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Astral Frontier (Android) artwork

Astral Frontier (Android) review

"A trip to the frontier of unfulfilled promise."

Over the handful of years I've been reviewing Kemco's enormous collection of mobile RPGs, I've gained a sort of affinity for World Wide Software's contributions. While I'd be a liar if I said they've released a bunch of games that are legitimately good, they've been reasonably fun and tend to be short, ensuring they haven't completely worn out their welcome by the time I'm ready to tackle the final dungeons. In today's era of massive RPGs that can easily take 100 hours for a thorough player to work through, it's nice to have a few "junk food" titles around that I can rip through in 10 or so hours, especially since I currently don't have the patience or desire to endure those overly-long JRPGs.

However, all (kinda, sorta, maybe?) good things must come to an end and it seems that WWS' last Kemco release was Astral Frontier, which hit the Android market in November 2016. If this truly was the final job they did for Kemco, at least it was something that truly epitomizes what that company has been producing for the past seven or so years: A game with an intriguing concept and some good ideas that simply doesn't have the the substance to do them justice.

Astral Frontier takes place on a planet that seems to be dying. Protagonist Orion lives in what might be the only human settlement in the world -- a town that seems to be on its last legs. There are only few residents, most of them old. The situation is so dire that, as the youngest male of age, Orion is about to enter into an arranged marriage with a slightly older woman in the hopes they can produce children to at least give the village some faint hope of continued existence. Before any hanky-panky can commence, a mysterious woman appears in the town. Carla, a member of another race known as the El, notes that her people are in the same situation and that the world may be doomed…unless answers can be found. As an able-bodied youth, Orion joins her (along with his dog) on a quest to ward off the seemingly inevitable demise of both societies.

That's a nice change of pace. While there are villainous figures that your trio (which eventually becomes a quartet) have to overcome, the main focus is simply finding a way to stop the gradual decline of the world. With Orion regularly narrating his impressions of their quest and the people they meet, there is a certain melancholy vibe to this game, as he's not sure exactly what to do or how to do it, but knows he has to keep going.

In another nice change of pace, this game doesn't have the traditional RPG world that must be traversed to find towns or dungeons. Instead, much like Secret of Mana, the entire world is connected as one large place. You'll go from Orion's hometown directly to the forest beside it to caves, castles and other structures, all of them seamlessly connected. While the world isn't particularly large, it at least has the illusion of vastness, as you'll often have to traverse multiple screens to make it to a particular dungeon and then cross many more to get through it.

But none of that promise really pays off into anything memorable, leaving one with a short, disposable RPG that's tolerable to run through, but hard to describe in any other way than "It was okay, I guess…" Astral Frontier takes notes from the SaGa series. Instead of gaining experience points in battles to gain levels, your characters will gain small stat boosts after most fights. Not a bad idea in concept, but in execution, these boosts happen constantly regardless of what you're fighting. During the second (and final) chapter of the game, I was doing some back-tracking to open certain chests that were locked in the first chapter. While the enemies I was encountering were child's play by that point, they still bestowed stat boosts at almost the exact same frequency that they were in the early going. Things like that and the general frequency of random encounters in this game ensured I was a bit overpowered for the vast majority of battles to the degree that the only time I saw the "game over" screen was after Orion died via critical hit in a boss fight, causing me to realize that while you can bring his party members back to life, if he's the victim, you lose.

While those battles are frequent, they're rarely exciting and you'll likely do little but spam your basic attack against everything that isn't a boss. Against them, I found myself using magic more often. Scattered through the world are a number of gems that can be equipped to characters to teach them magic. There are six colors and each party member can hold one of each, with each successive one adding to the list of magic they can access. Which might be nice and all, but when each character winds up with the exact same spell book, there isn't much variety, as you'll be casting the same spells over and over in each boss fight, as only a couple of them are particular useful as far as causing damage goes.

You also can obtain bits from boss fights, those chests you can't unlock until the second chapter, as well as a late-game vending machine (for an exorbitant cost), which can be attached to characters to give them any number of passive boosts. Gain a bunch of those and your team can regenerate health and magic by walking, increase defense against enemy attacks and so on. Useful stuff. Probably played a role in this game being pretty toothless, but still useful!

For the most part, this is a game that's there. I don't recall ever actively enjoying it, but I did find aspects of it to be different than the average Kemco game. They just weren't executed well enough to be memorable. Character relationships are minimal. You're on a quest in the first chapter to find a way to keep the world populated and in the second chapter, taking place some time after the first, you're on a journey to implement a potential plan. Despite the time jump, all the NPCs scattered through the land say the exact same lines, which is the sort of sloppy thing that one expects from a low-budget offering. Either WWS didn't have the time to make dialogue reflect the time between the two chapters or never even considered it as an option.

Like most WWS games, this one is fairly short and will be over before it's gotten too tiresome to keep picking up. To add a few extra hours to its duration, there is a fairly robust post-game that, unfortunately, became annoying very quickly. You start out next to a portal that can take you to different worlds and are told that once you have the game's best weapons and armor, it will take you somewhere else. Getting the weapons was fun. You repeatedly go through the portal to wind up in a series of different locales, each of which contains either one character's best weapon or a magic gem to equip to someone. To get the armor, though…ugh. You go to a different part of that area to find four portals leading to dungeons known as Dimensional Rifts. Each of these places is little more than a big maze where you have to go from the beginning to the end, hopefully not hitting too many dead ends. I gave up while in the first of these places -- not because I got tired of trying to find my way through the labyrinth of corridors that all look the same, but because every single encounter contained an enemy that was a clone of Orion. Not only did those guys have so much agility that melee attacks were all but worthless, necessitating me using magic constantly, but unlike other enemies, they gained health as I obtained stat boosts, ensuring that as I got stronger, they'd never get easier. Fight so many of those guys while stumbling around aimlessly and that little voice telling you it's time to start a new game begins to get really loud.

Astral Frontier is one of those games that exists. It's not particularly bad, but doesn't do anything well enough to make it worth recommended. I liked how the world seamlessly fit together and how the story was a bit more melancholy, with the heroes essentially trying to save a slowly-dying world. And I had a decent amount of fun when I started exploring and fighting stuff. But it didn't take long to realize that there simply wasn't enough depth to this game to keep it interesting for more than a few hours. With few spells, you'll find yourself doing the same things every single battle and you watch enemies gradually go from being competitive to being mostly overmatched since your guys will be gaining stat boosts after virtually every single battle. It's a decent game to shut your brain off and walk through for 8-10 hours, but lacks the substance to truly be worth experiencing.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 31, 2018)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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