Date: September 1, 2021
September 30 will see the release of the new JRPG Astria Ascending for all consoles and PC, which is being made by Artisan Studios, and they’ve hired an incredible team in creating the game. The screenwriting was done by Kazushige Nojima, who is responsible for the stories of Final Fantasy VII (original and remake) and Final Fantasy X. Hitoshi Sakimoto, who is known for Final Fantasy XII and Vagrant Story, is writing the music. The preview of the game goes through the first four chapters of the story, and so far it’s shaping up to be a pretty enjoyable game.
The game takes place in a world called Orcanon, where the Goddess of Harmony watches over the peace and happiness of the many races that live there. This is helped by everyone eating something known as harmelons (though how it does is not fully explained as of now), and the Demigods, who fight off the Noises. Demigods are eight chosen warriors who gain incredible power, but it only lasts for three years. Once the time is up, the warriors die, and a new set of people are chosen. The game puts you in the 333rd Demigod cycle, where the group is led by Ulan Merer.
The story introduces you to all eight Demigods at once, and almost immediately throws you into the conflict with the Noises. It’s revealed right away that your group is on its last three months of their duty as Demigods, and things that are out of the ordinary begin to happen. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t really go in-depth with the main characters, so you don’t get much of their personality and motivations early on. However, as you go to each of the characters’ hometowns, their backstory begins to open up while you’re there, so this may be resolved further into the game. The voice acting does leave a little bit to be desired, and long pauses in dialogue make some of the cutscenes feel awkward.
The game is played in 2D, and while you’re exploring areas and dungeons, you’ll have to do some light platforming as well. As you go through dungeons in the game, you will find tools that will help you navigate the area and solve puzzles. There are no random battles, but instead you can see Noises on the field, and you can run into them to fight, or jump over them if you don’t feel like battling them. You can even freeze them in place temporarily to avoid them easier.
While there is a map in the game, I didn’t find it very useful. It opens up as a scroll, and only vaguely tells you where doors and objectives are, as it doesn’t show any of the terrain in the area. Side Quests and Hunts are available to pick up in town, but you have no way of knowing if a character has a Side Quest for you until you talk to them. A couple of things that are nice about the exploration is that you can save anywhere, and that you can freely teleport to different areas whenever you feel a need to.
Where Astria Ascending really shines is in its combat system and highly customizable difficulty. The game features a turn based combat system, similar to classic JRPGs. In battle, you are able to swap party members at will, allowing you to change your setup and adjust to the enemy’s weakness as needed. There was even a boss fight near the end of the preview that changed its weakness mid battle, encouraging me to swap out certain members in order to not have my attacks resisted. Hopefully the full version of the game will have more bosses like this. My only issue with the turn based combat is that there is no UI to show you the turn order for everybody.
There is also a Focus system in battles, where you can gain Focus Points by hitting an enemy’s weakness, and use the points to increase the power of any ability (up to 200%). This system will also punish you for using attacks that the enemy will resist or absorb, as doing so will cause you to lose points. Enemies also get their own Focus Points with the same rules. While exploring outside of towns, you will rapidly gain HP out of battle, and in town you’ll recover MP as well.
Each character has a Base Job which gives them access to their own unique set of abilities. For example, Ulan focuses on defensive abilities with some healing as she’s a Captain, while Dagmar uses elemental magic to focus on dealing damage to the enemies. Each character also gets an Ascension Tree, where you use SP (points earned in battle) to give your character new abilities and stat upgrades. When upgrading stats, you can choose which stat you want to increase in each stat node, allowing you to build each character to better suit your playstyle and strategies.
After making some progress in the game, you are given access to Main Jobs for each character. This allows you to pick one of three jobs for each character, with each one having its own Ascension Tree. While they were not unlocked in the preview, there are even Sub Jobs and Support Jobs that you can unlock. All of this means you have a lot of free reign on how you want to build your characters, and will probably encourage multiple playthroughs to try different combinations.
There are many difficulty options available in the game, allowing you to play the game exactly how you want. You can change things like the general difficulty of the game and if you can see the enemies’ weaknesses automatically, but you can even change things like how much EXP/SP members outside of your main party gain, whether enemies respawn in dungeons, and you can even turn off EXP/SP gain entirely. All of these options are able to be changed at any point of the game, so if you feel the game starting to become too easy or hard, you can quickly change one or more of the many difficulty options.
So far Astria Ascending looks like it could be a great JRPG with its complex and customizable combat system. The overall story has been interesting up to this point, and hopefully the full game will expand on the individual characters and their relationship with one another more.