There seems to have been a major revival of Metroidvania games over the last few years, and the market has started to look a little crowded, though for anime fans this is no bad thing. Games like Deedlit's Labrynth, Lost Ruins and Sword of the Vagrant are all great experiences, and happily Astlibra Revision has continued this tradition with another highly engaging outing.
Crafted almost single-handed by developer KEIZO over 14 years, the game started as a freeware title in Japan, with the paid version adding widescreen, improved graphics and an extra postscript chapter once you've beaten the game.
Taking on the role of a young warrior, you're tasked with exploring vast areas of uncharted lands, facing a range of imaginative monsters all the while upgrading your character with a range of optional paths - from armoured warrior to deadly mage, you can focus your skills on your preferred style of play, which works by way of upgrading slots in your preferred area of skill. You'll earn force crystals from dispatched foes which you can utilise in the GROW system, upgrading stats as you go. Enemies will also drop items you can use for crafting, which creates a certain amount of grinding if you're after something specific, but it all benefits the character and thankfully didn't feel dull thanks to the excellent combat mechanics.
Your companion, Karon, also assists with buffs that can be attained by acquiring magical crystals. Effects include speed, power and playstyle changes, all of which come second to Karon's own abilities in combat via "possession" which changes our crow friend into an elemental spirit with enormous elemental powers that can be crucial in combat situations. Again, a powerful partner character isn't a new idea, but it's well executed here.
So all in, it has elements of several existing JRPG's that genre fans will be well used to by now, making it intuitive to pick up and play. All the better as it's the story that really won me over.
Bosses are HUGE!
Initially travelling to meet a friend, you awaken to find her missing, and in the company of a talking crow named Karon. Agreeing to investigate together, the story, which proceeds in fairly well defined chapters, will see you take on huge enemies and even travel through time, attempting to understand prior events that have led to an uncomfortable present.
The game's age does show at points; puzzles come with heavy hints and must be tackled as intended - there's no "inventive" solutions to be discovered, and the humour on offer definitely wouldn't pass today's PC standards, neither of which are any reason to turn the game down.
It does have some difficulty spikes, especially toward the end, which can be very frustrating. Your best bet is to simply run past some of the enemies get to the end boss, as the risk/reward for sticking around is dubious at best.
The game is pretty unique thanks to its origins - the creator has clearly poured years of blood, sweat and tears into this game and their understanding of what makes the genre great really shines through. Graphically it's not as slick as some larger indie games, but what's on screen is still attractive, especially the character designs which are all attractive and memorable. If you're lucky enough to have an OLED Switch, so much the better.
The game has an incredible history behind it, proving that a single developer can still make a dent in the universe with hard work and dedication. Astlibra Revision is a game that can stand proudly alongside its genre contemporaries with a fulsome offering of play styles, depth and enduring storyline, its a game I've very much enjoyed and can heartily recommend to adventurous souls looking for their next quest.