Astria Ascending - PC Preview

Astria Ascending
by developer Artisan Studio and publisher Dear VillagersPC Preview written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Astria Ascending by Artisan Studio is an RPG that potentially has a lot to live up to with those involved in its creation. With veterans having worked on Final Fantasy, Bravely Default and Nier Automata, adding in the promise of a classic turn based JRPG feel with a mature and potentially emotional story is all that I needed to know in order to start diving into this magical world of demi-gods who’s clocks are ticking as power always comes at a price.

With the full content review still to come, this preview of Astria Ascending roughly covers about the first tenth of the entire experience (roughly six to eight hours depending on how much you do) and even then? It’s in great shape. Starting off with a brief introduction to the world that you find yourself in, you’ll be given your full cast up front each with their own quirks and personalities making them not only unique from a gameplay perspective, but also from a narrative one.

When it comes to JRPGs, getting the full cast from the very beginning can be interesting. It lets you know exactly who you’re dealing with instead of getting a character forty hours down the line and wondering how you’re going to integrate them into your party or strategy. Having them all from the beginning also allows a further building of bonds or conflicts all while adding a bit of mystery of how these people all get along.

With our cast assembled and only three months left to live, the 333 demi-god company could be found bantering in their suite of the tower they call home until the unprecedented happens. Beings known as noises which can generally be found outside of town causing problems are for the first time being found inside of the city walls causing discord within Harmonia. While not exactly a new premise to have things “yet to happen” just when they would be most inconvenient, it does act as the catalyst for the story setting off a chain of events that this world had yet to see, or at least yet to see over the last thousand years. I also liked the wording choices being used that noises are running the harmony of where our protagonists can be found. It adds easy to remember terms especially in a musical sense.

From here, the eight demi-gods are off on an adventure to protect those that they are sworn to and solve a mystery all while only having three months left to live. It’s an interesting premise as it lends to two different points of views. On one hand, you have those sworn to uphold their duty to the very end, and on the other, you have those who are annoyed that this had to happen so close to the end of their charge. Basically par for the course when it comes to pre-retirement. This also helps flesh out the characters' personalities and give you a better idea of who you’re potentially spending the next forty some odd hours with.

On that note, one thing that I really appreciated is that while some JRPG tropes are being upheld, they aren’t being followed to the letter. For example, there’s the classic wide range of character ages in the mix, but, these characters are all in the same boat as they are all, young and old, “done” once that clock strikes three years. There’s no, ok well we need X, Y, Z to properly follow the formula and maybe the younger ones get a sequel down line, so how are we going to put them all into the same bucket? Instead, the bucket is already there as part of the staging as all eight are demi-gods with a clock getting close to strike twelve.

Furthermore, channeling a little bit of Final Fantasy XII’s Ivalice, I liked Astria Ascending's range of character types from the humanoids to the lizardfolk and the cat people. Now I know what you’re potentially thinking, you’ve got a sexy cat lady on the team and well? You would be wrong! Instead, you’ve got this giant burly bearded feline, gruff as all hell who would probably just “lift” all while being your wizard. Yes, Dragnar is your spell caster and it made me happy that a few of your typical “of course they are” character types are instead ignored here. It’s refreshing and it helps channel the nostalgia without being bound to outdated formulas.

In regards to a bit of nostalgia, on top of the Final Fantasy vibes, there are a few nods to another Square “Enix” series that was worked on by Tri-Ace, Valkyrie Profile. Set in a 2D platforming world, there’s a bit of, not much, metroidvania-ness RPG dungeon crawling as you figure out some small puzzles and which doors in the dungeon lead to which rooms as you figure out your way forward. Adding to your arsenal is the ability to strike at your enemies in hopes of getting the upper hand on the opening initiative.

Now whether or not you get the upper hand at the start of combat, fans of both classic and recent JRPGs should easily be finding themselves at home. Split between four of your demi-gods to one side and numerous enemies to the other, each character has access to a basic attack or a set of skills that they've learnt through a skill tree. Adding in items and a feature known as focus, the tide of battle can easily go from one side to the other in a heartbeat.

For those familiar with the Bravely series, Default, Second, Default II, know that actions could essentially be stacked to get an upper hand. Channeling this concept, but not the defaulting, characters can use focus in order to maximize the power of their attack. 50%, 100%, 150% or 200% increases can be done to a character's action either blasting enemies where it hurts the most by targeting their weakness, or by healing your own party members in a pinch. Not quite as easy as using Brave or Default, focus is accumulated by hitting an enemy where it hurts so using a multi physical attack against a foe weak to it, will yield three to five extra focus, not just one.

Still on the subject of focus, as an extra layer you can also gain temporary points that will expire in a full turn from the point that a character concentrated in order to add it to the party’s reserve pool. This can be really useful when in a bind or if you have certain characters on the field that just don't meet the requirements in order to accumulate focus otherwise. It's a “nice to have”, but more often than not I found myself more occupied with either trying to either stay alive or simply finish off the enemy without having to waste a turn on a temporary measure unless it was really going to work in my favour.

Finally, there’s something that I really want to highlight about Astria Ascending's visual presentation. Hand drawn, 4K resolution graphics, from the individual character models to the backdrops and environmental effects like rain or sandstorms, everything was simply amazing to look at. Even more impressive is that most towns or city folk are also individually crafted so when walking by or running through its not just a repeat of what you've already seen short of a few of the soldiers guarding certain points.

If there are some things that I wish could be addressed, they would just about all be within the battle system. The first of these is that while things are pretty to look at, it’s slow and I wish, especially with some Bravely Default being channeled in, that it can be sped up to go a lot faster especially as boss fights can already take a fairly long time. On that note, and as previously mentioned, focus can be expended to deal loads of damage but unlike Bravely Default which its based off of, if and enemy has no real weakness it's hard to really stock up on it. Once you’re thrown into the negatives, you can’t even stock up on the temporary versions making things just unnecessarily tough.

Astria Ascending's other major issue is that enemies always seem to get so many more turns than you. Surprised for the fifth time? Even if you aren't, the initiative seems stacked against you, often allowing the four to six enemies to all get a hit, and then all get a second hit between all of your own characters. Even when you do finally get “a turn”? It’s spent switching out your downed party members for those in reserve hoping that they can at least get a turn before being downed themselves. It takes away from the enjoyment and even with some leveling up and grinding? It's not enough. 


Overall though, even with some of the adjustments that I'm hoping to see for the full release, Astria Ascending is in good shape. Amazing visuals, well written dialog and a classic battle system that's easy to get into (short of some adjustments on enemy initiative), I look forward to seeing the final version.

Score: N/A



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