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During the same year that Final Fantasy VI was released on the Super Famicom in Japan, a small Korean developer released Astonishia Story for the PC. Twelve years later, this low-budget excuse for an RPG (remade with slightly better graphics) was spread across the globe with the publishing power of Ubisoft. The game has seen numerous remakes, but most of these remakes stayed in Asia. Now, on the PSP, Astonishia Story is a widely available title.
We at RPGFan are always ready and willing to cheer for the underdog. And in the gaming industry, Korea is definitely the underdog. But we're only willing to cheer them on if they make quality products. To be blunt, I have no idea what Ubisoft was thinking when they chose to bring this title to North America and Europe. Alas, here it is, so let's pick it to pieces, shall we?
A story is, unfortunately, only as good as its presentation. And in the case of Ubisoft's disgustingly inept localization, this story is held back from whatever potential it may have held.
The script is butchered. Full paragraphs of dialogue come out and make no sense. Inconsistency in naming convention is rampant. Typos abound. Even the blurb on the back of the box (also found on the web site) tells of your quest to recover the "Wand of Kinan," which is called the "Staff of Cainan" in-game. Then again, the box also boasts the game as an "Action RPG Adventure," so the PR team probably had no idea what they were talking about, since all combat is turn-based and in no way action-oriented.
But even if Ubisoft did get it right, they had very little with which to work. And it's a shame, because the game actually had some potential based on the premise and the character interactions. You control the knight Lloyd, who is sucked into a "save the world" scenario after losing a precious relic he was charged with protecting. Along the way, he meets up with friendly folk of various humanoid races (elves, dwarves, etc). It's your standard medieval fantasy setting, with very few twists.
I got my hopes up early in the game when the script intentionally broke the fourth wall. A scene takes place where a character demands you give a password from the instruction booklet to prove that the game isn't a pirated copy. This seems to be a vestige of the old PC version. But rather than remove the cut scene, the dialogue is edited so that Lloyd states, "don't worry, Mr. Sonnori has taken care of that! Games don't need to have these sorts of outdated protection measures anymore." Throughout the game, there are a few more scenes like these, with edited dialogue. I was hoping that Astonishia Story would turn out to be some sort of mind-blowing critique of the game industry and interpretations of "Intellectual Property," but alas, it was just a witty aside to an otherwise boring game.
The plot turns out to be about an ancient war of the gods, and the possibility of resurrecting a very angry god who intends to purify the world. To do so, the villain requires five relics, thus you and your party go on a fetch quest to try and grab the relics before she does. Of course you fail, and it all comes down to a showdown at the top of a pyramid-like structure.
And you know what would have been great? If all this had just been the prologue to a much more enriching storyline. It could have been done. Honestly, the characters were written as though they were just beginning to reveal their inner desires and true intentions. When I beat the game, I thought I was, at the furthest, near the halfway point. It didn't feel right at all. The game ends way too abruptly for it to be considered anything close to "epic."
Some of the characters have a lot of potential, especially the villains. An eternally youthful elven queen sacrifices her youth to save the world; but in her old and decrepit state, she comes to despise the world she originally chose to save. Other villains have an inner desire to do what they feel is right, but instead serve this warped queen out of a sense of duty. The cast of villains has potential, but again, they are never fleshed out. The same can be said of the heroes, though they mostly act as comic relief.
Seriously, what a waste. The game has potential to be decent, but in its current form (which, somehow, is actually an improvement of an older PC game) the game's story is complete garbage.
Gameplay and Control
I have to reiterate this point: Astonishia Story is not an Action RPG at all. Again, Ubisoft's PR points out that in this game you can "maneuver quickly in the heat of battle with intuitive one-button commands!" Okay, why would you want to do this? The game uses a turn-based combat system on a boxed grid, giving a hybrid of traditional turn-based RPG with a dash of strategy. Thinking and planning are key. "Quickly maneuvering" is irrelevant. What is wrong with their marketing team? It's clear they cared for this game even less than I did, considering they ignored the actual content of the combat system.
So the combat is pretty basic, though it can be fun. Battle skills, leveling, the works, are all done using old school standards. If you don't know what that means, then you probably aren't at the right web site, because you know nothing about RPGs. I don't care to elaborate on the battle system: you get the idea, I hope.
The rest of the game is bland too. World maps, towns, dungeons, fetch quests, and the occasional "way too hard for its own good boss battle" that forces you to level grind before attempting it. The ending battles are especially punishing, though there is a cheap exploit available to make the final battle a cake walk (a very long cake walk, but with guaranteed results).
The game has a "save anywhere" feature, though this of course doesn't apply to mid-battle times. Of course, with the PSP, who cares since you can turn the game off and on at any time without losing progress?
Controls are standard, and they work well. The game translated well to the PSP.
Graphics and Sound
Other than a sleek opening anime cut scene with a Korean vocal track, the game's aesthetics are mediocre. A couple of decent tunes can be found throughout the game, but that's it. No voice acting. No anime cut scenes throughout the game. Minimal variation in dungeons (they literally palatte-swap whole dungeons and expect you to think they're something new and exciting). In a word: yuck.
I want my ten hours back. I originally considered concluding this review by saying "it's so bad, it's good," because I was having fun with the poor translation and pitiful clichés scattered throughout the game. But by the time I reached the end, I was just sick of the whole thing. Its only redeeming value is that, compared to its peers, the game has significantly less load time. This is one game that should have stayed in Korea. Why can't we get "War of Genesis" instead of this?