The Nintendo Switch has become my ‘go to’ RPG machine over the last few years, with a wealth of both new and old releases in the genre seeing plenty of hours of playtime thanks to the convenience of being able to play on the go. Whilst re-visiting classics in the Final Fantasy series and playing through new releases in established franchises such as Bravely Default has been a treat though, it’s some of the lesser-known titles that have often caught my attention the most. Astria Ascending, the new release from developer Artisan Studios, is the latest example of that, with its beautiful visuals catching my attention almost immediately.
Still, it’s all well and good to look pretty, but how does the gameplay hold up over its forty-plus hour adventure?
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
The game tells the story of Orcanon, a world that finds itself in a peaceful state known as Harmony thanks to a magical fruit known as Harmelon that appeases vicious tendencies. It’s also protected by eight powerful demi-gods, with a representative in place from each of the races of the world. This comes at a cost though; whilst demi-gods have powers beyond the average person, they’re cursed to die in three years and be replaced by a new set of demi-gods. Heck of a price to pay, right?
Whilst they protect the peace and ensure that those that would threaten Orcanon are dealt with, there’s an underlying feeling that something could go wrong at any time. Well, after a few little twists-and-turns, chaos does start to run rife in the world, sending the demi-gods on a journey that won’t only determine the fate or Orcanon, but also for themselves.
Astria Ascending’s narrative is fine. It’s your typical fantasy RPG fare with your standard cast of colourful protagonists and villainous foes, whilst there’s plenty of lore found across the expansive world to flesh events out. It did more than enough to keep me intrigued right until the end, so the storytelling hit the mark as far as RPGs are concerned.
However, I couldn’t help but to feel a little overwhelmed by the tale when starting out. The player will be pretty clueless to the setting and its characters to begin with, with very little done to go into depth about what’s going on in the world, the finer points of each locale, or the characters you play as. I just feel like the introductory hour or so could have offered a bit more just to make me feel more invested in the world.
“Most RPGs drip-feed their characters to the player throughout the adventure as a means to give their introduction more meaning, but not Astria Ascending; you’re given your full party and just got to roll with it. “
There’s a large party on offer right from the start too, with eight characters available to play as. Most RPGs drip-feed their characters to the player throughout the adventure as a means to give their introduction more meaning, but not Astria Ascending; you’re given your full party and just got to roll with it. Whilst the game does give some details about them initially and you’ll start to care more about them as you learn about their personal stories and relationships, it did feel a bit overwhelming to begin with and meant it took me that bit longer to bond with the playable cast.
Everything takes place across a 2D plane, which is unconventional for an RPG but works really well here. It helps that the visuals in Astria Ascending looks so good though, with the world packed with beautiful hand-drawn sights that are bursting with colour and personality. I was in awe of just about everything I came across, whether it’s with the cities I explored, the enemies I faced off against, or the character animations when inflicting attacks upon enemies. It’s just stunning, with everything looking sublime in motion.
It also lends itself well to exploration, with the puzzling and dungeon design working well in a 2D form. You will almost feel like you’re playing a 2D action-adventure at times, albeit with less of an emphasis placed on complex platforming and more on solving some simple puzzles or finding hidden loot. I liked it a lot more than I expected to, and it shows that there are still ways for RPGs to surprise me – it’s certainly something I’d like to see done again.
“I was in awe of just about everything I came across, whether it’s with the cities I explored, the enemies I faced off against, or the character animations when inflicting attacks upon enemies.”
There are plenty of side quests and mini-games which flesh out the experience, whilst there’s also a card game in place that sees you competing with NPCs to try and win their cards. It’s no Triple Triad (my favourite card game of all time), but it was a fun little extra that I found myself addicted to early on in the game. Gotta get all those cards, right? It shows that the developer really took the time to give players plenty to do, with Astria Ascending certainly having a lot of meat on its bones.
Of course, most of your time in the game will be spent battling, so how does that hold up? Everything is turn-based, with your party and enemies each taking it in turns to hit attacks and use abilities to rough each other up. Each party member has different strengths that you can use to adopt different strategies in battle, whilst enemies have weaknesses you can try to exploit. It’s your typical turn-based battling for the most part, so RPG veterans should feel at home.
One thing that does spice up battling is the Focus system, which rewards the player with Focus Points that can be used to buff up attacks. Players earn extra Focus Points by attacking each enemy’s weakness, which adds a satisfying strategic element to each showdown where it’s advantageous to try and take out enemies where it hurts the most. On the flipside, if an enemy inflicts an attack you’re weak to or if they resist your attack, you’ll lose Focus Points. It’s a neat little mechanic that adds a bit more nuance to combat outside of simply taking turns and unleashing your hardest hitting attacks, with those that think a bit carefully about how to handle each encounter rewarded the most.
“There are plenty of side quests and mini-games which flesh out the experience, whilst there’s also a card game in place that sees you competing with NPCs to try and win their cards.”
My only real issue with the combat was that some battles could be really drawn out. Some enemies had abilities that could hinder the player for a short while, meaning they can inflict attacks upon you but not vice versa. Whilst this rarely caused any deaths, it was annoying just to sit there and have to wait to attack. There were some enemies that just seemed to have an unnecessarily high amount of HP too, which just meant battles dragged on with little challenge in return. Whilst enemies in the game looked great, there was a real inconsistency in how fun they could actually be to take on.
Outside of battling, players are given plenty of flexibility with levelling up their characters thanks to their robust skill trees, with additional stat points and new abilities on offer as you progress. There’s so much room for flexibility thanks to the branching paths found in the skill tree, which will be music to the ears of RPG purists but perhaps a little intimidating for newbies to the genre. Thankfully, Astria Ascending is pretty clear in lying out the strengths and weaknesses of each party member, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep them on the right path.
“One thing that does spice up battling is the Focus system, which rewards the player with Focus Points that can be used to buff up attacks. Players earn extra Focus Points by attacking each enemy’s weakness, which adds a satisfying strategic element to each showdown where it’s advantageous to try and take out enemies where it hurts the most.”
Whilst Astria Ascending looks fantastic on the Nintendo Switch, it is guilty of having some really long load times. Just about everything seems to have a lengthy load sequence, with the most obvious being when players move between areas, which takes over ten seconds on a regular basis. It’d be something if you were moving between vast areas, but this would occur when simply switching between screens in the same locale.
Other than that, it all runs pretty well, both in the Nintendo Switch’s handheld and docked modes. You will lose a few little visual details when playing handheld, but that’s because you’re playing on a smaller screen as opposed to it being a technical restraint. Those playing on the Nintendo Switch OLED will be particularly impressed, with the vivid colours of the screen making Astria Ascending’s sublime art pop out even more… it’s the best way to experience the game, in my opinion.
I do have to mention that I had a couple of crashes occur when playing though, sometimes for no real reason. It crashed when in battle, it crashed when exploring, and one time it didn’t leave the load screen – it’s clear there are some imperfections. Luckily, I never lost a whole lot of progress during these moments and there were only a handful over my playtime (which was over forty hours), but it’s a shame that some of these issues occurred in the first place.
Astria Ascending Review
Astria Ascending is a stunning RPG that blends together traditional gameplay with some neat new ideas, and for the most part it works. I enjoyed the 2D presentation, the battling is mostly fun, whilst a lot of the side tasks that flesh out the world are enjoyable (with the exception of some of the repetitive side quests). It looks outstanding too, with the hand-drawn visuals certainly proving to be the high point of the experience.
It was just a little bit difficult to invest myself in the world from the get-go, with the lack of information and overwhelming party size making Astria Ascending a slow burner. The long load times don’t help either, nor do the battles that take a LOT longer than they need to.
Still, whilst flawed, there’s certainly more good than bad in Astria Ascending. It’s an RPG that tries to do something different whilst still feeling traditional in design, and more often than not, it manages to succeed.
Developer: Artisan Studios
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC