Astlibra Revision is one of the most uneven games I've played all year, but I do not want to put it down. I happened to see this self-described 'Final Fantasy meets Castlevania' 2D action RPG last month, shortly after it hit Steam following a whopping 14 years in development, and it was sitting around 3,000 "overwhelmingly positive" reviews at the time. That has since jumped to 5,971 glowing reviews at the time of writing, making Astlibra Revision one of the highest-rated new Steam releases of 2022. After clearing its prologue, I'd like to give my own recommendation and make that 5,972.
Shameless may be the best way to describe this game, and I mean that in a good way. The title alone is textbook JRPG sophistry, and one of the first things the game tells you is that its intro "has no action scenes and is very long," seriously encouraging you to decide whether or not to commit to playing it. I recommend you do, but the devs weren't kidding about the opening dragging on a bit. The short version is that you're a blonde warrior who stumbles into a world devoid of humans and befriends a magic crow after fleeing a demonic attack with your now-missing childhood friend. Still, you've got to respect the honesty of that warning. Hideo Kojima would never.
Astlibra Revision is not at all perfect, but it is fun. It also has some of the best and worst art I've seen all year. Equipment, characters, and enemies – especially the giant bosses – look great. From dragons resplendent in gilded scales to ironically lively skeletons, there's some real Vanillaware-grade stuff here. At the same time, the levels are downright hideous. The opening hour of the game consists of simple slimes in samey forests made up of about three tree assets haphazardly stamped onto awkwardly tiled ground like an old RPG Maker passion project.
But Astlibra Revision doesn't care. 'Yeah, our environments look like someone breaded and deep fried a NES game, but you didn't come here for those, did ya?' it seems to ask. And you know what, you're right, video game. I came here to mash buttons and kill a bazillion monsters in the flashiest way possible, and this game is very, very good at that. This is a sumptuous side-scroller with just the right amount of hitstop to hammer the impact of combos into the beat-'em-up receiver in the human brain – located right next to the hippocampus, I believe – without hurting the pacing of combat.
Attacks are so satisfying that hitting things with an actual stick put a smile on my face, and the game's gotten exponentially more fun as I've unlocked new weapons and skills – less than 1% of the total arsenal, from what I can tell. Block, parry, back-step, use your talking crow to turn into a tiny dragon for a few seconds of fire-breathing invincibility – all the side-scrolling staples are here. Some of these options, especially blocking and dodging, really should be available from the beginning of the game, but you start firing on all cylinders pretty quickly.
Triple-slash, uppercut, air dash, shield bash – it almost reminds me of rhythm games like Thumper in the way you emphatically slam your entire being into every move, dodging and blocking in time with the enemy attacks you parse through jam-packed screens. Combat begs to be broken, and the sheer physicality of it all is positively electrifying, compelling you to pull off longer and longer combos, and making you hungry for upgrades that let you kick – if you can imagine it – even more ass.
Astlibra constantly shovels new stuff at you and it feels like you're catching it with a teaspoon. It can get overwhelming, and I say that as a Xenoblade Chronicles enjoyer. I mean, you can level almost every piece of gear to unlock unique bonuses or permanent skills. Moves like double-jumping and dashing are tied to assignable magic crystals which you can find in random nooks in levels. On top of XP to spend on stats like strength and agility, enemies drop crystals you dump into a cosmic skill tree that's built like a primitive dungeon. You can't just buy gear from merchants; you have to bring them the right crafting materials, too, and you have to balance that with your own freeform crafting recipes to stay stocked up on arrows for your bow, keys for opening dropped chests, or disposable pickaxes for mining.
Cooking is another essential and unpredictable part of powering up, and I'm not just talking about recovering health. For reference, I needed pie crust to make a legendary suit of armor that I found the recipe for in a cave, so, obviously, I killed trees until one dropped a pre-sliced stick of butter. A screenshot on the game's Steam page shows that you need metal bars and ore as well as pastries like cream puffs and shortcake to make certain legendary swords – which look just like typical fantasy weapons. Don't think too hard about it. Oh, and almost every material in the game has special traits that can be used to grant passive bonuses, but only when you balance out their item weights on the golden scales of god.
If this sounds ridiculous, that's because it is, but somehow it just works because Astlibra Revision rolls with it with a straight face. This is an absolutely absurd game that's more fun than it has any right to be. It's a mix of highs and lows, but the lows are rare and often funny while the highs are atmospheric.
You can play Astlibra Revision on Steam now, and it's coming to Switch next year along with its first DLC.