Astria Ascending is a turn-based RPG with an all-star dev team that have worked on fan favourites such as Final Fantasy, Nier Automata and Bravely Default. Developed by Artisan Studios and published by Dear Villagers, the game has alluring hand-drawn artwork, lots of class customisation and even mini games to give you many hours of gameplay.
Set in the world of Orcanon, the story follows a group of demi-gods who have accepted great power in exchange for a short life span. They travel around defeating enemies known as Noises, these are the creatures that plague the society of Harmonia. While the narrative claims that there is peace among the races, even the demi-gods themselves do not seem to get along so well, adding an odd tension in the air from the get-go.
Astria Ascending is a 2D side scrolling game and while the levels are fairly simple to navigate, there are puzzles along the way to keep you on your toes. With quite a lot of separate sections to each zone, it would have been nicer for players if these were more seamless with less loading screens. Although the world map functions quite well and lets you jump to previously visited areas, there is little need to double back through areas, unless you want to grind for experience points and items. If you are struggling with a boss, or are a veteran that can take a beating, then you’ll be happy to know that the difficulty can be switched at whim.
You will start with a full roster of characters, all fully-voice acted in either English or Japanese, each with different classes that should be familiar if you are fan of the role-playing genre. Each of their abilities and stats can be upgraded via the Ascension Tree option in the main menu. It’s a little reminiscent of the system from Final Fantasy X, where you unlock nodes along a track. Personally, I would have preferred an option to have these auto unlock, however, I am aware that some players really love to min/max and choose what to acquire first.
The characters and backgrounds have a painterly style and look as though they’ve just popped out of a sketchbook to help make up this beautiful fantasy themed world. The designs for different areas of the city are quite unique; from aquatics to tree dwellers, each race has their own themed biome to live in. So far, the Peyska city of Vetira is my favourite, with its aqua tones and an eerie bioluminescence. I was in awe of its otherworldly beauty. The designs of the main races and the monsters range from curvy catgirls to downright bizarre tree creatures. There is so much delicately drawn detail to admire.
There is a mini game within Astria Ascending that allows you to collect monster tokens and battle against the people around town. ‘J-Ster‘ is a little similar to ‘Triple Triad’ from Final Fantasy XIV and Final Fantasy VIII, where you will have to beat a number on the adjacent enemy’s tokens in order to flip them. These tokens can be found by using the Arpajo’s Token Transform ability on monsters while in dungeons. It does have a low success rate though, so you will have to be persistent in order to collect them all. The tokens you start out with are quite weak, so there is definitely incentive to grind for better ones, especially if you are serious about challenging NPCs to J-Ster wherever you go!
Overall, Astria Ascending is a unique, mature, emotional JRPG that is heavily influenced and inspired by Final Fantasy. The hand-drawn art style however, visually sets the game apart, giving it a special kind of charm which makes you feel immersed, nostalgic and longing to know more. Astria Ascending is a treat for gamers that love the mechanic and style of classic turn-based RPGs and are happy to spend hours uncovering an intriguing story, while building their characters stronger to meet the next challenge.
Astria Ascending is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S and PC.
A copy of this game was provided on Nintendo Switch for the purpose of this review.