and abilities by choosing jobs and using items found throughout the campaign. However, I was disappointed to see that there was no option to switch jobs after picking one, and that each character could only choose from three of the twelve (total) jobs available. These limits do encourage replay, though — the same demi-gods can end the game with completely different team compositions on subsequent playthroughs.

Outside of battles is where the quality-of-life adds are most apparent. Players can save at any time and fast-travel points are generously strewn around the map. Characters heal HP and restore MP between battles and inside cities. There’s also a lot of reference material available in a journal for all monsters and items, although an explanation for the various stats of each character (there are ten) and what exactly they affect would be a welcome addition. I initially assumed I could guess what each did, but once I realized that the Strength stat can effect the power of magic spells, I wasn’t sure what was what.

While the combat side of Astria Ascending is pleasantly solid, I found the narrative side hard to get into due to a few fundamental issues.

My main issue was that Astria‘s eight characters have allegedly fought side-by-side for nearly three years by the time the adventure starts, yet they somehow know absolutely nothing about one another? They act as if they met just minutes before the story begins — they have no familiarity with each others’ families, backstories, or backgrounds other than what town they’re from.

Also, one of the recurring themes throughout the game is that there’s tension and a lack of understanding between the five humanoid races of the world — the human-like Meryo, fish-like Peyska, lion-like Arktan, bird-like Awisi, and lizard-like Zeft. While this setup is understandable, I find it hard to believe that this Cohort of demi-gods (an intentionally-diverse team who fight together side-by-side) have made no progress on their own prejudices in all the time they’ve supposedly been together. It’s jarring when these ‘protectors of peace’ state that members of another species are too stupid to understand what they’re saying or going through. I assume the plot is set at the end of their term in order to create a sense of urgency, but this premise only serves to undercut the characters themselves.

If one is able to put these narrative issues aside, Astria Ascending is a solid and beautiful J-inspired RPG with some noticeable (but ultimately minor) flaws. JRPG fans looking for a new world to sink dozens of hours into need look no further.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Artisan Studios and published by Dear Villagers. This game is available on PS4/5XBX/S, PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 52 hours of play was devoted to the single-player modes. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence and Suggestive Themes. The game features turn-based, non-realistic combat with no blood. Some heavy topics are dealt with including familial conflicts, war, and death.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. Text is not resizable or able to be altered. There are no audio cues needed for gameplay. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. A controller is currently needed to play on PC, with mouse/keyboard support coming in the future. For general gameplay, the control stick is used to move the character, the A button is used to select things, the B button is used to jump, and the right trigger is used for in-field powers. In battle, the control stick or d-pad is used to highlight options and the A button is used to select options.

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