Astonishia Story Review
Astonishing It Ain’t
For one of the first strategy RPGs for the PSP, Astonishia Story is neither groundbreaking, nor really that interesting. That being said, its quirky moments might appeal to some players, and this review is written for those few.
The player takes the role of Lloyd, a knight. While on a mission to escort a holy artifact from Point A to B, Lloyd’s caravan is ambushed by a troupe of elves. The elves carry off the artifact, leaving Lloyd armorless, masterless, and filled with a strong desire to fulfill his duty by recovering the item, a task that will take him the entire game to complete.
Like most typical RPGs, Lloyd’s quest is filled with a ton of things that he must do that have nothing at all to do with his main quest. In fact, the main quest is often not really the focus of what is happening, and, because of this, the player will often feel disconnected from the real goal and will rarely really care about what is happening to poor Lloyd. This, coupled with the fact that Lloyd has as much personality as a wet paper bag filled with potatoes, doesn’t really help to draw the player into the story.
With the story being as lackluster as it is, the characters must be the saving grace, right? Wrong. There are many characters that come and join Lloyd throughout the adventure (up to seven at a time, all of which can be used in every battle). They are all very simple and not very well defined. In fact, almost every single RPG character archetype is presented here. There is very little character development, with most characters not growing at all from their experiences.
Astonishia Story suffers from a very poor and wordy translation. While not as bad as the one seen in the first Legend of Heroes game, serious lines of dialogue are sure to prompt a few chuckles from the player. As said earlier, the game features a quirky sense of humor. Some interactions between the characters are really funny, but are overdone. Some of the funnier moments occur when the characters break the fourth wall, especially when they are dealing with the anti-software piracy program that inhabits the game.
Lloyd and his group come together under a common cause, regardless of how valid a reason they have. Some come because they have nowhere else to go, some come to get revenge, and one even comes because he is afraid to go home to his wife. There is no character customization apart from equipment. All the characters have unique specializations, and they learn more spells and skills as they level up.
Astonishia Story plays like a regular RPG in that the party must explore dungeons and overworld areas. On the overworld, enemies are seen wandering and can be encountered by running into them. In dungeons, the party will face regular random encounters. Unlike standard RPGs, battles in Astonishia Story play like those in strategy RPGs, albeit at a much quicker pace. Enemies toward the end of the game are all immune to attacks of certain kinds (elements, slashing, etc), so planning is necessary to overcome some encounters. The strategic battles are as basic as they come–there are few advantages for flanking, absolutely no terrain advantages, and they tend to be rather boring.
The game suffers from some serious flaws when it comes to its difficulty. The multitude of random encounters is always deadly and can leave the party in dire straits after just one battle. Individual enemies hit extremely hard and can often knock out a hero in a hit or two. Enemy spellcasters are numerous and often have large area effect spells that can devastate even well-armed characters, as upgraded equipment doesn’t really help as much as it should. To compensate, the player must spend many hours grinding to power up the party, often by going all-out on overworld enemies and returning to town to rest in between each. The experience system is seriously flawed, as the player will often need to win twenty or more fights against extremely nasty enemies to get a single level up.
Compared to other games, level ups are much more necessary to cope with the difficulty. There is also a serious lack of money which leads to the party rarely having consumable healing items to use when deep in dungeons. To make the game even harder, there are a few bosses that can devastate the party in mere moments with area spells. Even having the ability to save anywhere is unable to curb the difficulty found in the game.
The controls in the game are standard sRPG fare, and should be familiar to anyone who has played RPGs before. The menus on the other hand are not that intuitive, and can lead the player to entering/exiting single menus quite often. Using skills and items outside of battle can be quite annoying due to the number of button presses necessary to get to them.
Graphically, Astonishia Story is a very detailed game. Birds soar through the skies, items litter the ground, and the shadows are well done. The majority of the character sprites are boring however, the different areas are all monotonous and repetitive, and the spell effects don’t look as good as they could have. Some of the battle animations are very well animated, though. All the details in the explorable areas can lead the player to getting stuck between items and NPCs which is never a good thing to happen. Also, the game suffers from a huge amount of slowdown and hitching. In fact, the game freezes almost every time that a skill or spell is used, when enemies are defeated, and randomly during cutscenes.
The music in the game reminds of old school tunes from the Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy series, but never really attains the quality of either. The sound effects are standard fare, and there is no voice acting at all, which could be for the better. Voice acting could have hardly improved the experience, but it could have worsened it considerably.
All in all, Astonishia Story is a terrible game with a few fun moments. There is nothing much here in terms of story, characters, or complexity in the battle system. The difficulty is high, but only because of the steep level curve, the extreme damage dealt by even regular enemies, and the high price of goods. The game suffers from considerable performance issues, lack of direction, and a story that fails to draw the player in. The few moments of quirkiness are hardly worth trekking through the rest of the crap found in this game. The player can only hope that Astonishia Story 2 turns out to be better, as it looks oh so very cool.