ReviewAstonishia Story

Astonishia Story

Developer: Sonnori
Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: 07/1994

ESRB: E10+

Genre: rpg
Setting: fantasy


I’m always game for something unique. It’s part of the reason why the independent game scene (usually called “indie games”) intrigues me. Typically having a low-fi feel, they tend to do traditional tropes of gaming in unusual ways. During one of my previous visits to my local game store, I found Astonishia Story for the PSP. It seemed interesting, so I gave it a whirl. Sadly, it is rather unforgettable. But it is a good starter role-playing game.

Astonishia follows Lloyd, a high-ranking knight who is recently commissioned, along with a legion of knights, to protect an uber-important staff. If this staff falls into the wrong hands, it could potentially bring about the end of the world ...

Like, zoinks. 929281_20060112_790screen001

Astonishia Story is nothing that we all haven’t seen or interacted with before. Characters are not really too memorable and, I found, tended to bleed together. And the orange light in the back of my head lit up as I played: “I’ve been here before. I’ve seen this all before.” The mental checklist of traditional items that make up RPGs these days was marked off. Temples with a kung fu vibe, snow-peaked mountains and caves are all waiting to be explored. Monsters are not seen during dungeons but are available on the main map. There are some pretty weird and humorous plot moments that pop up from time to time. And the game is referential to other modern things. This gives Astonishia Story an indie vibe.

The gameplay emphasizes this as well. Instead of going for some over-the-top battle system, the developers stripped it all down and simplified it. They were not too far off base when they said it used a “one-button system.” One button inputs a command, and another backs up. In reality, that’s all one needs for any RPG. Maps, shortcuts to different parts of the menu and inventory are all one really needs for a basic RPG. All other elements, when done well, are icing. Combat is just as simple as well. Battles take place on a different map, and you tell them where to go on their turn. Spells, abilities, items, movement and attack commands are all intuitively laid out. You can see who is next in turn, but you’ll never know who comes next for the first few rounds. This is because it is showed one at a time. In a way, this simplicity is downright refreshing. It’s nice not to have confusing commands and memorize the meanings of oddly spelled names. Parsimony is something all games strive for but not always succeed in doing. 929281_20060112_790screen004

And at the same time, Astonishia Story can be downright brutal. Monsters hit hard, and magic (or “skills,” if you prefer) tends to take too much MP (magic points). Money is difficult to come by because the monsters drop so little of it. This makes upgrading equipment and obtaining those ultra handy healing items difficult. In a way, this is balanced by the fact that the game rewards your best fighter with extra experience. However, I find that this tends to backfire. In my attempt to help my weaker characters grow, I used my stronger fighters to weaken the monsters. However, they tended to destroy the enemy, or my weaker characters got knocked out. Thus, my strongest character tended to become stronger and weak characters stayed weak.

Graphically, Astonishia Story looks like something from the early 1990s. It is retro in style. It isn’t highly stylized on any level. It looks like something from one of my old game consoles. This is not a bad thing. The game has a fair amount of charm: The atmosphere is mostly bright and cheery. Character portraits pop up (but never emote) when talking to other characters. Blood splashes out whenever you walk over a mouse. Pathways are clearly seen. Spells are flashy, and characters swipe their weapons at the enemy. At the same time, Astonishia Story looks indie. This is not something I would expect to see on the PSP. The whole 16-bit vibe is highly old-school and rarely seen on consoles past 2000. I’ve seen similar things from indie developers. I am a big believer in gameplay over graphics. However, there is nothing wrong with making things nice and shiny when there is the space for it. And I believe there is the space available. 929281_20060112_790screen002

Musically, Astonishia Story is mostly vanilla. There isn’t much that catches the ear. Most of it is just everyday fantasy sounds and melodies. It isn’t bad. It’s just forgettable — save for one tune: the shopkeeper tune. And it is the most annoying with its odd staccato rhythm in a synth sound that grates on my nerves. It is also the only tune that doesn’t fit. At least there’s no annoying voice acting. That’s because there is no voice acting.

In conclusion, Astonishia Story is a forgettable game. Everything it does has been done before. Some games do it much better, and some do far worse. Hardcore RPG folks, such as myself, will not be missing out if they ignore this game. However, novices will probably eat this game up. Why? The reason is simple: It is made for them. The entire game, while difficult at times, is exceedingly accessible. The two-button system simply works, and the menu layout is intuitive. So if you want to find out part of the reasoning behind RPGs, Astonishia Story is good place to start. I found this game at my local game store for about $10, and I believe that’s the perfect price for it. So here’s to a story that will encourage players to find a game of their own.

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About the Author, Evan Csir (A.K.A Psychphan)

Hi, my name is Evan. I’m an RPGaholic and hard core gamer. I graduated from college in 2007 with a BA in English (Gasp!) and psychology. I’ve been playing video games since the age of three. My first game, ever, was Super Mario Bros. So yeah, I’m pretty darn good at this video game stuff. And persistant. I like RPGs the best because I can look at it as literature. This is especially true for the Shin Megami Tensei games and The Digital Devil Saga. I enjoy horror games due to their psychological nature, like Silent Hill 3. I don’t like FPS or anything that relies too much on the first-person perspective; they make me dizzy and nauseous. Ironically, I love Metroid Prime and Half-Life 2. Hmm... Where’s Alanis Morissette when you need her? I really like it when games are creative and technically pull everything off. In this case, my favorite game is Ico. I loved it due to the presentation and the way the characters interacted with each other. Yorda and Ico didn’t speak the same language, so they had to rely on gestures and other forms of communication. I also occasionally enjoy bouts of Mario Kart: Double Dash and Smash Bros. Melee. Overall, I’m rather boring. I stay home, read my homework, occasionally write, fool around on the computer, eat, and sleep. Except for those days that I travel to school. I sometimes am inspired to write poetry (if you really want to read it, just ask). I play piano from time to time. And my favorite book genres are psychology books, occasionally poetry, and most of all, mysteries. And I’m “addicted” to herbal teas and Starbucks coffee.