Welcome to Save State, where it’s time again for the Steam Awards, which means I’m going to bring up some deserving indie title and show it to the class this week. A couple weeks back, a game called Astlibra Revision found its way into my Steam library through some mysterious means called my debit card. I don’t understand how this mystery technology works, but I have grasped that if I put the numbers from the card into the glowy, other-dimensional screen, it makes new video games appear that I can play. Ain’t technology grand?
For the next couple weeks, Steam’s going to be running their Steam Awards, and while selecting what I thought fit each category for 2022, I figured there could be no other game that fit the Labor of Love category better than Astlibra Revision. This is a game made over the course of almost a decade and a half, primarily by just one person, and the dedication clearly shows in the final product. Astlibra has an interesting story, great environments, absolutely fantastic music, and combines all of these elements into a 2D hack and slash that offers challenging fights against huge bosses.
Astlibra Revision is a 2D action RPG similar to Faxanadu or Ys 3. The story largely revolves around time traveling (or dimension traveling) and the consequences that come with such an act. I found the story strangely engrossing, which was extremely pleasant because I wasn’t expecting the story to matter much, if at all. Many of this game’s contemporaries only use a simple call to action as window dressing, but Astlibra Revision goes above and beyond to sell the player on what they’re doing and why, and the plot has a number of twists, to boot. The only downside is that the English translation was a bit stiff and disjointed at times, but everything the dialogue tried to convey was understood easily enough.
Being a 2D action game, Astlibra revolves around dialogue that provides story beats, exploration and platforming segments, and beating the absolute tar out of a wide variety of enemies that inhabit each location the game takes you to. The protagonist can equip a wide variety of weapons to engage in combat with a myriad of foes, with tons more to find as you adventure through the game because the protagonist is a D&D character with a proficiency bonus in basically every weapon, ever. Broadswords, daggers, polearms, axes, staves, shields, the protagonist can (and should) use all of these to defeat every enemy that stands in his way, and each class of weapon handles differently from the others. For the most part, you can attack, dash, jump, and block to avoid enemy attacks while also delivering your own, and the combat, while a bit simplistic to start, unravels an absolute ton of new options as you get further into the title.
There’s a metric ton of things to collect as you progress in Astlibra. You collect new magic spells, weapons, materials to upgrade those weapons, skills, and more. Combat in Astlibra is active and engaging: You’ll use your basic combo to clear out enemies, but you can also combine elements to cast magic spells, use special skills, or even transform your crow companion into powerful summons. You unlock new things at a very healthy rate in Astlibra, so you’ll constantly feel like your powers are growing relative to the new challenges you’re being subjected to. It’s pretty addicting to find a new weapon because you’ll always want to use them to, at least, unlock the special bonuses they provide you.
It’s definitely useful to keep rotating through your acquired weapons, since mastering them yields passive skills plus skill crystals you can use to equip things like your double jump. You can only have a certain number of skills active at a time, limited by a number of crystals that you have. Stronger skills will oftentimes cost more crystals than simple quality of life abilities, but you earn more crystals to let you utilize more skills simultaneously as you progress. To add to this, you also have an entire Grow chart that further expands your capabilities- there’s simply so much to find and improve in Astlibra that you should feel like you’re constantly making progress, it’s great.
The story progression of Astlibra is relegated to chapters, and once you clear a chapter you move onto the next one. You can return to previously cleared chapters at any time if you feel you need to grind or farm items, but this chapter segmentation is why the “Metroidvania” tag on Steam is a bit misleading. Typically, when playing a Metroidvania title, you acquire expanded traversal abilities and have this ever-growing sense exploration by backtracking for things, but I found that extreme amount of backtracking relatively unnecessary in Astlibra, because its levels are generally much more straightforward, and it’s not like you need to unlock the ability to turn into a hawk to get an item from the very first area of the game, or anything.
Being a 2D action title, the combat of Astlibra is extremely important, and thankfully the game shines in this regard. On Hell difficulty, most regular enemies were easy enough to dispatch without grinding or farming, but it didn’t take long to encounter bosses which required that I utilize the breadth of the combat options available. Astlibra, at least on its higher difficulties, can punish you for button mashing, and you’ll have a much easier time fighting the large foes that stand in your way by making appropriate use of the Shield Bash and even just casting spells to i-frame through powerful attacks by bosses. As you expand the capabilities of what you can do through the variety of growth systems in Astlibra, combat really expands into its own beast by the mid to late game, and both gameplay and presentation mix well to provide an experience very similar to an early Falcom Ys title.
The animations of Astlibra are a little choppy, but the background visuals are absolutely gorgeous. Accompanying the beautifully rendered environments are new enemies to defeat in every zone, to the extent that it’s actually difficult to get exhausted by copy-paste enemies because there simply aren’t any in this. The music accompanies the story events well, with electrifying rock tracks backing a desperate volcano journey that culminates in fighting what is essentially a Beholder with one of the best battle tracks you could hear in an indie game.
Astlibra is an absolutely incredible game that I just so happened to find by chance, and I was able to play it on both my desktop and Steam Deck without any issues whatsoever. There were a few times where the audio was choppy, but it happened so infrequently that I didn’t feel the need to try and fix that issue. Expect 5+ hours of battery life, easily, depending on your brightness settings. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Astlibra would run well on a potato, but clearly its required resources overhead was managed quite well by the developer while he was making it.
All that being said, Astlibra is a fun and frenetic time. For those who appreciate a good action RPG, they should definitely look into this title. The story is way more interesting and involved than it has any right to be, the combat is extremely enjoyable, and the sheer volume of things to collect and master make searching every nook or cranny quite rewarding. Action RPG fans really don’t need to look any further if you were hoping to pick up a cheap game that can keep you busy for anywhere from 40 to 80 hours.
With that, however, we’ll bring this entry of Save State to a close. Hopefully everyone had a great Thanksgiving, but if not, remember that only you are to blame for the bad turkey your family was subjected to. See you again in a couple weeks!