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Astonishia Story (PSP) artwork

Astonishia Story (PSP) review

"I canít help but think of Astonisha Story bravely treading water. It was never in its nature to be spectacular, but it could have settled with quietly competent had Ubisoft thrown it a life preserver rather than hurled rocks from the shore."

I have to be careful here. This line now represents my third attempt at a review draft and, thus far, all Iíve been able to do is list the serious flaws with Astonishia Story, then rant about them openly.

Hereís a poignant one to open up proceedings: Astonishia Story first saw the light of day on Korean PCs back in 1994. Iíve nothing against Korea as a game producing country (they seem to produce a new MMO every three minutes, so they must know their way around C Basic) nor do I turn my nose up at older games -- Iím one of those retro elitist who donít think you shouldn't be allowed to talk about video games until youíve beaten Phantasy Star on the Master System. From the PC, the game was later ported to the GP32, a handheld system youíve never heard of. Eventually, more than a decade later, it made its way to the PSP by way of very little update and a programming code reminiscent of Frankensteinís monster. Just because it can flail its limbs around while you yell ďIt lives!Ē into the flickering lightning doesnít mean youíve recreated life: you just have a shambling corpse and your consumer base is outside your door with flaming torches and pitchforks.

To try and play off the age of the game, Ubisoft have taken Sonnariís buried KJRPG then contributed their efforts away from helping dig themselves out of an age-old hole and instead grabbed shovels and joined in. I suspect that Astonisha isnít really a bad game at heart: itís simplistic and dated, neither especially bad things. The colourful sprites are well detailed and brilliantly animated in everything they do, from performing signature attacks on their turn-based battle grid to trying on new clothes and taking part in a ball. The music is never particularly outstanding, but itís fitting; sombre and fluttering. The dialogue isÖ

The dialogue. Right, rant two:

The dialogue was probably fine until whoever had access to babblefish that day tried to translate it into the amateurish mess thatís meant to guide you. Far too often does the game spit out straight translations of the original Korean text with no transition, leading to randomly-generated lines of grammatically incorrect gibberish sometimes complete with bracketed translation notes they forgot to take out of the finished product. Grumpy dwarven ex-general-turned-merchant, Randalf, gets his way after back-and-forth bickering, then comments smugly how he likes everything to be clear. Itís awkwardly phrased, but the meaning is obvious -- it still obtains a tack-on questioning what it means. Itís like handing over a finalised essay with your research notes still scribbled in the margins.

Itís quite late in the game. Perhaps the play testers had given up by then. Perhaps the translators felt nobody would play that far in. Perhaps itís the tip of the iceberg.

While the adventure moves swiftly from town to dungeon to cave to new town, it does attempt to do so in a light-hearted manner, making fun of itself and giving the fourth wall a light pummelling. Protagonist and honourable knight, Lloyd, will interrupt drawn out discussions of game plot and mechanics to remind the cast that the player does have access to a game manual and to stop wasting everyoneís time. In-game mascots will wage holy war against warez pushers and smack around any member of the cast giving in to temptation and accepting free gifts. Itís all very non-sequitur, and often mercilessly assassinated by awful translations. The jokes rarely manage to surface from beneath the bog of bad editing: you can catch the obligatory ďspy on your love interest in the bathĒ scene that results in the use of the oddest bath toy imaginable and an 18+ warning displayed in the far corner, but only if you manage to decode ďMake sure you donít cross the roadĒ as ďDonít cross the hallĒ when ordered by her grandfather not to bother her right now. Betray his advice (like youíre meant to!) and try to leave the house, assuming that sheís in a different estate nearby, and the scene is lost forever.

Without these endless gaffs, perhaps Ubisoftís attempts to sell Astonisha as a purposefully clean and simple game that would appeal to anyone would have merit. The expected gain levels, equip armour and slay evil foundation is religiously adhered to, and, until end game (which dumps a fantastically challenging final boss fight on your lap just before a mind-numbingly bad ending sequence where everyone shrugs and goes home) everything flows along slightly the wrong side of easy, but free of any real speed bumps. Aside for the inability to connect to any of your cast. Or never really knowing whatís going on until you hit a random bubble of [accidentally?] competently translated plot then fill the gaping holes left in yourself.

In the middle of a quagmire of bad localisation, I canít help but think of Astonisha Story bravely treading water. It was never in its nature to be spectacular, but it could have settled with quietly competent had Ubisoft thrown it a life preserver rather than hurled rocks at it instead from the shore.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (January 01, 2011)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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overdrive posted January 09, 2011:

Fortunately, I did defeat Phantasy Star on the Master System, so I can still talk about games!!!!
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jerec posted January 09, 2011:

I haven't. Guess I'd better not write any more reviews. =X
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JoeTheDestroyer posted January 10, 2011:

I beat the GBA port. Does that count?
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EmP posted January 10, 2011:


Go buy a Master System.

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