What if I told you my personal favorite game of 2022 is one no one heard about? With upcoming releases spending ridiculous marketing budgets, sometimes it is hard to escape the noise and to look for those hidden gems. Thankfully we have reviewers and curators willing to sort the good from the bad, but even then it can be a little hard to find a game meant for us. I was lucky. Due to a perfect combination of me looking for games to play on my Steam Deck and a little algorithmic luck in my featured news, it was that I found the greatest game no one was talking about: ASTLIBRA Revision.
Even though I’ve spent literal decades playing games and developed an eye for quality in games, sometimes simple one liners are enough to pique my interest.
“Like Castlevania and Final Fantasy had a baby”.
That was all it took for me to take a chance on ASTLIBRA and seeing what the fuzz was about. Little did I know that I was downloading what would be my GOTY from 2022!
Platform: Steam/Nintendo Switch
Release date: Oct 13, 2022 (Steam)/ November 16, 2023 (Nintendo Switch)
ASTLIBRA Revision is a 2D side-scrolling action RPG where all your favorite mechanics from other games combine. You play as a boy and his companion Karon as they search for their missing childhood friend.
A flash of brilliance
To say why ASTLIBRA is such an incredible game, would be to talk about its numerous systems. In absolute terms, ASTLIBRA doesn’t offer something we haven’t seen before. It’s got great and responsive combat, magic, JRPG progression, it’s even got customization to adapt to your own play style. While individually all these elements are great, it is synergy between them that makes this such an amazing experience!
And to cap it off, the game displays a very high degree of respect to the player from the very first minute by asking if you wanna watch the intro cutscene and explaining it is long and devoid of gameplay.
Combat is easy to understand, but rewarding to master. As with most side-scrollers, you will be running, jumping and attacking enemies. Eventually, you’ll start acquiring technique scrolls that give you additional abilities like a combo air slash or a sword throw. They all work well and feel pretty responsive to use.
But then you start chasing combat mastery!
Instead of just attacking, you start linking abilities for devastating combos. You do an upward thrust after your ground combo, then you do your air slash into a downward thrust, only to shield bash once you touch the floor and backdash to cancel the recovery and move instantly. You see the enemy attacking and decide to perfectly time your blocks to perfectly parry the attacks and reduce chip damage to 0. The damage numbers going up and you finally manage to BREAK the enemy! Now’s your chance to unleash your strongest spells!
Oh wait, I guess I haven’t mentioned those yet…
Magic in ASTLIBRA functions a little different from most games. As you fight and inflict damage on your enemies, you start acquiring ST. ST is basically your MP bar. However, magic is done in the way of summons. To summon, you need to hold Y and press 1 or 2 directions. The chosen directions will determine which of 6 different spells you will be unleashing.
The way you input the spells feels a lot like Street Fighter to me. Inputting down, forward will always make me think of hadoukens. What’s really fun is how this directionals inputs flow into the general rhythm of combat. The sequence I mentioned above, couple with quick thinking and decision making to unleash the best summons is something never fails to give me a rush of dopamine!
If you think the long and complex combat strings might be a little overkill, then let me assure you that the bosses respond in turn. Most boss encounters in ASTLIBRA will be incredibly challenging, with massive screen covering demons with attacks equally as threatening. The encounters feel like something in-between a Dark Souls boss and a button masher. You need to study the enemies and find your moments to attack. Once you do, hell breaks loose in your controller as you try your best to unleash the most amount of attacks before your window ends.
The first boss encounter in the game was so tough and intimidating the first time around, that I immediately though it was going to be a scripted defeat. After getting game over’d, I realized that there were no easy way outs. I would have to learn how to overcome this wall. Learning how to break the enemies, as well as parrying their attacks becomes much more important as the game goes on, lest you want to risk dying in a second.
You know that joke about JRPGs and how by the end you are fighting the gods? Well, you certainly won’t need to wait until the end for that, I’ll tell you that.
The bosses become even harder as you go on, but you also become so much better as a player, and it isn’t until you realize what you just did that you reflect upon your growth as a player. How you masterfully pulled that combo, while transitioning to invincible summons to avoid retaliation.
Progression of legends
Tying it all together are the progression systems in the game. EVERYTHING HAS PROGRESSION!
Beating enemies yields XP which can be used to level up. When leveling up, you can choose where to allocate your stat points to make your own build. Whether it is attack, defense, magic, luck, it’s your choice what kind of fighter you want to be. These stat points can be reset and reallocated, so it’s totally fine to experiment with builds or even switch to a specialized build for a tough boss fight.
Also, here’s a new player freebie: ASTLIBRA has a hidden scaling system on stat growth. Every stat point that is 3 numbers higher than your current level, is only half as effective. This means if you are level 10, then you can pump your strength to 13 before you start seeing diminishing returns.
But then you find out your weapons level up too! As you use your weapons, you work towards their mastery. Once they’re mastered, they can give you one of many benefits like items or new Karon abilities. I really like how this system incentivizes trying every weapon out. The rewards are really meaningful too since they’re applicable even without using the weapon, as opposed as a system where they would just get stronger.
Needless to say, your summons have their own mastery too, which once again provides an incentive to using all of them at least for a while.
And finally, beating enemies will give you colored crystals which can be used in the GROW board to further increase your abilities. You can get permanent status upgrades, weapons, items and even new summons by playing the board.
The scales of time
The story of the game revolves around the scales of Libra. They are acquired early on and have the power to travel in time. I know what you’re thinking, you’re probably a little fatigued from time travel plots, but let me assure you that ASTLIBRA’s time travel is very well thought out and never overstays its welcome.
Did I mention the scales unlock another gameplay system? Of course they do! As you play the game you acquire plates for the scales. You can use these plates to place items and gain unique effects based on the item. The caveat, is that each item has its own weight and you must try to balance the scales, otherwise one effect will overpower and nullify the other. It’s a nice little mini game, although it is a little cumbersome to rebalance once you have a nice loadout and acquire an extra plate.
I don’t wanna spoil the story because it is really good, but what I will say is that ASTLIBRA doesn’t pull any punches at any point. Actions have consequences and you will find out using the scales has a price.
“Do not forget. You are taking other people’s treasures when protecting your own”.
The perfect loop
What makes ASTLIBRA so engaging to play is how addictive the main gameplay loop is. As you make your way through the stages, you will be trying to master your weapons for their rewards and your summons. Sortie for long enough and you will amass materials and growth crystals, which in turn lets you buy more weapons/armor and lets you progress the grow board even more, which unlocks more summons. Then you’re back to mastering weapons and getting even more skills. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t get caught up on this loop, to the detriment of my story progression. It’s just that playing ASTLIBRA feels so good! Every single action I take advances my goals and becomes more engaging in the process! Not to mention the combat high I get every time!
BOSS battle beats
Rounding up the insane combat and crazy encounters is the amazing soundtrack. It really goes way harder than it has any right to. From the minute you first step into the forest you realize you are in for a treat. Every song perfectly captures the emotions of the moment, whether it’s an epic encounter of a peaceful town, the perfect song is always around the corner!
Given how much time you spend in some boss encounters or how much back track you do to do side quests and level up your gear, it is great that the music is always a joy to listen to.
ASTLIBRA Revision is definitely a beautiful game. The graphics are a very particular style that feels a little unsettling at the beginning, but it quickly grows on you. The effects that show up during combat and summons are incredible and make every action feel more epic. Then there’s the incredible sound effects that give impact and excitement to every action. And then there’s breaking, the ultimate dopamine rush with every little detail that accompanies it!
The end is only the beginning
As it stands, the entire ASTLIBRA adventure will take you through an incredible ride, beginning to end. You will laugh, you will cry, you will pant in exhaustion after a tough boss fight. And then the post game begins.
The post game will easily double your play time and at the same time unlock EVEN MORE gameplay mechanics and progression. Everything you know up to that point is expanded upon and refined to perfection. The plot keeps twisting as you wrap up the plot lines and reach the proper conclusion to your adventure.
If you’ve read some of my previous reviews, you might have noticed that there isn’t any negativity about this game. There isn’t a 4 paragraph long side rant about missed opportunities or unfriendly game design. That is because I genuinely loved everything about this game. There wasn’t a single thing I disliked or which rubbed me the wrong way. I enjoyed all the 65 hours I spent playing and getting every single achievement. The only thing that could’ve soured it was a boss fight that was missable, but luckily for me I did the right choice.
I feel like on paper this is a game that would’ve felt overwhelming to me with all the mechanics to keep track of. After all, I prefer simpler, shorter experiences. But it never felt too overwhelming or hard to grasp. Everything was paced perfectly and I always felt I had something to do and was having fun.
With Steam sales and Game Pass, more games are available to me than before and I usually don’t look back after finishing a game. However, to ASTLIBRA Revision, I bestow and greatest honor I can give to a game: the honor of being a game I plan to revisit multiple times in the future when looking to have a good time! (I got the platinum last year and I’m now in the process of replaying in a higher difficulty).