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A visually astounding adventure in the making.

The science-fiction/steampunk saga that has enthralled so many, today we take a look at the latest project by Rei-, Ascendance, which has garnered a great deal of critical acclaim despite having but one short demo to its name. What is all the fuss about? Let’s see…

The game begins with a fourth-wall breaking sequence in which two characters whom I assume were among the playable cast of the game explain to us the framework of the demo. Then, after some absolutely awe-inspiring visuals of a surprisingly non-dystopian futuristic city, we then take control of a character known only as the Professor. The professor is just trying to get to work on time, but he is foiled at every turn by a pair of urban punks, and stalked by a mysterious serial killer called The White Saint, who seems to know more about the Professor’s past than he himself does.

After a few battle-free chase sequences we are introduced to a storyteller who begins telling us a second story, which I assume constitutes the main plot of the actual game. This story takes place in the past of the professor’s world, in which a mysterious warrior named Cyrus is rebelling against an oppressive mercenary force. Some epic badassery on a train occurs and we are then introduced to a final character, Quinn, who waxes philosophical with his colleagues for a while.

Balance 2/5:
Some interesting mechanics are at work here. Rather than a basic attack command, Cyrus has a variety of basic attacks including slashing and thrusting attacks that are variously effective against different opponents. This is a very innovative idea for an RPG, however it suffers from a few serious design flaws. One, although the game tells you that certain attacks are more effective against attackers, defenders, etc. but it is impossible to tell which of these an enemy is just by looking at them. This results in a lot of repetitive experimentation with each attack type, as you rarely encounter the same enemy type twice. This is compounded by a second problem; each attack you do drains some of your psi, the MP-mechanic of the game. You can easily regain some of your psi just by using your defend command, however Cyrus simply tends to run out much too quickly, meaning you must either guess correctly the first time which attack an enemy is weak against or spend several turns each battle defending to recover your psi. It should be noted that none of these are bad ideas at all, but their implementation feels off, resulting in battles taking longer than they should through no fault of the player. Since Cyrus has very low HP totals, using the wrong attack can result in him being badly damaged. Fortunately, you are provided with ample healing supplies to deal with this problem.

All in all, there are some great ideas here. I hope to see them better refined in the future.

Level Design 4.5/5:
The mapping in this game is truly fantastic-looking, capturing a very different side of a sci-fi metropolis than most projects. This is a much sleeker, cleaner, more utopian future than typical science-fiction settings. The buildings and backgrounds are stunning and there are plenty of unique touches such as paper or other debris being blown around as you pass by or hover cars zooming overhead. There are also a variety of ways to interact with your environment, which you are alerted to by a handy indicator over your head. This category would have been a perfect score but it was hurt somewhat by the exit events on some maps being in odd places or generally difficult to discern.

Characters 2.5/5:
While the characters are fairly well written, some of the dialogue suffers from being overly dense and difficult for an average reader to understand. This is exacerbated by the dialogue being very slow with abundant pauses, meaning you will have to spend a lot of time reading things that may be better at home in a sociological theory textbook. The White Saint may speak only cryptically, but he is certainly the most long-winded cryptic person I’ve ever seen.. A few scenes of dialogue involving Quinn and an unnamed official seem to drag on for a bit too long considering what they are talking about has little context for the player. I would suggest revising some of the dialogue to make it more accessible. Being concise is a strength, not a weakness. Aside from a few weak areas of dialogue and an occasional misspelling of the word “harbinger,” some of the other character actions are quite strong, such as Cyrus (who, thankfully, speaks very directly) having a wide variety of poses that convey his style and flair very well (and also looks awesome.) The NPCs scattered around the starting city also deserve mention as many of them are engaged in a variety of activities, helping to make the city feel alive.

Storyline 4/5:
There is some interesting storytelling going on here. We are introduced to the Professor’s futuristic world, which then in turn serves as a framing device for the story of Cyrus’ steampunk world, many years in the past. The introductory phase with the professor serves both as an adequate tutorial to the game’s basic mechanics as well as serving as a thrilling chase scene in its own right. Later, we view the conflict’s of Cyrus’ world both from his point of view as well as from the point of view of Quinn, who appears to be on the opposing side, making for an interesting narrative as we get to know our “enemies” as it seemed.

Music and Sound 4/5:
A disclaimer at the beginning of this demo warned me that “This game rocks.” It did not lie. With a very techno heavy soundtrack, it was filled with energy and set the mood for each scene very appropriately and effectively. Great care was clearly taken in finding tracks for this game, and it shows. Most of the sound effects, however, were ripped from Final Fantasy games and this hurt the score for me.

Overall 3.5/5:
This game shows excellent promise for such an early demo, and with a little refinement in the combat system and some fine-tuning of dialogue in certain scenes, could easily become an amazing and thrilling adventure. The best part is the game boasts numerous custom systems that haven’t even been implemented yet, so we have plenty to look forward to in the future.


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Devil's in the details
Thank you for a great review, Solitayre. It nails down precisely alot of stuff from the RSD version. And I can agree with most of your points.

However, I'd like to comment on what comes to the gameplay balance. As you stated; it's hard for player to know which type of enemies are of which aspect (offensive/defensive/agile/intellectual) first, so it makes the train battles kind of trial and error and lots of defending. Though the up side is supposed to be that while you regain PSI by defending, with right timing it also blocks a lot of damage the enemies deal. I've decreased the train mercenaries' damage already now though.

What comes to guessing the enemy types, you will later get one party member that can scan the enemies for their aspects, at least. Also, the minimum damage dealt to the enemies is Cyrus' base damage, and the double amount with right attack choice is supposed to be considered just a bonus. Though the train battles are a bit on the tough side: guessing wrong ought feel more like a punishment. Hence, I still need to balance it. Probably lower the health amounts of the enemies in the train too.

Then... the overly wordy cutscenes! What comes to the train scenes, I've redone the writing where Cyrus assaults the mercenaries first time, as well as his dialogue with Wade. I also cut Quinn's dialogue with the A.F. inspector a bit.

That said, the worst problems noted, should be pretty much taken care of. But what comes to this short bit of demo, your review was totally fair for its length.

I hope you'll be there to write a re-review or something next time I'll be releasing a new version of Ascendence. ;)
Devil's in the details
asdsaf still can't edit comments. Damn typos.
Regarding the attack types, would it be possible to alter the sprites of the enemies so the player is able to discern what attack they should use? Perhaps by adding different weapons or shields and such?
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
Glad you liked the review, hope you found it helpful. I look forward to seeing your revisions in the future! This is an interesting project.
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