ASTLIBRA REVISION is a crunchy sidescrolling RPG with awful unbearable writing

Kaizo and WhisperGames chose not to take the opportunity to update the sexist plot and dialogue in this remaster which makes this game hard to recommend.

December 1, 2023 10:00 AM

It’s been a while since a game gave me some proper whiplash. Really knocked me off my feet and left me in a stupor.  Did I expect to be disorientated by a throwback Castlevania-meets-grindy ARPG?  Not really - but here we are.

ASTLIBRA REVISION is a passion project. Originally conceived by Japanese solo-developer KEIZO and released in a freeware model online over multiple chapters, ASTLIBRA Revision is a re-packaged and remastering.

Translating ASTLIBRA and bringing it to a new audience complete with new artwork, content and challenges to uncover.

Released first on steam in 2022 to an overwhelmingly positive user review rating of well over 90%, it’s now made the jump to the Nintendo Switch.

Unfortunately that means there was a deliberate choice not to update some of grossest writing I've seen in a very long time.

Players take control of an unnamed hero with amnesia and their companion, a talking crow named Karon.  

Waking up to a world devoid of civilisation, the pair journey for years on-foot until they discover a small village and are drawn into a magical conflict that spans dimensions, timelines and conflicts with gods.  

It’s mostly standard fare and poorly translated into English.  The story (which we will address later) is not the drawcard here - it’s the gameplay.

And boy is the gameplay crunchy and GOOD.  ASTLIBRA’s combat has an incredible game-feel about it.  

When you swing your weapon into an enemy, you’ll get a momentary stutter as time-stops to register the hit.  

Think about how good it felt to wield the nail in Hollow Knight - amped up to the max. It makes everything feel weighty and impactful.

The act of slapping an enemy has a mini-dopamine rush to it, emphasised by the spray of damage numbers and loot flying around the map.

Your screen will frequently be covered with ever escalting numbers and explosions and it feels great.

As you progress, you’re given a suite of tools to mix into your basic weapon combos.  

A downward slash, a guard-counter, and an uppercut allow you to string together some fun swordplay to juggle enemies in the air with.  

You have a back-dash with a very small iframe window that allows you to dodge punishing hits and then there’s the magic system.  

Basic attacks fill up an ‘SP’ meter, which can be used to unleash devastating spells on your enemies.  

Careful timing of your spell-casts are rewarded as you’re given a small damage immunity window when you first cast a spell.  

It creates a great risk-reward system, allowing you to juggle weapon combos with well-timed spellcasts to avoid damage. It’s a marvel of a thing.

Powering your character up is achieved in a few different ways. Weapons and gear that you acquire (from grinding enemy item drops and exchanging them in stores) all have their own EXP bar.  

Grind away with that weapon equipped on you for long enough  and you’ll unlock an ability for Karon, your bird companion.

Some of these abilities come in clutch (a double jump, faster two-handed attack swings) and you’ll quickly want to grind item drops from the different biomes to unlock as many weapon and armour powers as possible.

Enemies also drop ‘force’ gems, which can be spent on a sprawling-labyrinth of a passive skill tree. It’s a little bit like Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid, or Path of Exile’s huge passive tree.

Certain nodes on the skill tree unlock new magic spells and summons as well as items and gear that you can’t acquire elsewhere.    

It’s a grind, but when the gameplay is this good you can lose hours grinding away at enemies for the chance of a rare item drop.

So why the whiplash?   Well, it comes back to ASTLIBRA’s Achilles’ Heel - its writing.  

Approximately 15 hours into my review, I stumbled into Chapter 4 of ASTLIBRA Revision and witnessed some of the wildest misogyny and sexism I’ve experienced in a recent video game release.

It’s important to share what I witnessed as a warning to those who might want to consider playing through ASTLIBRA.  

In chapter four:

A female character falls ill, and immediately requires rescuing, damseling her and removing her agency from the storyline

Her cure involves supplying her with medicinal herbs, which you can opt to chew in your mouth and deliver to her via a kiss while she’s unconscious.

Yeah this isn't even the worst of it.

You are then tasked with infiltrating an evil church, through the power of drag.  This is not a new trope - Final Fantasy VII did this poorly in 1997 (and yassified it in the 2020 remake).

During this quest line, multiple female NPCs offer to sleep with you.  

Your female companion offers to strip for an NPC.  

You need to interrogate all the women in a small village and ask them what panties they’re wearing.  

You need to acquire virginal panties for a creepy villager who makes your drag outfit.  

The outfit doesn’t fit you, so the solution instead is that your female companion will wear the skimpy drag outfit created for you - a busty bikini that leaves little to the imagination.

Your companion then strips and you need to complete the next few areas of the chapter with your companion stuck wearing next to nothing.

It’s gross and poorly written and in 2023, I just don’t have time for it.  

It’s here I put the controller down. I simply don’t care anymore.  I can’t recommend this game to anyone - good combat or gameplay does not trump skin-crawling sexism.

What a pity.

A copy of ASTLIBRA REVISION on Nintendo Switch and PC was provided to SIFTER for the purpose of this review.

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