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Mateki Densetsu Astralius (Turbografx-CD) artwork

Mateki Densetsu Astralius (Turbografx-CD) review

"Mateki Densetsu Astralius is a promising game, and that promise almost pulled it from the slimy, slippery tar pits populated by other PC Engine fossils. But sometimes promise isn't enough."

This is a review for Mateki Densetsu Astralius. That's right -- here at HonestGamers, we haven't gotten around to reviewing Final Fantasy XII, but we took time out of our busy schedules to report on a bargain bin Turbo CD import from 1991. Based on that, two things are immediately obvious:

1: We're hardcore.
2: We're INSANE.

Unfortunately, not even hardcore insanity can save Astralius from a scathing review. Astralius may be old and obscure, but it's no hidden gem. Hell, it's not even good -- not by modern standards, and not by generous comparison to other 15-year-old titles. However, for all of its glaring faults, Astralius is a promising game, and that promise almost pulled it from the slimy, slippery tar pits populated by other PC Engine fossils. Fossils like La Valeur, an old-school RPG so badly outdated that fellow staffer Sho literally screamed when I announced my intentions to play and review it.

After Sho's unexpected protest, I relented and filed La Valeur on the shelf. Which brings me back to Astralius, the game that I did play.

Like Dragon Warrior and other formative J-RPGs, Astralius loves menus. When you want to talk to someone, you have to open a menu. When you want to examine something, you have to open a menu. To developer IGS's credit, they did eliminate Dragon Warrior's explicit command for "walk upstairs", but it's still pretty damned annoying to have to chase people down and start fiddling with menus, praying they don't accidentally walk away before you pick the "talk" command.

That cumbersome interface would be understandable if Astralius itself were a formative J-RPG, but it's not. No, Astralius was a direct competitor to Xak, Alshark, Cosmic Fantasy 2, The Legend of Heroes, Phantasy Star 3, Final Fantasy 4, and Ys Book 1&2. Just to name a few.

Anyways, when not fiddling with menus, you're s l o w l y guiding the main character -- a manly flutist -- across massive landscapes and through labyrinthine dungeons, where he and his friends get attacked by funny-looking monsters every three or four steps.

Now, this is the part where reasonable people assume I'm exaggerating for effect. For the record, most people who have played Astralius (and survived to speak of it) say that battles occur every one or two steps. So when I say "three or four", I think I'm being generous.

That's a game-killer right there. But Astralius has plenty of other crippling flaws, such as the primitive battle interface, which is a pitch-black screen with text and no graphics. You can't even see your opponents until you attack them... unless you select the "look at enemies" command, which is the most absurd RPG battle command ever. Furthermore, if a particular hero's target monster should die or flee, the hero just doesn't attack anyone at all.

Then there's the airship. After you locate this wonderful contraption, which is normally an oldschool RPG high point, you have to spend hours trudging through painstaking random battles to locate the ignition key. When you finally acquire the key and activate the airship, gleefully flying into the next segment of the game, you can't land anywhere because THE ENTIRE CONTINENT is covered in mountains.

Then there's the joke of a world map. In Final Fantasy, you discovered an overworld map pretty early in the game, and you could press "B + SELECT" at any time to see your location. The map was convenient, and it became a pretty common inclusion in oldschool RPGs. Common as it may have been, that's not how it works in Satan's favorite RPG. In Astralius, you have to wade through grueling deserts and countless battles to discover the world map... which is painted on the floor of an arbitrary hut. If you ever want to see the map again, you can't just press "II + SELECT" or anything simple like that. No, you have to walk all the way back to that out-of-the-way hut and stare at the floor again, which is a massive undertaking since you're getting sucked into random encounters every time you take three or four steps.

Those insulting issues -- which comprise a small sample of my numerous gripes -- are huge. That's unfortunate, because Astralius has some really nifty concepts.

Here are some of the cool parts you won't live to see:

* An intricately-designed floating island speckled with staircases that lead to the continent's underbelly, where the cardinal directions are reversed. Unfortunately, you get attacked by powerful shirtless musclemen every three or four steps.

* An inventive ocean labyrinth, where the heroes walk on top of tiny sharks that appear from the water seemingly at random. But it's not random -- and there are many treasures to be discovered for those who decipher the pattern. Unfortunately, you get attacked by powerful jellyfish sorcerers every three or four steps.

* A volcanic cavern where you have to shoot the rocks with a magical rod, revealing valuable items... or fearsome monsters. Surprisingly, there are no random battles in this part of the game. Thank sweet Jesus!

* An enticing hot springs located smack dab in the middle of a winter wonderland. When the heroes arrive, they fling their clothes away and reveal skimpy swimsuits. Not so cute on the beefy violinist, but very cute on the comely female Unfortunately, you get attacked by powerful alien gamblers (???) every three or four steps on the way there.

Mateki Densetsu Astralius is a promising game, and that promise almost pulled it from the slimy, slippery tar pits populated by other PC Engine fossils. But sometimes promise isn't enough. If I were clever, then I'd say that Astralius is the shapely lass that you take to bed, only to discover that her body is covered in festering boils. But since I know I'm not clever, I'll just say that it was a disappointing experience from beginning to end. In fact, the ending actually has an insulting surprise twist that mocks all the pain and effort it took to get there.

I expect Final Fantasy XII to be better.


zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (November 07, 2006)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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