Fifteen years of your life is a long time to pour into a single project, especially in the videogame industry where each year further from release typically portends bad things. But that is exactly what developer KEIZO has done with ASTLIBRA Revision, an epic, old-school JRPG. With 14 years for development and one extra for the “Revision“, ASTLIBRA is clearly a work of love and, sadly, an RPG you most likely have heard very little about.
This’s a shame as the passion put into ASTLIBRA Revision shines through in every aspect of its production. From the gameplay mechanics to the visuals, the soundtrack, and the story, the long development schedule has been put to amazing use.
Set in a world in which humans have seemingly disappeared after a demonic invasion, ASTLIBRA Revision places you in the shoes of a young man searching for a childhood friend. Accompanied by a talking bird, you spend years wandering the wilderness, fighting endless battles, before finally discovering villages and towns. At this point, your quest will begin to take unexpected turns as the hands of fate intervene. Small choices can have huge impacts – so what will your choices be?
While the overall premise is not exactly novel, how the developers have handled its story certainly is. Despite the high stakes, ASTLIBRA Revision is, ultimately, an RPG centred on love, community, friendship, and redemption.
The world as a whole may benefit from your actions, but it’s the many small stories and interactions that make up the fabric of the world – such as a simple quest to deliver supplies to an old couple that can lead to the restoration of family and redemption for a demon. It’s these seemingly insignificant moments that make ASTLIBRA Revision shine and highlight the phenomenal writing and characterisation that pulls on the heart-strings.
While certain aspects of the story can be predicted right from the opening, the journey toward the conclusion is what RPGs are all about, and ASTLIBRA Revision handles this journey with sensitivity, passion, and aplomb.
Mechanically, ASTLIBRA Revision is a throwback to the side-scrolling action JRPG’s of old. Part hack-and-slash, part platformer, and full RPG, players will find themselves immersed in a world of combo- and magic-based battles with light platforming elements that add complexity to the stage design. Between combat and performing sections, you’ll be speaking to townsfolk to advance the story or pick up side quests, while merchants will sell everything you need from new weapons and armour to healing items.
Combat dominates and, thankfully, it’s tight, meaty, and splashy enough to keep you entertained. Your move-set changes slightly depending on the weapon you’re wielding, and each weapon comes with perks and drawbacks. Hammers, for instance, give you greater reach but are slower; while swords are faster but require you to get in close. Each weapon can be mastered, unlocking a skill that can be activated for permanent use. The same holds true for armour, making it worthwhile to experiment with all available equipment.
In typical RPG fashion, killing enemies gives you XP, money, and a myriad of item drops – including special chests that require keys to open. ASTLIBRA Revision level-up and skill system is a little on the complicated side. Basic levelling grants gems to spend on your base attributes, while enemies drop a variety of different coloured gems – or “Force” – that you spend in a skill tree that is slightly reminiscent of Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid. Here, you can buff your character further with new skills and attribute boosts.
Once skills are unlocked, they’re accessible from the “Book of Karon”. Karon being the talking bird companion – a source of offensive and passive magic – such as pulling in loot from a distance. These are all unlocked by investing gems and, as they’re limited, you’re going to have to pick and choose what abilities you want active.
Your heavy-hitting magic attacks are triggered by attacking enemies and filling up a bar that, when it hits a specific amount, allows you to throw out transformation attacks. These deal massive damage and see Karon transforming into a fire-breathing dragon or even a rock shower, helping to level the playing field.
And you’re going to need help as ASTLIBRA Revision is, on its default difficulty, quite tough. I found myself relying on more items and magic than I usually do in an RPG. That said, for those who’d like to take it down a notch (or even up), the game supports multiple difficulty settings – a potentially essential feature as the game has a massive difficulty spike towards the end.
For the most part, the game ran perfectly on the Nintendo Switch but despite the clear sense of style, the visuals are a bit of a mixed bag. The game features some lush, almost photorealistic backgrounds and great enemy and boss designs, but some areas look crude in comparison, while enemy animations look a little dated and stiff.
Minor gripes aside, almost every bit of ASTLIBRA Revision’s impressively long development time shines through. With the combination of a fantastic and wonderfully-written story, great characters, fun hack-and-slash gameplay, and deep RPG elements, ASTLIBRA Revision isn’t just one of this year’s best RPGs, it’s a masterpiece.
ASTLIBRA Revision was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC.
ASTLIBRA Revision (Nintendo Switch) ReviewASTLIBRA Revision (Nintendo Switch) Review
- Fantastic story
- Excellent writing
- Great characters
- Fun gameplay
- A late-game difficulty spike
- Visual quality is inconsistent