GamingReview: ASTLIBRA Revision

Review: ASTLIBRA Revision

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To be completely transparent, I had no idea what Astlibra Revision was when I first set out to play it. At face value, it appeared to be nothing more than second-rate shovelware. However, looks are often deceiving. Now, having finished my playthrough, I can adamantly state that this title is my personal indie game of the year. I suppose, as the old saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Taking a whopping 15 years to finish, Astlibra Revision is a 2D, side scrolling JRPG. It was spearheaded by KEIZO, and co-developed by small group of committed individuals. If nothing else, their time and dedication to this project highlights that patience is indeed a virtue.

Generic premise.

Astlibra begins by giving its audience the option of playing through a prologue. If you’re someone that would rather skip this to jump straight into the action, then allow me to summarise its contents for you here.

It kicks off with our unnamed protagonist, and his childhood friend, attempting to escape demons that are attacking their village. Unfortunately for the pair, the demons have an overwhelming numbers advantage. As a result, they are both apprehended, and, subsequently, knocked unconscious.

When our hero arises, he finds himself in an unknown location being greeted by a talking crow called Karon. Karon explains that he brought us to safety following the demon attack, and, more importantly, that every other human has spontaneously vanished off the face of the planet. Confused, eager to find answers, and determined to locate his missing friend, the duo decide to head out into the great unknown.

After 8 gruelling years of searching, they finally, and unexpectedly, encounter another person on their travels. This unlikely meeting has ramifications beyond their wildest expectations, and it is also the catalyst for where our story begins.

Shockingly beautiful story.

Truth be told, the prologue doesn’t do Astlibra’s plot any favours. The initial hook gives the false impression that this is going to be a clichéd and boring affair. Heck, even the Japanese subtext 生きた証, which loosely translates into ‘proof you were alive’, is slightly mundane and passé. Yet, as with almost every aspect of this game, you quickly learn the opposite.

Without spoiling anything, as the less you know about this the better, Astlibra story heavily features aspects of time travel. It is constructed in a manner that is both engaging and immersive, slowly drip-feeding pieces of the puzzle to solve the overarching narrative. In a way, it has a similar vibe to Chrono Trigger, albeit not as complex or ground-breaking. Still, it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

There are a few minor localisation problems, the likes of which include repeated sentences, incorrect spelling, and improper grammar, but I didn’t find these to be too distracting or obstructive.

Modernised retro gameplay.

If you’ve played the 3rd Ys entry, entitled Wanderers from Ys, then you’ll have a general idea of what you’re in for in Astlibra. For the uninitiated, it’s less Metroidvania, and more of a sophisticated take on The Adventure of Link.

Fluid combo system.

The core combat cycle in Astlibra revolves around a one button combo design. While this might sound boring, in reality, it’s genuinely a lot of fun. This is due to the different ways in which you can interact with your combos. Each direction on the analogue stick, as well as jumping, will modify your attacks animations. As these are performed with deliberate inputs, they can freely be cancelled into one another on the fly.

Additionally, all of the weapon types come with their own unique moveset. For example, using a hammer will give you extra reach and damage, at the cost of speed and combo potential. On the other hand, a dagger may be less potent, but will allow you to string together a rapid succession of blows. Ranged weapons, which include wands and magical staffs, deal large AoE damage, but leave you susceptible when caught in close quarters. The staggering amount of variety to be found, even within the specific types, is remarkable.

Altogether, this is an incredibly simplistic, satisfying, and fluid system to engage with. I can see why some people may find it repetitive, but frankly speaking, I never tired of it. However, if you’re wanting something a bit more bite, Astlibra still has you covered.

More than meets the eye.

Secret Arts are advanced combat techniques that get gradually added into your repertoire. Unlike Karon’s Magic, which I’ll talk about later on, these are permanently active moveset options. They allow you to do things like quickly dash backwards, launch your weapon as a ranged attack, or counter enemies strikes. You can intertwine any of these into your regular combo rotations. And, as the game progresses, it becomes exceedingly important to do so.

Possession Skills are my favourite combat tactic. By using SP, which is Astlibra’s version of mana, we can transform our feathered friend Karon into a powerful entity. Once this is done, he will cast a spell to temporarily assist us in battle. The spell can be anything from a barrage of ice spikes, to a dragon’s flame breath. Fundamentally, these are what other games may refer to as Espers, Summons, or Djinn. They aren’t going to win the fight by themselves, but they are gratifying to use.

Phases of exploration.

Exploration in Astlibra is split into 3 distinctive areas. Firstly, we have the Frontier, which is effectively the regions between two major locations. It hosts a plethora of regenerative monsters to fight, as well as platforming sequences to overcome.

Next up are the dungeons. These largely operate in the same way as the Frontier, though they aren’t nearly as one directional. They typically include an interactive puzzle to solve, along with a delightful boss battle to defeat. Of course, taking your time to look around may also reward you with treasure and other collectible goodies. You might even find a place to mine, which comes in handy to gain additional resources.

Last but not least are the towns and settlements. As you may expect, these are typically where you’ll pick up new quests, side-events, and equipment. In general, they also act as a place of respite from the ongoing chaos, with NPCs providing you with tidbits of lore.

In general, traversing around Astlibra feels very reminiscent of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. The only difference between them is the former functions properly, has more available content, and is actually enjoyable to explore.

Customisation options that go all out.

Like with most RPGs, Astlibra has numerous ways for you to improve your character. For starters, levelling up allows you to boost your baseline attributes in any way you want. Want to be a glass cannon? Or perhaps an unstoppable tank? Well, all that and more can be achieved. If you end up thinking your build isn’t up to snuff, you needn’t worry. Astlibra allows you to freely reset your allocated points ad nauseum.

Pictured below (1) is Astlibra’s skill tree called GROW. Although the layout is rather basic, the content itself is comparable to FFX’s sphere grid. Killing enemies awards you with FORCE points, which can then be used to unlock nodes on the tree. Much like the sphere grid, what path you take is left entirely up to you. A node can include anything from bonus attributes, to possession skills, or even a new weapon.

We also have Karon’s Magic, and the LIBRA systems. The latter involves a set of scales which, when balanced evenly, will grant you additional benefits. What perks you gain solely depends on the items you set on the scales.

Finally, Karon’s Magic is the name given to passives and abilities you can activate. For instance, Karon can provide you with the ability to double jump or shield in mid-air. You are limited to how many abilities you can have enabled at once, but, much like the rest of the upgrades, you can pick and choose which ones are active anytime you’d like.

I found all of these mechanics to be incredibly intuitive and comprehensive. They work in combination with each other impeccably well, and allow further build diversification, and, consequently, more replayability value.

Graphical dispute.

Astlibra’s art style is going to be a major point of contention amongst gamers. Some people may state that it looks like a substandard mobile game. Others may simply say that it appears old and outdated. However, as someone that grew up playing online Flash games, the visual presentation doesn’t really bother me. In fact, when it comes to the environments, I think they look spectacular.

Examining the locales, they harbour a bizarre, ethereal-like quality to them, which enthusiastically captures the viewers’ attention. This is primarily achieved through a blend of stylised photographic backgrounds, and rudimentary, yet, complimentary, foregrounds. I will admit that it is a strange mix, but it’s also one that I find oddly effective.

Comparatively, the character sprites don’t elicit the same type of bewitching appeal. This is largely due to the way in which they’re implemented. It’s hard to showcase this in images, but the animations and outlines often conflict with each other, which can be rather disruptive during combat sections. Having said that, the sprite themselves are pretty awesome, with the guardian beasts being notable standouts. It’s merely the execution which leaves a lot to be desired.    

Functional UI.

Thankfully, Astlibra’s UI is one area that everyone will be united in. It has a stylish, compact, and practical layout, meaning players can easily retain the presented information. Similarly, navigating through the menus is seamless and smooth, which exponentially hastens downtime activities. Honestly, everything that a good UI needs is present and accounted for here.

Musically masterful.

By the same token, the multiple composers which occupy Astlibra’s soundtrack are equally as deserving of their own awards. Independently, they each bring their own ideologies and mannerisms into the OST. In turn, this fosters a collection of varied tracks, which ensures each narrative and gameplay element has an appropriately paired arrangement.

To top it all off, the OST also features an anime style intro, complete with outstanding vocal performances, and fantastic instrumentation. This massively helps to setup the overall tone of the game, and, as a by-product, generates hype for the upcoming adventure.

Plainly put, I thoroughly enjoyed this soundtrack. It crosses into multiple different genres, and constantly keeps things feeling fresh. There may be one or two pieces which I’m not overly keen on, but, for the most part, this is a superb effort. My personal favourite track is Surface Tension from Mozell. You can check that out below.

As an aside, the vast majority of music in this game is compiled from outsourced material. It’s possible that you might recognise a handful of tracks from other games, or even from full length LPs. However, that doesn’t take away from how well they innately intertwine into Astlibra’s aesthetic.

Conclusion

Astlibra Revision is a prime example of what time and dedication can achieve. Its narrative expertly blends time travel concepts with high fantasy tropes, creating a captivating and memorable experience. Combat sequences, whilst chaotic at times, are unbelievably addictive and entertaining. Additionally, the numerous customisation options means you’ll easily be able to find something that suits your playstyle. Visually, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Yet, it still manages to retain its own charmful, and alluring qualities. Lastly, the musical arrangements cover a wide array of genres. All of which feature fantastic instrumentation, and spectacular melodies. Truly, what KEIZO and his team have managed to create here is nothing short of outstanding. I highly recommend everyone to seek this one out ASAP.

SUMMARY

+ Engaging gameplay
+ Fantastic end game
+ A magnitude of customisation options
+ Captivating story
+ Superb OST
- Mixed graphics
(This was reviewed on Steam.)
Lee Fairweather
Lee Fairweather
A lifelong video game lover turned games journalist and historian. You can find me playing anything from the latest AAA PC releases, all the way back to retro Mega Drive classics.

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+ Engaging gameplay </br> + Fantastic end game </br> + A magnitude of customisation options </br> + Captivating story </br> + Superb OST </br> - Mixed graphics </br> (This was reviewed on Steam.)Review: ASTLIBRA Revision