There’s a term in warfare called a ‘pyrrhic victory’. This is when you achieve victory, technically speaking, but the losses you’ve suffered are so high that it might as well be called a defeat. Named for Pyrrhus of Epirus. Must sting to be remembered solely for sucking at tactics. Anyway, Astrea: Six Sided Oracles made me think of this more than once as I reviewed my hand of dice. I could use them to deal a lot of damage to the enemy but it would also hurt myself.
It’s a constant gamble. Though in most cases, it would only kill, say, one enemy. Less a pyrrhic victory, more a pyrrhic sucker punch. I ended up loving it though. Astrea: Six Sided Oracles balances life and death, and rewards taking risks, which took a little getting used to for me. When I stepped outside of my comfort zone though, I found myself having fun, though the world I stepped into does feel a tad cold at times.
Casting The Dice
Astrea: Six Sided Oracles is a roguelike, tower-climbing game. The usual MO for these sorts of games is to deal you a hand of cards and send you off to play incredibly violent poker. Astrea takes the cards away and instead hands you some dice. At the start of each turn, you and your foes roll the dice. Each individual die has its own combo of faces, so you’ll usually get presented with a splattering of different skills that you need to stitch together into a reasonable turn. Honestly, I think I actually prefer it to cards.
Dice bring in a special double helping of luck. No matter how much you stock up your dice bag, there will always be a chance that half your dice land on the ‘punch yourself in the face’ option. Rerolling or shielding becomes essential, but the handful of turns where you get all your strongest dice together is wonderful. Still, bad doesn’t necessarily mean bad. See, rather than life we have ‘corruption’ and ‘purity’, labelled red and blue respectively. Purity deals damage to enemies and heals you and corruption does the opposite. Too much corruption and you’ll end up sprouting tentacles in awkward places.
However, the more corrupted you are, the more ‘virtues’ you can pop off. Corruption should therefore be seen as another resource, and the interplay between purity and corruption is handled well. It clicked with me when I played as Cellarius, a handsome shark man. A lot of his attacks deal corruption to himself while hitting enemies, but he has a virtue that can heal. So I ended up rigging my dice bag so I could chain heavy attacks on enemies, while my virtues ensured I was always at full purity by the end. It’s an extremely rare thing for me to properly engage with deckbuilding, but Astrea: Six Sided Oracles’ dice and the well-defined character roles make it a joy.
The different characters are well thought out. The basic character, Moonie, revolves around changing corruption to purity and enhancing weak dice. From that relatively straightforward starting point, you progress up to characters like Hevelius, who revolves around sentinels. There are little robots that tag along. Hevelius makes them stronger each turn, so I mainly used the dice to block all damage and then giggle as my sentinels did all the work. Each character seems relatively well balanced too and I haven’t yet found one I don’t get along with.
So, everything’s looking peachy at the moment. The art style nearly seals the deal. It’s a very clean style with lots of bright colours. It’s very pleasant to look at and the distinction between corrupted and purified is well done. I love how the enemies revert back to their purified form once beaten. Shame they don’t care to stick around and help their friends though. Character art is nice all around, with each character being its own distinctive race. It’s odd, then, that my overall feeling about the world is one of coldness.
It’s in how we progress, I think. There’s very little flavour going on. Progression is done on a node system, with small nodes connecting battles. Pretty much all of these nodes are just chests, netting you more dice, with the occasional upgrade point. The few event spaces are brief, just netting you a chance at a bonus. It’s crying out for some little stories; a little feeling that life still clings to this corrupted world. When I lose at these games (which is often), I like to at least feel I’ve learnt something about the world. Astrea: Six Sided Oracles doesn’t have that, despite the intro cutscene setting up a decent plot.
The other major issue is one that is perhaps unavoidable: the deck building (or whatever you call it with dice) gives me a headache. If you struggle to manage a deck of cards, then balancing ten plus dice, all with their six faces, is near impossible. Once you open the dice screen, you’ll be bombarded with different symbols, a lot of which look similar, and it can very quickly become overwhelming. There must be a better way to manage the dice than just hurling them at our face.
Still, these are minor issues that don’t dampen an otherwise fantastic core gameplay loop. I mean, this game got me to stop and think about deckbuilding. Not many games can penetrate through the thick level of apathy that comes from a full day of work. That alone is worth the good score. But even aside from that, Astrea: Six Sided Oracles is an excellent roguelike that feels like a constant balancing act between life and death. If your evening game of Yahtzee just isn’t doing it anymore then give it a whirl.