Review by Iyamtebist
Reviewed: 10/01/13 | Updated: 01/24/14
Astonishingly good? bad? Actually both.
Astonishia Story is a game that definitely lives up to its name, but not for the reason one would assume. It is not astonishing in the sense that has such great quality that it leaves its audience breathless and impressed, nor is it astonishing in the sense that it is so horribly made that it baffles people how bad it could be. Astonishia Story is simply astonishing in that it is such an unusual experience that it leaves one surprised at how difficult it is to wrap ones head around it. The game in general is one that felt just plain weird, and while it is certainly not the best RPG I played, it is definitely one of the most unique.
Astonishia Storys Astonishing Story
Astonishia Story is a game that has what is a horribly disjointed and confusing plot to follow with several scenes that just makes no sense. Throughout the game, there are many scenes and issues that are brought up at one point and never mentioned again in the course of the game. An example of this is that after one of the sub villains in the game is killed, he says that he placed a curse on one of the main characters with his dying breath. Now the character that was cursed obviously shows some concern regarding what happens but the rest of the party decides it is nothing to worry about as is usual with a lot of JRPGs. Normally this is obviously setting up a plot point for later, but in Astonishia Story, it is not so much as even acknowledged for the rest of the game. This is not the only example and it is not even the worst. It even gets bad enough that, at one point, the game contradicts itself in the same scene.
Now I have acknowledged that Astonishia Storys plot is about as well thought out and constructed as Tommy Wiseas The Room, yet strangely enough the story is still entertaining in its own right. While the game is basically nothing more than a hodgepodge of random plot elements that make no sense when you look at the full picture, they are still rather entertaining when you look at them individually. Granted it also helps that the characters themselves are likable and somewhat interesting, but what adds to that more is the games sense of humor.
Astonishia Story is mostly serious in terms of plot, yet at times it has some humor that comes completely out of left field. For example, within the first hour of the game you see your main character Lloyd have a precious sword stolen from him and his platoon of soldiers massacred by our games main antagonist. This of course sets up Lloyds main quest to retrieve the legendary macguffin sword without his king finding out about his failure to keep it safe. It seems like an ordinary plot at first but shortly afterwards Lloyd and his remaining troops are stopped by what seems to be the developer Sonnoris mascot. The mascot then breaks the forth wall to ask the player to put in an entry code to make sure you are not playing a pirated copy, to which Lloyd responds by telling him that this particular practice has been out of date for years. Something like is what one would expect to see out of a Monty Python movie, and it came so far out of left field that I was surprised the game did not end up with Lloyd getting arrested by the king before fighting the final boss. The fact that there is a contrast between this between this and a poorly told yet still somewhat entertaining plot line gives Astonishia Story its unique charm that is highly unlikely to turn up in any other game.
Not So Astonishing Presentation
The intro to the game certainly is misleading in this aspect in that it is very high quality which is not something that can be said about the rest of the game. The graphics in Astonishia Story are admittedly very bland. First of All the Character portraits are pretty standard, but good enough to suffice. The in game graphics on the other hand look only slightly above that of an RPG Maker title. Also there is not a lot of variety in the enemy sprites and the attack animations are rather unremarkable. On the other hand, one of the main characters looks kind of like Fabio.
The music on the other hand is something that definitely deserves some praise. Astonishia Story offers a wide variety of different catchy songs that still manage to stick with you after the game ends, regardless of if the game itself does. First of all, the intro theme is an amazing mix between rock and Korean vocals and helps make the intro look particularly great. This has caused Astonishia Storys intro to become one of my favorite cinematic intros in games. The rest of the music is memorable as well, from the upbeat world map themes to the nice music playing in towns, that catchy and addicting song that plays in the bars, and the somewhat solemn track that plays in the games final dungeon.
However there is one gripe I have with Astonishia Storys soundtrack. That issue is that the battle themes in this game are rather unmemorable. Throughout the game there are only three songs you hear in battle, those being two normal battle themes that play depending on whether you are battling in the dungeon. The other one is the games main boss theme which is just too soft. Boss music in game should be either intense or atmospheric, the boss music in Astonishia Story just sounds like it is the there just so that it would not be silent. What is even worse is that there is no music exclusive to the final boss which is something that killed the atmosphere seeing as how the final boss was supposed to appear much more threatening.
These Title Gimmicks Are Getting Astonishingly Old
The battle mechanics in Astonishia Story are pretty good. The games battles take place in a grid based setting similar to that of some strategy RPGs such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea in that each character gets a limited amount of movement and attacks have a specific range in which they will take effect. The difference here is that Astonishia Story also has random battles. Thankfully it is easier to dispose of enemies much faster than in those previously mentioned games. That does not mean Astonishia Story lacks depth however.
Early on you can clear most battle by waiting for the enemies to walk into your range and then ganging up on them. However, later on enemies start to become stronger and require you to make better use of you magic in order to defeat them. Bosses in the game are also challenging as well which require you to take advantage of buffs, debuffs, positioning, and dealing with ways to take care of ordinary mooks while at the same time keeping yourself safe from the bosses attacks. To add to this you need to be in range of another character to heal them which means that you cannot simply spam healing without putting your healer in danger and need to plan things out more carefully. Another aspect of Astonishia Storys combat system is the fact that the enemies stats are randomly generated, meaning that you can have the same specific enemy type yet it could take longer to kill. This aspect gives a bit more variety to random battles and manages to spice things up a bit even if the general strategies are still the same.
There is a common complaint regarding this game that I would like to address in this review. A lot of this games detractors have stated that Astonishia Story is unbalanced and requires a lot of forced level grinding to get through the game. That statement is incorrect and I can only assume that most people who say this are not as proficient at RPGs or at least this game in particular. In my experience, I was able to get through just about every boss battle in the game with the exception of the final boss without needing to level grind. Even in that case I was still able to clear the final battle way below the level recommended by most walkthroughs.
While the battle mechanics are intricate enough to provide a decent amount of strategy and the dungeon designs are well thought out, there are some issues with the game design that will bring Astonishia Story down for most people. The first of these issues is the games linearity. As opposed to most JRPGs where you can revisit towns and eventually get access to the entire world, previous towns in Astonishia Story simply become irrelevant after the first time you go to one. In fact you cannot even go back to previous towns once you pass a certain point in the plot. When you consider that even Final Fantasy XIII was not this restrictive, you really realize how much of a flaw this really is. So it obviously stands that if you do not like linear games then you should not play Astonishia Story.
The other complaint I have regarding Astonishia Story is its length. Normally in most JRPGs you have a game that would last somewhere from twenty to fifty hours, and in some cases even more. In Astonishia Story, on the other hand, you are looking at fifteen hours tops. Astonishia Story also provides no side content or any other reason to come back to it after beating the game.
Astonishia Story, regardless of whether you like or dislike it, is an interesting case. The game itself actually a remake of a 1994 Korean PC RPG, but even by those standards you had games at the time that accomplished way more than Astonishia Story. The thing about Astonishia, however, is that it retains its own unique charm regardless of whether you think of it as a 1994 game or a 2006 game. The game itself is undeniably flawed but is one that I would still recommend checking out anyway due to not so much its quality, but its strangeness more so. Even without its strangeness Astonishia could still serve as a less complex and large game if you are in the mood for an RPG but do not feel like spending fifty hours of your time on the latest triple A Square Enix title. Overall Astonishia Story gets my recommendation despite its flaws. I cannot guarantee that everyone will like it but it will at least be interesting.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Astonishia Story (US, 06/06/06)
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