Asterigos: Curse of the Stars is yet another game in a long line of games that wants to liken itself to the “souls” genre despite actually having very little in common with From Software’s desire to beat people into submission. Aside from a lack of a map and losing some resources when you die, Asterigos has nothing to do with Dark Souls or its ilk, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in good qualities. While it might not offer anything new or groundbreaking there is a solidly designed action-RPG here that offers a lot of content for a relatively low price, and for the right person that’s going to be a killer deal.
As young, pixie-faced Hilda, a full-fledged member of the Northwind elite fighting force, you get thrust into the middle of an already unfolding drama in the city of Athes. Some strange curse has befallen the city, people are mutating into monsters and warring factions have divided the area. Although Hilda’s mission is to ascertain what happened to the previous Northwind soldiers sent to the city in order to find a cure for their cursed King, she is quickly pulled into the politics, culture, and ongoing disaster of Athes. To find her fellow Northwind soldiers, led by her Father, Hilda is going to have to work together with Minerva and co to hopefully lift the curse and discover what is happening.
It’s clear the developers have been thinking about Asterigos for a long time because there are heaps of lore and details to discover for anyone willing to delve into the various dialogue options or read through the library’s worth of documents scattered around the place like a filing system being run by an enthusiastic puppy. Even skimming this optional content fleshes out various factions, their relationships, character’s goals, the magic and culture of the city and its people, and more. It’s pretty dry reading, mind you, and while the main dialogue options are all voiced the optional ones are not, resulting in a whole lot more reading. There’s also an issue with the quality of voiced lines versus unvoiced ones – the former lacks much personality or flair but at least flows somewhat naturally, while the latter is delivered much more like a barrage of exposition written by someone else entirely. I might be way off in my guess here, but it seems like the main storyline dialogue was written and then everything else was handed off to other people in the team. That’s not unusual, but the difference isn’t normally so pronounced.
Heavily based in ancient Greek and Roman culture, Asterigos uses this to mix in a lot of different themes, from the vast class divides to a dislike and distrust of outsiders. There’s a lot going on in the world, most of which goes largely ignored or unexplored. It’s mostly used to flesh Athes out and make it feel like a bigger, living place with a history and a future.
Being young and inexperienced, Hilda’s main theme throughout the game is that actions have consequences, especially when you make decisions impulsively in a complex situation of which you have almost no knowledge. She has to navigate an unfamiliar city inhabited by people who have lived for hundreds of years and are now embroiled in a civil war of sorts. It’s a strong idea and give’s the brave, curious, and likable Hilda a good story arc, but quite often the “consequences” don’t feel serious enough because everything still works out for the best even while the other characters berate Hilda for taking matters into her own hands. It’s like the story can’t quite decide if it wants Hilda to learn and grow, or to have her as the badass hero who is always right and so there’s a slightly awkward middle-ground where she is technically wrong but her actions don’t lead to anything too disastrous.
If you’re willing to pore through the various extra dialogue options and documents then there’s undoubtedly a lot to be gained from the story, but personally, I found it too much of a slog and thus only lightly skimmed the extra material. The main storyline is where I focused and it was mostly just fine. Okay characters and an okay plot left me waiting for a twist or big story beat that never came. I never felt engaged or cared about any of the characters. I do appreciate the multiple endings, however, and that the actions which influence which one you get aren’t obviously signposted. I don’t think it’s worth going back through the whole game to see them, mind you.
One of the traits of the Souls genre that Asterigos copies is the lack of a map, pushing you to instead navigate by memory while unlocking numerous shortcuts to help you get around quicker, and later a teleport system as well. If you happen to be directionally challenged, like me, it can be a bit frustrating, especially when areas are linked by non-descript little doors or the way forward feels deliberately obtuse. For example, you might sensibly expect the next area to be through where you fought the first boss, when in fact you need to head back at the Shelter (your home base) and go through a nondescript gate that nobody mentions. It doesn’t quite make sense here, either: you’re moving through an old city whose inhabitants are thousands of years old, and yet somehow nobody has a map and nobody seems inclined to give you directions. Still, I do appreciate the satisfaction of learning the layout, even if I do wish Asterigos terrain was a bit more interesting to aid in that endeavor – a lot of dull, linear corridors or samey-looking areas can make remembering directions tricky.
Despite her petite size Hilda somehow manages to come packing five different weapons thanks to her homeland’s fancy transforming weapon tech; sword and shield, hammer, magic staff, gauntlets, and spear are your choices, all of which obviously do slightly different things. The staff is a long-range choice that lets Hilda toss out bolts of magic, the gauntlets are good for crow control and the hammer is useful for woodwork projects or dishing out lots of damage. Two weapons can be equipped at any time and you can launch attacks either by pressing one button or the other, including some very simple combos. Each weapon also comes with a special Technique, such as the Spear being able to parry incoming attacks before launching a powerful counterstrike. And for defense, there’s the standard dodge roll which can’t be spammed due to a simple stamina system. There’s a slight delay to all the inputs that I found annoying but easy enough to compensate for.
Asterigos does take a little bit of influence from Dark Souls in its combat, at least in the sense that there’s a slightly slower pace with an emphasis on delivering a few hits before getting out of the way. You can’t always cancel out of your moves with a dodge, so over-committing to an assault is foolhardy. On medium and hard the enemy can quite easily decimate your health bar, though health potions are quite plentiful, so you are encouraged to be fairly careful. Of course, you can drop down to easy, at which point Asterigos becomes more like a breezy action game, and quite frankly I preferred it this way.
Why did I prefer the easier mode? The problem is that across the 20+ hours it takes to finish Asterigos I did find the gameplay wasn’t able to sustain my enjoyment. About halfway through it was starting to drag because the combat and gameplay never evolves. Get in, land some hits, parry/dodge and repeat the process while throwing in the occasional special skill. It’s a combat system we’ve seen so many times now and Asterigos doesn’t do anything special with it, nor does it feel bad. It’s just okay, and okay doesn’t quite get the job done in a lengthy game like this where combat is the most common gameplay element. By dropping down to easy, I found I was able to enjoy the experience more instead of feeling exasperated at the thought of another identical, plodding fight, especially on the hardest setting where enemies start to feel like walking sponges and can dish out insta-death combos.
There are some big issues with the enemy AI and how oblivious they can be to your existence. You can easily bait a single foe away from a group while the others appear untroubled by the sudden barrage of fireballs, and it’s equally possible to get into a fight with one or two enemies while the rest stand a few feet away, stoically ignoring your continued attempts to murder them all. It honestly makes it feel like you’ve cheesed your way through a lot of fights, and it’s also quite easy to jog through enemies if you’re feeling lazy.
Customizing Hilda and leveling her up are handled through a couple of systems, starting with basic attribute points which can be poured into increasing basic damage, health, or the power of magical attacks/abilities. Skill points get tossed into a circular star constellation menu where you unlock interlinking perks and skills. Up to four skills can be mapped at any given time and let Hilda do some cool stuff like hurling her spear through enemies or entering special stances. They add a little spice to the otherwise fairly bland combat. Perks are more interesting because they can be activated or deactivated at will and aren’t as straightforward as simply offering a bonus. No, they typically come with drawbacks, too, or even replace a move completely. It makes them more interesting to think about, and allows more room to alter how Hilda fights.
There’s no loot to be found in Asterigos. Instead, Hilda can equip special trinkets that offer different benefits, or her gear can be upgraded by visiting the uber-friendly smith back at the Shelter who can also improve her special elemental jewels. Don’t get too excited, though; it’s just a simple system where you can swap between four types of elemental types to imbue your attacks with. Working on all this gear requires numerous different resource types, so instead of wandering off the beaten path in the hopes of finding a legendary sword that someone left lying around in a barrel, you amble around looking for chests containing some Starite or Orichalchum. It’s…yeah, it’s not very exciting. I found exploring to be a chore because the rewards were always just more resources (half of which I could never keep track of. Seriously, why do we need so many types?) or maybe a Mimic disguised as a treasure chest. There are a couple of side-quests to find off the beaten path, but those are mostly forgettable, too.
Leveling up is probably the strongest part of the game because there’s a reasonable amount of room to tinker with how Hilda approaches to combat, whether that’s focusing on powering up the staff for long-ranged work or swapping out perks to focus on being able to deal huge damage while also being prone to dying if anyone so much as sneezes in your general direction. It’s not as flexible or as wide as other systems – you can’t turn Hilda into a pure magic wielder, for example – but you level up at a nice clip, so there’s always a sense of progression that I really liked.
Given the sheer amount of text, it’s very clear that Asterigos is a work of love for Acme Gamestudio. They obviously spent a lot of time crafting their world and their lore, and that passion comes through. But they have struggled to convey it all to the player, delivering a fairly flat story with very few strong characters or impactful moments. The combat, too, lacks impact. Had the whole campaign clocked in at 10 hours or so I think Asterigos would have benefited because the combat wouldn’t have outstayed its welcome and the story could have been much tighter. At 20+ hours, though, a lot of time is spent either wandering around the forgettable areas in search of the next objective or fighting yet another creature.
Ultimately, I’ve seen everything Asterigos offers many, many other times in other games. That doesn’t make Asterigos bad, but it does make it feel quite standard. As such, I wouldn’t recommend it for the majority of people. I would, however, recommend it to the fans of this style of game who are happy to accept that Asterigos doesn’t break any barriers and just want a solid adventure in a new world.