As any gamer worth their salt can attest, there are few things better than a good indie that comes completely out of nowhere and shakes you off your feet, leaving such a good impression on you that you feel like you’re out of luck from then on. another to put on your shirt and follow the creators to the end of the world. And that’s what Taiwanese Acme Gamestudio just did for me with their excellent debut game, Asterigos: Curse of the Stars.
The story of asterigos takes place in the city of Aphes, which has been plagued for a millennium by a strange curse -the eponymous Asterigos- that turned all its inhabitants into either immortal beings who can only survive by eating stardust, or into hideous monsters in the worst cases. Our protagonist, Hilda, is from a neighboring kingdom and will be sent to Aphes to find out what happened to a squad led by her father, who had left in search of a possible cure for the curse and was never heard from again. Of course, upon arriving in Aphes she will see firsthand the effects of the Asterigos, make some unexpected allies, and attempt to solve the mysteries of her father’s whereabouts and the curse plaguing the city.
Asterigos: Curse of the Stars is an action RPG with some minimal Dark Souls elements, mostly in terms of progression and checkpoint system. If no one claimed the term yet, I’d like to propose “soulslite” to describe it, because while the influence of the From series is clearly there, it is in a much more accessible and less obtuse way than in any of its games.. For starters, the penalty for dying is much lower: Hilda only loses a small portion of the stardust – basically our version of souls – with each kill, and it doesn’t need to be retrieved from where we fell. We of course have an equivalent to the bonfires of that series in the Conduits, which work as checkpoints and allow us to rest to restore HP and magic but they revive all the enemies that we had defeated.
Hilda has access to all her weapons (almost) from the beginning of the game, and as we progress we will be improving them and unlocking abilities for each of them. We can equip up to two weapons at the same time, and each one has a normal attack and a special ability assigned to another button. For example: our default sword has a shield on the left hand and is the only weapon that allows us to block enemy attacks, our spear has a parry -and it’s *beautiful*-, the hammer allows us to charge a super strong attack, etc. We can combine normal attacks from two different weapons during the combo as well, leading to some more than interesting combinations.
There’s no armor to equip either, just trinkets that work like charms with different defenses and effects. We only have three stats to level up, and they affect our attack, health, and magic damage respectively.
This does not mean that there is little customization in asterigos but quite the opposite, thanks to its Perks system: modifications that we can make to our moveset and that give us some benefit but that bring a negative effect on the other hand, such as replacing our evasive roll with a quickstep with fewer frames of invulnerability, or increase the damage of the hammer’s attacks in exchange for taking more damage while it is charged. The amount of Perks and Skills that we have available for each weapon means that we have a lot of freedom when it comes to customizing Hilda’s tool palette as we like.
The variety of enemies is much wider than I expected after the first few hours, and the bosses, although not surprising, are all excellently designed, including the puzzle boss, which surprised me because they usually make water in this type of game. We also have several difficulty levels available, with the most difficult being the one recommended for veterans of the genre.
But an RPG is not only its combat, and luckily asterigos it does not fall short in any of its other aspects. The game’s art direction is excellent and oozes personality. Despite the Aphes curse, it feels like a living place, with each character we meet belonging to one of the factions that has been trying to gain control for a millennium, with different aims and goals of course. With a few borderline cartoonish exceptions, almost all of them operate in some gray area of the moral spectrum where however extreme their methods may be, their motivations always make sense, so the story’s conflict never feels like “good vs bad.” bad” generic.
The story of the game also adapts to the decisions that Hilda makes at certain times, or if we decide to help certain characters with specific tasks or requests that they have for us. We’re not talking about the level of offshoots of an obvious Bethesda game, but it’s more than fair.
Graphically the game is more than adequate, and is elevated by excellent art direction. All the areas of Aphes that we will visit during the game, from its villages and alleys to its forests and caves full of shiny stones, are very well achieved and display a quality that has nothing to envy to many games with higher production values, and while it’s basically just a fantasy version of ancient Greece, it has enough personality to stand out. This is also largely thanks to its excellent level design and interconnected world, proving that Acme took all the right lessons.
Its limitations are only evident with the repetitive animations that we will see over and over again during the dialogue, and that are often so short that the characters only move when they start speaking, leaving much of the dialogue without mouth movement or gesticulation. And this game has *a lot* of dialogue, huh? Too much at times I would say. There are long sections in which we will do nothing but listen to exposition from one or more characters. Fortunately, everything is skippable, but if you really want to immerse yourself in the narrative, prepare to read bocha. Luckily the voice acting is very good too, which lightens the load a bit.
In any case, the game in general looks and sounds fantastic, thanks to a very good soundtrack (which includes a vocal track sung by the fantastic Emi Evans, known for her participation in the OSTs of the series nier and of course, Dark Souls). Performance on PS5 is impeccable, maintaining 60fps at all times, although the resolution seems to be a bit low compared to other recent games on the console.
But not all are flowers, and at times asterigos left me scratching my head. In no particular order, little things that I noticed during my experience.
Our consumables don’t automatically refill at Conduits, and we need to return to the hub every time we want to replenish heals from our storage, a total waste of time that adds up to nothing. Acme, if you’re reading this: PLEASE let me restock items from Conduits.
Hilda keeps a diary where she keeps track of our main and secondary objectives, which is a fantastic idea in theory, but in practice what ends up happening at times is that it is unclear how to advance certain quests due to the cryptic nature of the diary and the little information provided.
The cinematics at the end of each mission and at the end of the game are super compressed on PS5 and the difference in image quality with the rest of the game is violent. I haven’t seen pixels this big since I was 13 and discovered hentai.
Oh, and with 75% of the story finished, the game downloaded an update that changed the control scheme that I had been using until then and none of the four new options matched 100%, so I had to adapt again to the controls only during the last stretch, which I must say was quite annoying.
But nothing that really lowers the points of the experience, and most of the criticisms I have are things that I am sure that Acme Gamestudio has time to correct or, if they cannot, take it as an experience for future projects.
Even with its flaws and things to correct in the future, Asterigos: Curse of the Stars It’s a remarkable debut from a studio that goes straight into my list of favorite indies, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how much they got right the first time. If you like action RPGs but are still afraid of Dark Soulsor if you’ve already spent Miyazaki’s little games and want to see a new twist on the genre (just raise the difficulty), asterigos is an easy recommendation, and one of the best indies of 2022.