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This is why you need to screen plot device holders

Story (2.9/5):
During a war with an army of demons, King Romulus finds the Stone of Power on one of his fallen enemies. He decides that it’s too powerful to be used by a single person, so he breaks the stone into pieces and distributes it among five “Holders of Power” in the hopes that it’s never used. Unfortunately, the vetting process for becoming a Holder really, really sucks and in the present, four of the current holders sold out to a demonic overlord, Vadeus, who wants the complete stone for the purpose of conquering Astoria. Maybe Romulus should have taken a page from Tolkien by chucking the stone into a volcano.

Meanwhile, Prince Nolan of Avalon seeks help from Astoria in order to fight against a demonic invasion of his kingdom. Along the way, he witnesses firsthand how low the Holders are willing to sink, making it clear that this land desperately needs help too. Together with Petra, Calista, a temporarily unnamed cat, Grazz, and several guest characters, Nolan is tasked with stopping the traitorous holders and the demon army.

Of all the characters, I think Petra has the best character arc, due to how she changes the most out of all the characters and how much extra non-grinding training she goes through. She starts out as an ordinary and innocent village girl, but adopts a more ruthless personality after a Holder destroys Innisfree (pun intended?). This onscreen incident actually hits harder at home than Nolan’s offscreen loss, which didn’t seem to change him as much as Innisfree changed Petra. However, she still has some childish moments when bantering with the rival hero team or playing with the cat. At first, the player might assume she’ll do something really reckless in the name of revenge and potentially screw the team over that way by acting solo, but the twist is she has no choice but to take on her archnemesis solo due to his anti-group ability. Petra ends up fighting him not just to get revenge, but to prevent a confrontation between the killer and her friends, which shows that there’s more to her than just wanting to kill the Holders. I’m somewhat conflicted on this, since I didn’t see the twist coming, but I also wonder what Petra would do if she had to choose between revenge and her friends.

The main party members get some moderate development and exploration, such as Nolan and Calista’s romance, the cat’s quest to save his people’s souls, and Grazz struggling with his new life as a werewolf. However, Grazz didn’t seem to get as much attention due to being recruited lategame.

I find the main antagonists, the Holders and the demon lord, generically evil with little backstory and little motivation beyond sadism and greed. This is the most disappointing part of the game for me and is the main reason I docked the story score more than the other scores, since I was hoping the Holders at least had interesting reasons for their villainy. One small exception is Gideon, who seems to have some regrets about his betrayal while being too cowardly to own up to his misdeeds, not to mention that the story shows how he feels underappreciated by the queen. Another small exception is Radax (the aforementioned archnemesis of Petra), who gets some backstory about the moment he snapped, but not why he snapped. Horvath gets a little bit of interesting characterization, since he almost sounds sincere in his apology to Garreth and is more outwardly polite than the rest of the Holders, but then his dungeon reveals he’s just as bad or worse than the rest. Seriously, who screened these people to hold the most dangerous artifact ever?

The good news is that some of the sidequests, like the Chaos Lords and the Dragon’s Boon dagger, actually add some decent lore to the world of Astoria. On the other hand, the dragons are pretty much only there for the treasure, since they don’t seem to care about anything other than guarding their shinies.

Gameplay (3.1/5):
The magic system in this game gives all magic using characters a set number of skill slots to fill with their learned spells (from scrolls). This requires the player to figure out the best way to make the cat and Calista’s skillsets balanced so they can cover the buffs and elemental damage they need. I feel like Nolan has too few skills slots, which makes it hard to use a decent combination of his unique skills and scroll spells.

On that note, I don’t like Grazz’s skillset at all. His skills’ damage is low because they rely on his low Int and their effects aren’t particularly useful other than his self-buff. Even though I gave him most of my permanent int boosters, he was mostly outshined by the party in terms of any role he could perform. I think I’d rather have Decannon and his Golem in the party, since the former works well as a support caster while the latter is a great tank; not to mention I could make use of all six party slots.

Another mechanic worth mentioning is it’s possible to stack buffs from food items and from spells that buff in different percentages, which is useful if bosses have ridiculously high defenses. This is balanced by how dispel items and skill will remove both buffs and debuffs, meaning players have to decide if they’d rather tough out the status effect and keep the buff, or get rid of everything and find another opportunity to recast everything. I feel like the buff durations are really short though, which is annoying if the enemy stunlocks characters until their buffs wear off. On that note, stunlocking can feel really cheap and it would be better if enemies had stricter limitations on when they can use stuns.

In most RPGs, human bosses will have ridiculously high HP that makes players wonder why they can tank better than actual tanks. Here, human bosses tend to have only somewhat more HP than the player characters and instead use other gimmicks and allies to make up for their more realistic constitution. I think that’s a nice touch that differentiates between how a human and how a beast would fight.

The overworld enemies tend to drop very little gold, even if they’re humanoid enemies, making it hard to buy equipment, scrolls, and consumables. This got to the point where I ended up leveling a lot from trying to get a decent amount of gold. While the dragon bosses reward players with lots of gold, this still runs out quickly in later areas. Worse yet, Bardstown adds insult to injury with its predatory merchants that try to rip the player off with “special” equipment that quickly becomes outdated. This money issue could be alleviated if the dev made a gambling minigame in each town that lets players farm money quicker. This hypothetical minigame would also make it less likely for the party to become overleveled from trying to farm money, which would make it easier to ensure that they experience the intended challenge of the game.

There are at least two events where the game will take all the party’s money, with the first also emptying the inventory. The second event makes more sense in terms of the story, but the first seems really forced because there was ample opportunity for Petra and Calista to take Nolan’s stuff. Either way, there should be more warning for these moments.

The good news is that dungeon enemies don’t respawn, making it less painful to explore every corner. The bad news is that many dungeons will lock you in with no chance to buy new items until the place is cleared, which usually happens in strongholds that are controlled by sentient enemies. While this gimmick is for the purpose of making the dungeons more realistic, it would be better if there was a stealthy merchant NPC who could sell stuff in dungeons, especially when the enemies in dungeons tend to drop more money than overworld foes. Additionally, many dungeons become inaccessible after clearing them, even in cases that don’t really make sense, like perfectly intact enemy fortresses.

There are plenty of sidequests that are usually at the appropriate difficulty for the time the player encounters them, but in the endgame, it’s easy to go out of order in these quests. I ended up killing the hardest dragon in the game long before I found the weaker endgame dragons and the Chaos Lords, which was slightly anticlimactic. I don’t know if there’s any in-game text indicating the best order to fight these bosses, but it would certainly be welcome.

Graphics (3.25/5):
This game makes heavy use of RTP and sometimes combines different enemy battler parts, which is why the score is pretty close to average. The only battler I thought was impressive was Radax, since his completely bloodsoaked armor makes him stand out among the RTP battlers and makes him the most intimidating. I’m not sure if this guy is based on RTP, though I wish more of the bosses had this much effort put into their design.

The most interesting dungeons/maps were Horvath’s tower, the Dreadfort, and the final dungeon. While they use RTP like every other dungeon, they still do a good job at showing just how horrifying the villains are towards their victims and at showing what’s at stake. The tower shows the results of Horvath’s experiments, the Dreadfort has torture devices and dead bodies, and the final dungeon has people kept alive so that the demons can harvest their despair. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if the dev made a horror game next.

A minor complaint I have is that the art of Nolan on the title screen doesn’t match his in-game portrait due to looking older and fiercer. Both the title art and the in-game portrait look fine by themselves, but when they’re put together, they look inconsistent.

Overall (3/5):
Some might be wondering why I’m only giving 3 stars despite my Steam review recommending this game. To me, 3 stars is average and is the bare minimum to make me recommend the game. And yes, I found Astoria to be overall playable, but with few things that stand out to me in any category and some flaws in story and gameplay.


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I refuse to grind with monsters I've just met for money.
I liked most the idea of the 5 stones. How do you feel about the execution of that? I think it would be cool if it was a hunt to find them
I thought the twist about the stone's true nature was clever.
I wish the ending at least addressed a way to prevent future villains from abusing the stone's power though. Maybe the next ruler won't be as benevolent in using it?
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