Astria Ascending has a lot going for it. The hand-drawn art hooked me in and the ascension tree, focus points and puzzles kept me wanting more.
Astria Ascending is an upcoming hand-drawn turn-based JPRG developed by Artisan Studios and published by Dear Villagers. The game is coming to PC, Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and Game Pass on September 30, 2021. Thanks to Future Friends Games, I’ve been playing a preview build of the game and enjoying it on multiple facets. The art is incredibly detailed considering its hand drawn, and that’s both the background and the characters. The story is engrossing and the puzzles in the first chapters have been clever, taking some lateral thinking to solve. I haven’t played many JRPGs, but I can highly recommend this one.
In a world where chaos looms, players take control of the Demigods – a motley crew of eight heroes charged with the fate of the world of Orcanon. Each character has their own story with 20 possible classes to develop, explore across five cities, twenty-five dungeons, and thirty hours of gameplay (up to fifty for 100% of completion). Along with the finely tuned turn-based combat, players can try out a range of side quests and mini-games, including an original fantasy-themed token game called J-Ster which I need to get a lot better at, but is a fun thing to break up the combat.
Astria Ascending boasts contributions from world-class JRPG developers, with a narrative written by Kazushige Nojima (Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy VII Remake), score by Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy XII, Vagrant Story), and art from CyDesignation (Akihiko Yoshida and Hideo Minaba). I was immediately drawn into the hand-drawn graphics and all sorts of quirky and wonderful characters presented. You can learn about each character straight away, despite only controlling Ulan. Some characters have melee abilities, other have some magical ones, some can heal and so on. The voice acting was terrific with a bit of friendly banter amongst the group straight away.
I used a controller to play the game and controls start off simple. Being 2D, you only need to worry about moving left to right and interacting with characters or items with A. It’s not long before you’re given your first primary and secondary quests and pressing Right Stick will show you the quest log. After descending the elevator and boarding the train to fast travel between known locations, I arrived at Harmony Orchard to come across my first of three battles.
Combat is like any other turn-based game you’ve played with some additional features. Down the bottom of the screen, you have options for a standard attack, use an ability, guard for defence, focus to add one focus point for that turn, use an item such as a potion, swap position, or flee. If a character is getting targeted heavily, swapping position is a good option, even if they have been knocked out. Focus is one of the key additions to Astria Ascending however, where it makes all characters as efficient as they can be in every situation.
Have you ever been in a turn-based combat situation where you’re out of mana, you’re low on HP with death looming, and all you have left is your pitiful melee strike that you know has a high chance of being blocked or resisted by the enemy? Here you can spend Focus Points on an ability to make it worth using or use the Focus command to give up their turn to increase efficiency for another character. This is where combat gets really interesting in Astria Ascending, and it turned the tide of more than one battle in my preview sessions.
As an example, I was fighting against the first boss encounter in the game. One of my character’s had a light elemental damage ability which was doing huge damage to the boss but at high MP cost. I burnt their MP killing the boss, but then it respawned as a bigger beast with thousands more hitpoints. For a few turns I couldn’t use this ability until I remembered I could use a MP potion. By this time the boss only had a thousand HP left. I had built up 6 focus points for the team and used 4 of them on this character to get a 200% damage bonus. I used this light damage ability on the boss and crit hit it for 1.2K damage, killing it. To compare, my main character was hitting it with a melee attack for only 250 damage.
Later, I entered a dungeon area which is traversed the same, only this time there were some platforming elements to it, jumping up onto pipes to get onto higher platforms to flick switches which unlocked new areas or doors. In addition, if I pressed X as I got close to an enemy, I would gain a combat advantage over the monster team, attacking first. If they get to you first, they will have a turn of damage against you before you can retaliate, so positioning and timing is important. There’s also treasure chests you can loot for items.
You’ll earn currency, experience points and skill points after each battle, and eventually your party members will level up. This gives you an opportunity to add skill points into each character’s Ascension Tree which allows you to specialise each individual character how you’d like them to be. It’s essentially a node tree that requires stat orbs and skill points to unlock, and then you choose a specialty for that node. Some might add either HP or MP, while others might give you a choice of boosting one of four stat points. It’s a cool idea that will see players creating many different iterations of group builds that suits their playstyles.
Astria Ascending has a lot going for it. The hand-drawn art hooked me in and the ascension tree, focus points and puzzles kept me wanting more. It features five cities, twenty-five dungeons, and thirty hours of gameplay which can stretch to 50 if you 100% the game. I’m not normally into JRPG’s, but this is easy to play yet I can see it being challenging to master further into it. The turn-based combat has good versatility with the different classes you can create, and the focus points system adds a great dimension to the team’s combat strategies.
This preview utilised a Steam key provided by Future Friends Games. Astria Ascending will release on September 30, 2021 on PC, Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and Game Pass and I’m very much looking forward to playing more. Even if JRPG’s aren’t normally your thing, if you’re into turn-based combat games, definitely give this game a look.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis