Review: Astonishia Story (PSP)

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Good: Old School look and feel, sense of humor

Bad: More cliches than a Bruckheimer movie

MIA: The beautifully animated cutscenes seen on the back of the box

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the development team at Sonnori has a very, very big soft spot for RPGs of the early 90s. Their new game, Astonishia Story, looks, sounds and plays like something from the 16-bit era.

The game follows the adventures of Lloyd, a knight who must recover a powerful artifact to maintain his honor in the king's court. Along the way he assembles a group of unlikely allies including Lazail, the world's most powerful wizard, Rendalf, an angry dwarf and Rudoug, an expert in hand-to-hand combat.

Like any traditional RPG, travel is accomplished via the world map. When on the world map, enemies patrol certain areas. It is possible to avoid combat completely by simply avoiding the moving patrols. Once inside a dungeon, combat is random.

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In a combat situation the action is turn-based. When it is one of your character's turns a grid appears that displays your range of movement. Once you've moved your character to his or her desired location, a menu appears that allows you to attack, use magic or other skills or access the item menu.

In an attempt to add some depth to the combat, Sonnori also included an elemental aspect to the battle system. Each character and environment has an elemental attribute (ice, blaze, lightning, vacuum, transformation and recovery). If a character has an ice attribute and the environment has an ice attribute that character will deal 150% damage. Likewise damage dealt the character is cut in half. Conversely, if a character has an opposing element (like a blaze attribute in an ice world) damage taken is increased 150% and their offense is halved.

On a technical level, both the world map and combat system functional well. There is a little delay between an issued command and the corresponding action, and the character animations are at times choppy. This doesn't make much sense considering this game isn't asking anything demanding of the PSP hardware, but neither of these issues really affect gameplay.

The true shortcoming of Astonishia Story is its lack of inspiration. Nearly every element of this game is borrowed from another RPG. Grid-based combat? Final Fantasy Tactics. Avoidable combat? The Lunar series. Even the elemental environment system comes from Chrono Cross, Square's excellent sequel to Chrono Trigger.

It doesn't stop there, though. Astonishia's characters read like a checklist of RPG cliches. There's the honor-bound knight searching for redemption, the impetuous youth who's out to proves himself, the foe-turned-friend and so on.

The central quest is also uninspired. Expect to clock between 15 and 20 hours in Astonishia Story-about half what you'd expect from a full priced RPG. This is largely due to an almost complete lack of side quests and minigames. The result is an extremely short, linear game.

The one thing the game has going for it that is anywhere close to redeeming is its sense of humor. On several occasions Astonishia Story breaks the fourth wall between players and the game in subtle or overt ways.

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The first time this happens you encounter a character in a forest that looks like he's been drawn on a cocktail napkin rather than created in the game. He begins to ramble about copyright protection and the need for passwords when he is suddenly squashed by another equally ridiculous looking character with "superior copyright protection." His name is, appropriately, Mr. Sonnori.

Other instances include a character remarking on Lloyd's anime-style appearance (where's your nose and mouth?) and Lloyd's reaction when a party member tells him to check the player's manual.

While these instances may seem random and even disorienting, they make the game feel more like a parody of other RPGs, which would explain all of the borrowed gameplay elements. Still, there's a fine line between parody and grand theft. More often than not Astonishia Story finds itself on the wrong side of that line.

If you're a fan of the classic RPGs from the 16-bit days and you've got a sense of humor you might find some enjoyment in Astonishia Story. However, if spending $40 on a glorified Super Nintendo game doesn't sound appealing you may want to reconsider. With all of the re-releases hitting the market and the availability of Genesis and SNES games, finding one of the classics that Astonishia Story borrows from shouldn't be too difficult.

Graphics: 3.5

Sound: 3.5

First Play: 5.5

Replay Value: 2.5

Gameplay: 6

Overall: 5.0

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