Astria Ascending is a classic JRPG that’s a little too traditional

This past week, I was able to explore a new world in the upcoming Japanese role-playing game Astria Ascending from developer Artisan Studios. Astria Ascending immediately caught my attention once I read who was involved with the project. Kazushige Nojima of Final Fantasy VII, FF VII Remake, and FF X fame, plus Hitoshi Sakimoto, composer of FF 12‘s score, as well as others, all have a hand in crafting what I hoped would be an amazing new entry for the genre. What I’ve found so far, instead, is a relatively competent JRPG that just couldn’t really capture and hold my interest, even with some welcome changes to the genre.

Party of five

Astria Ascending takes place in the land of Harmonia, which has eight demi-gods protecting its five cities. We meet these heroes in the middle of a new crisis plaguing the land that involves invading monsters called “Noises” attacking the kingdom.

Speaking of the kingdom, Astria Ascending is a beautiful game, with an art style that reminds me of Vanillaware titles like Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown. Much like those games, Astria‘s visuals are hand-drawn and do a great job of catching your eye with simply amazing designs. That extends to the characters you control throughout the adventure, the demi-gods.

These eight demi-gods are one of the main attractions of Astria Ascending, each of whom has their own stories that are explored throughout “five cities, 25 dungeons, and 30 hours of gameplay.” Unlike other JRPGs, you don’t meet these characters one by one throughout your travels; you’ll have them in your party from the beginning.

That’s a welcome change of pace for the genre. Having all the characters along for the ride from the get-go presents tons of opportunities for character banter. It also eliminates the problem of earlier party members being stronger than new ones that can be so prominent in other JRPGS.

Battle tweaks

Battles are yet another area where Astria brings new ideas to the table. Before the actual battle, you have plenty of options to preemptively attack or completely avoid the Noises you’ll encounter. Upon running into one of these creatures, you have the option of getting the first swing in by attacking to start the actual battle. Doing so gives you a better chance of getting the first attack when the true fight begins. Should the opposite happen, or a Noise attack you from behind to start the brawl, your opponent will always get the first swing.

One thing that I liked was the ability to easily skip encounters, should you not be up to the task at that point. You are given a ring that can freeze Noises, allowing you to simply get around them and continue on your adventure.

Getting to the actual battles, you’ll find that it’s your standard JRPG affair with a few new caveats. First, there’s the ability to swap between the eight characters of your party at will throughout the turn-based combat. This brings in new strategies and tons of creativity when it comes to handling different situations, as each character has their own strengths, weaknesses, and unique skills. You have to keep a check on these attributes as enemies have them as well, which means swapping out characters to directly counter them is a must if you’re going to quickly wipe the floor with foes.

To further push the idea of no party member being useless, Astria Ascending introduces another new mechanic of “focus points,” or FP. Instead of attacking during a turn, a character can charge their focus and deal more damage. Their damage will increase 50% with every focus charge, which can be done up to four times. You can get more focus points by hitting an enemy with their weakness. It’s a nice “risk versus reward mechanic” and a good solution to the “bad party member” problem.

Par for the course

Beyond these few innovations, Astria Ascending‘s battles are a pretty rote affair. I didn’t find anything too offensive nor exciting throughout — and that is what I think is the game’s biggest problem.

Despite looking to be an innovator in the JRPG realm, Astria is a game that couldn’t really hold my attention for too long. What I played so far isn’t bad by any means, but I didn’t see a reason why I’d pick this over any better titles of the genre.

The battles are rather average, exploration is cut-and-dried, and the story, ironically, feels like a standard JRPG affair. I just couldn’t find anything too remarkable to make me think that this game was worth investing hours into given its current state. There are a lot of great concepts here that could be further fleshed out, including the story, which has potential. I’m just not sure it can stand out among a crowded field of successful modern-classic JRPGs like Octopath Traveler or more innovative upcoming titles like Tales of Arise.

However, I do think that Astria Ascending has a ton of potential to push those new ideas and grow into something great. I love the visuals, the pacing, and the battle ideas presented. Even if it hits familiar beats, Astria is worth keeping an eye on for fans of the genre.

Astria Ascending releases September 30 for PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, and Nintendo Switch.

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