Astria Ascending Is A "Mature JRPG?"
Before I begin the official "First Take" of Astria Ascending, I wanted to express my confusion in what the game decided to provide emphasis towards. The game describes itself, according to the cover, as a "mature, emotional JRPG." That in itself is fine until you read further that it's "based around adult characters" which entails a "more mature" experience. This raised an eyebrow for several reasons as games centered around adolescence are often the most "mature" games out there.
An example of a JRPG centered around teenagers with a "mature" experience that I was first introduced to would be Final Fantasy 12. Compared to other Final Fantasy titles, this game centered around "betrayal, sacrifice, and terrors," three words that Astria claims it has. The central characters all range from various age groups from the late teens to grown adults. Ironically, some of its pivotal characters are the younger ones. Perhaps the game means the art style and aesthetics as "mature," which is expected considering who worked on the game.
Perhaps It's A Final Of Any Other Fantasy?
Ironically, as I bring up FF12, its composer Hitoshi Sakimoto and Final Fantasy 7's scenario writer Kazushige Nojima both worked on Astria Ascending. Perhaps a game containing renowned staff members of their stature can indeed put their money where their mouth is. Is Astria the mature JRPG that serious coffee drinkers who enjoy their brew without milk and sugar enjoy? Or is it just a patronizing mess that oversells itself?
From the first hour of gameplay, consisting of roughly the first dungeon, Astria Ascending shows a lot of promise. The player controls a party of 8 Demi-Gods, with the leader a knight named Ulan. Each member offers a unique role to the party, consisting of a thief, cleric, mage, summoner, and hybrid damage dealers. Even the designs of the party members are unique ranging from fishmen, dragon-kins, and bird creatures. Astria Ascending has an ensemble cast and it's made apparent from the first five minutes.
Astria Ascending Takes Cues From Many Different Titles
When a game consists of staff members who have worked on Nier Automata, Bravely Default, and Final Fantasy, it's expected there be a blend of genres. As expected, Astria Ascending has the 2.5D gameplay of Bravely Default, although the art style reminded me of Dragon Crown. Each party member is drawn and animated with beautiful details. This translates well with the NPCs as they consist of races not included in the party. While in a dungeon, Ulan can jump, interact with chests, and platforms to gain a vantage point. There are puzzles to solve which began as simple as "light switches to open a door."
Like in most games of this nature, Astria allows players to attack enemies beforehand for a preemptive strike. Players control four members of their party at any given time while taking advantage of enemy weakness. If the player is successful in taking advantage of the enemy's weakness, they will gain "Focus Points." These "Focus Points" can be spent by any party member to amplify damage up to 200%, giving hints of Bravely Default's "Brave" and "Default" systems.
Focus Is Everything In Astria Ascending.
The "Focus" system is a double-edged sword as enemies can take advantage of the same mechanic. Depending on what the player is wearing, they may open themselves up to the enemy's strength, granting them the same advantages. What's even worse is that the player can put themselves at a disadvantage should they guess the enemy's weakness wrong.
At "best," the player will lose a point for attacking an enemy's resistance. At the absolute worst, the wrong element can cause the enemy to absorb the damage, causing the party to lose 3 points. As the game takes advantage of keeping up Focus Points to deal as much damage as possible, any disadvantage of this nature may cost entire fights.
While I didn't get bombarded with exposition, there is a story in Astria Ascending though it reminded me of older Final Fantasy titles. The ones where "A group of X number of party members bands together for a common foe" yet help those in need. It's honest and it doesn't take away from the game's aesthetics. I don't agree with the game being a "mature JRPG," as it's advertised. I've seen similar premises in games that are "geared towards all adults." While Astria Ascending has the makings of a good sleeper JRPG, it doesn't necessarily reinvent the wheel. Instead of going for labels, let the game speak for itself.
Astria Ascending is available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Switch