Take control of eight Demi-gods in new side-scrolling JRPG Astria Ascending.
Despite its beautiful art-style and score, and considerable character customisation, my initial impressions of Astria Ascending are lukewarm. While pre-release footage had me intrigued, the preview did not live up to this initial interest, as Astria Ascending's narrative pacing feels too fast - admittedly the plot itself is still largely absent - and it has rather stale combat. The aesthetics are, luckily, still the best and most striking feature of the game, utilising a hand-drawn style with colour and flair.
Performance-wise, on PC, I faced a number of auditory stutters, some lag after transitioning areas, and delay when changing turns in combat. Because of it being pre-release, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, as these things are likely to be ironed out by launch.
Astria Ascending has you play as eight Demi-gods, heroes who are destined to save the world but know they will only live for three months. The world of Orcanon has been pacified by the use of harmelon, a fruit which united its races and nations, but is now under threat by the Noises, who are monsters, basically. The former idea paves the way for some interesting exploration of character and theme, hinted at in pre-release material as a 'tale of fate and sacrifice', but as of the preview, there is little known as to what this will entail. The eight Demi-gods have fantastic designs and are fairly distinct, though their voice acting is questionable, as is the voice acting of all the NPCs I've seen so far.
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However, my initial thoughts are that the pacing is not controlled enough. This could of course change, and I hope it does, but you are given free reign of the eight characters from the beginning, which can become confusing. Many of the characters' starter abilities are similar to others, so there seems no significant differentiation - not just yet anyway. Granted, each character can take on a main, support, and sub job, each with its own unique constellation-structured skill tree. This allows for a great amount of customisation, though there wasn't much apparent in the preview.
The world itself appears to be pretty large. Though I only experienced a small variety of the locations on offer, including a sewer and a swamp, I am confident there will be a generous selection, telling from the map. Each environment I explored was generally linear, with chests found throughout and simple puzzles. Each looks unique, with the art-style beautifully capturing tone and colour, and each is populated by a solid arrangement of enemies.
This art-style is ultimately the main draw of the game, with its hand-drawn style giving the scenes an appropriate level of depth and an attractive amount of colour and flair. Alongside this, the game's score is typical JRPG fare, which is to say, a lovingly composed orchestration. These provide a great foundation for the development of the other features in the final release.
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Combat itself was somewhat disappointing. Granted, beginning abilities are likely to get more engaging and complex as the game progresses, but there was not enough variation to keep me interested. Bosses also had too much health with the ability to recover repeatedly, and with not enough options to take them on, I was left pressing the same buttons over and over.
Another little feature is the minigame J-Ster, which seemed like window-dressing to me, but something that might be of interest to some players. Gameplay sees you place tokens on the board adjacent to your opponent's in order to flip them to your team. My few tries led to failure, but I could see that by collecting new tokens - which I assume you can do in the full game- you could increase your odds of winning.
Ultimately, I am hesitant about Astria Ascending, but I have hope that with some more polish, likely post-release with only a month left until launch, the game will be worth a purchase. The performance issues were minor, while the aesthetic is a major attraction, so I will still be keeping my eye on the game until release.