Artisan Studio is a French and Canadian developer specializing in 2D RPG games. The studio’s first project is the Super Neptune RPG, which is a 2D entry in the Neptune series. Now it is back with a new adventure, Astria Ascending.
On the surface, Astria Ascending attracted me with its wonderful hand-painted art style. In an era when more and more games, especially Japanese-style RPGs are using full 3D, having different appearances can help games stand out from the crowd. 2D art evokes familiarity with vanilla games such as Odin Sphere or Dragon’s Crown. The colors are clear and the background looks very clear. Unfortunately, the fascinating art style cannot save the tedious experience of the game.
What happened to Okanon?
Astria Ascending takes place in Orcanon, where a group of eight people called demigods protects Harmony, a kind of peace agreement between different races in the game. In order to maintain the peace agreement, the Orcanon race eats Harmelons, which inhibits certain abilities. The demigods gained tremendous power and ability to fight hostile creatures called noise, but in exchange, they could only live for another three years before another group appeared and did the same thing.
There are some interesting concepts and themes, such as rebellion and free will, but the story eventually becomes very boring. The game throws a lot of proper terms to the player, such as “harmony”, “chaos” and “disharmony”; it’s too much at once, and it’s implemented like some general JRPG 101 textbooks.
Racism is also an important theme in the game, but it does not deal with it well. One of the demigods, Eko, is a member of a fish-like race called Peyskas. In the early stages of the game, the Pescas family suffered an unfortunate incident, and Eco was very upset about it. However, even the main actors are strangely mutually racist. Some of them even laughed at Eko, thinking like Peyskas is stupid or untrustworthy.
And should I believe that these eight selected demigods should save the world? There is no real friendship between them, and they are all introduced at the beginning of the game in a way of quick shooting and speed dating. There are plenty of side quests and background stories to help expand the history of world architecture and main actors until becoming a demigod, which is commendable. But this does not change the fact that the character is so unflattering.
To make matters worse, English dubbing is the most painful average I have heard in a long time. All the lines in the boring script are plain. The cutscenes are embarrassing because it feels like none of the characters are really “talking” to each other-the dialogue is not smooth. On the other hand, Japanese dubbing sounds pretty good in comparison. Over the past ten years, English dubbing has improved a lot, and it’s incredible to hear how bad things are here.
Unfortunately, because Astria Ascending’s English voice actors have many new talents and names that I don’t know. They are not the typical voice actors you hear in most JRPGs now. However, you can definitely notice the amateur quality of the dubbing, and it seems that this game may be the first eye-catching performance of many actors.
Take a page from the classics
Astria Ascending draws a lot of inspiration from the classic JRPG, which is most evident in its combat system. This is a simple turn-based event. The turning point here is that if you hit the enemy’s elemental weakness, you can get focus points or FP. Its working principle is somewhat similar to Bravely Default’s BP mechanism. Except in that game, BP is used to allow a unit to perform continuous actions in a given round.
Here, consuming FP allows you to increase the effect of a single action, such as increasing the damage of a spell. You can also skip a party member’s round to add it to the available FP pool, but it should be noted that when the member’s next round comes, a unit’s FP will disappear. This is a good feature, it adds some nuances to the combat system, but compared with Persona’s One More mechanism, it does not necessarily make the battle smoother.
The combat system also has a large number of status effects. There are positive factors such as Regen (HP recovery per round), Courage (increased attack power) and Spirit (increased magic power). There are also negatives, such as poison, dizziness, and confusion. Between different elements and weaknesses, and between status effects and debuffs, tracking everything can be overwhelming.
Winning the battle can also get skill points or SP, you can use it to let your team members learn new skills and abilities or increase statistics. The ascension tree, arranged like stars, is very broad. Each of your party members has a basic job, such as a soldier or a scholar. Then, you can apply the main work to them, such as Guardian or Black Mage, for more customizability. Each member will also get a side job, in which they can’t learn any abilities from the selected course, but can only get corresponding attribute enhancements.
Whether players find these systems “interesting” depends entirely on their type of player. They attract the kind of meticulous statistical minimums that like to optimize party members. Because the game’s turn-based combat is extremely simple, many of these mechanics add a lot of complexity rather than depth.
Throughout the game, you will encounter different elemental rings that give the power to solve dungeon puzzles. For example, a fire ring can burn obstacles, and a gas ring can push objects. The puzzles are not very difficult, but they are challenging enough to make you feel satisfied after solving them. Seeing the puzzles in JRPG is a bit refreshing, because many larger puzzles have basically abandoned them in favor of corridors and large open spaces, and endless battles.
One aspect I really like about Astria Ascending is its soundtrack, composed by Hitoshi Sakamoto, who also participated in the production of Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics. The main hub, Harmonia Town, has a very soothing angel theme playing in the background. The battle theme will also get you up to beat the noise.
With so many other incredible JRPGs released in 2021, it is difficult to recommend Astria Ascending. It does have a very beautiful artistic style that will attract most players initially. The combat system and customization options can be pleasant to fiddle with, but the boring story and unpleasant characters really make the whole experience in trouble.
Disclaimer: Tested on PC, with a copy of the game provided by the publisher. It can also be used on Xbox One, Series X|S, PS4, PS5 and PC. It was also part of Xbox Game Pass when it was released.