Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Asterigos: Curse of the Stars by Acme Gamestudio and tinyBuild is an action adventure RPG “Soulslike” that has gone a bit beyond the norm for the style. It gives us both the mystery of something that happened over a thousand years ago while also giving us a story of what’s going on now with a full narrative instead of simply dropping small hints within item descriptions or a couple lines from NPCs.
Tasked with finding the Northwind Legion that hasn’t reported back in some time, Hilda makes her way to the ancient and once grand city of Aphes. Having more than one reason to go, other than being an elite warrior even for her age, Hilda is looking for her father that leads the Northwind Legion but will find so much more on her journey.
Cursed with what is called the Asterigos, the city of Aphes and its citizens are actually still here a thousand years later. Unable to leave, and cursed to ingest what is known as stardust to survive, which they themselves are now made of, those that have survived are in various states and not quite human anymore because of the curse. Joining forces with one of the current faction leaders Minerva, Hilda sets out into the various districts to both hopefully find and bring back the Northwind Legion. And maybe, just maybe, become a hero to the people of Aphes while she’s at it.
While not perfect, as Asterigos: Curse of the Stars has some issues, it was hard to put down. Hilda’s journey, her monologuing and her conversations with others helps build a picture and makes the world feel alive. Whether within your main hub with NPCs or out in the districts knocking on doors in-between combat, even the most desolate places have people with something to say. Whether it helps you, or helps them as you pick up a side quest, is entirely up to you.
This is a big enough departure from the norm set by From Software where everything is grim, dark, desolate and, for lack of a better word, empty. Are there enemies? Sure, but other than that and an occasional NPC, the story is in the lore, in the item descriptions and unless you go out of your way, you’re pretty much there for the thrill of the challenge set out in front of you. Stepping a bit away from that, the only other title I can think of is Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. Otherwise, unlike Cal’s journey through the Star Wars universe between Episodes 3 and 4, Hilda’s journey is a bit scaled back in the Soulslike department and concentrated more on the action adventure RPG Elements which wasn’t a bad thing.
Soulslikes generally have a checklist.
- Vague background. Check.
- Combat heavy. Check.
- Convoluted exploration and needing to unlock shortcuts. Check.
- Substance to pick up and lose if you die? Check.
But, Hilda doesn’t need Stardust to level up, gain attribute points and new abilities. She just needs experience points meaning you can level up at any point in time as long as you gain enough experience points. The Stardust? That’s for improving your equipment, buying new items and the occasional side quest.
This part of the shift made things interesting as you don’t even really notice it at first. Combat feels pretty natural and while you gain experience points, the Stardust that you accumulate… accumulates. If you fall in battle, you’ll lose a percentage of it but that’s all there is to it. So it was a bit odd that it took until talking to a few important NPCs to find out that you can improve your gear and then buy items. Other than that, unless you really need it for “something”? There’s no stress of losing it all before getting to a rest point and leveling up like a lot of others out there.
Rest points found in and around Aphes function pretty much as we’ve come to expect. These points act as checkpoints to respawn from if you fall in battle while also allowing you to heal up and respawn enemies. Eventually, a LONG while down the line, they’ll also act as teleport points which may be one of my two biggest issues with Asterigoes: Curse of the Stars. It’ll take about a dozen or so hours to unlock this feature. It makes sense within context, but, other than a one-way ticket home? The amount of manual backtracking was legendary at times making you wonder if heading back to the hub was worth it for an upgrade or two, or new trinkets that act as defensive items.
Because otherwise? The general flow of the adventure is pretty solid and each part of the adventure leaves itself open to what you want to do instead of railroading you. Having these choices was nice as you could change up the path you take in a NG+ if you feel like it. Or, if an area is currently too hard, you could go to another which may be a bit easier, level up, gear up, and come back. Having that choice is always nice to have and other than the introductory section and the finale? Everything in between is up to you.
Getting into the actual combat itself, well done. Given all your weapons from the beginning, Hilda has access to a Sword and Shield, a Spear, Hammer, Staff, magical bracelets and a pair of knives. Able to have two equipped at a time, each has both standard attack patterns and an alternate ability. If you’re like me, you may want the Sword and Shield at all times to be able to block and deal with most situations as they are versatile. The knives however allow for an epic level dash attack that can similarly be used for defense to get out of the way. Or, you could use the staff which while in normal combat will use one of four elements, its alternate mode acts as your true ranged weapon to take enemies out from afar.
Again deviating from the norm, Hilda doesn’t need to worry about stamina for normal combat which others have also successfully done. Each weapon has its own attack pattern and you can even mix and match such as a few sword strikes and then a staff blast knocking you backwards to give a bit of breathing room. Running, dodging and the alternate forms, such as blocking or ranged staff attacks do cost SP so it’s still good to keep an eye on that bar. Adding in an extra level, Hilda also has special abilities with their own Astral Point (AP) cost that can be used whenever there’s enough AP such as a devastating sword into hammer attack or a super useful Captain America shield throw that also protects Hilda from attacks for a short period of time.
A side to all of these, is that magic isn’t just for the magical bracers or the staff. Split between four veins, Hilda can infuse all of her attacks with Fire, Ice, Electricity and Astral magic. Making me think of Skies of Arcadia a bit, I thought this was genius as it also made me think to Nioh / Nioh 2 where there’s a “style” for every situation and if one element doesn’t seem to be doing the trick? Swap! It takes seconds to do and there’s no harm in trying out what works best depending on the situation as it can only be to your advantage to get it right.
Finally, while improving your items with Stardust back at the main hub through the Blacksmith will help, it’s the abilities that you unlock while leveling up that will make a difference. Set into three branches, Hilda has access to a skill tree that will allow you to both learn these above abilities and make “adjustments” to certain attack patterns or attacks. This threw me for a bit in the beginning as I was thinking to myself, why would I trade “X” for “Y”?
For example, why would I want to be able to run longer but run slower? But these options, or the option to accumulate less points for special attacks while attacking but gain them from blocking or taking damage, can be turned on or off as needed and you’re not stuck with the decision. Some you’ll probably want to keep such as hold less healing items (20 -> 16) but have them be more effective.
This leads into the other issue that I had with Asterigos: Curse of the Stars. With most things being so well designed, even if it takes over a dozen hours to get fast traveling, healing items and management was truly a curse. Hilda can carry by default twenty potions. Get the ability to make them better but carry less, sixteen potions. Get an item to bring that back up? There’s ways around everything BUT restocking them. I thought I was mad for a while as I just could truly not figure it out.
Potions do not restock themselves if you rest, if you fall in battle, or, if you go back to the hub. They’ll only restock if they dropped from a defeated enemy, or, if you buy new ones. HOWEVER, beside the current number within your inventory, you’ll see a stock number which will range in the hundreds by the time you’ve completed your first adventure. So where are those? Why can’t I have those? If you over buy from a merchant? They’ll add to that number but you’ll never be able to access them. I was originally fine with the Demons’ Souls approach, but even there, you could restock from your storage. This could make certain sections rather tricky, especially when you are faced with the choice of having to “run” all the way back to where you are because you need healing items.
Otherwise, Acme Gamestudio and tinyBuild’s Asterigos: Curse of the Stars is a solid adventure. Not simply following the standard Soulslike formula, they’ve gone and made it their own and have given us both the mysteries of the past as well as a solid journey in the present.Score: 8 / 10