Astria Ascending is one of the surprises from the recent [email protected] stream. It’s a Japanese-RPG from development shop Artisan Studio and publisher Dear Villagers, and I found its hand-drawn art and hints to its world to be intriguing.

Astria Ascending has turn-based combat, and it promises what looks like a great deal or exploration and customization. It has five cities and 25 dungeons, customizable heroes, and side-quests and minigames (which as Triple Triad shows can be one of the best parts of JRPGs).

It also lists JRPG luminaries such as Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy XII, Vagrant Story) and Kazushige Nojima (who worked on the narrative for Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy VII Remake). CyDesignation is doing some of the art, as are the likes of Akihiko Yoshida (Tactics Ogre, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII), and Hideo Minaba (Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy XII, Tokyo Mirage Sessions).

Band of balance

I’m also digging the name of your band of player characters. You’re playing the Demigods. You’re not divine. Instead, it’s a special honor your characters hold, and it comes with some awesome responsibilities.

“‘Demigod’ is a title held by a few chosen ones whose mission is to preserve the Harmony in Orcanon from a type of creature known as the Noise. In being chosen as Demigods, they obtain certain powers and abilities to help them complete their duty,” said Julien Bourgeois, the game director and a designer for Artisan Studios over email.

Artisan’s first game is Super Neptunia RPG, which is part of the Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise from Idea Factory and Compile Heart. But Astria has nothing to do with Artisan’s previous game. The studio has been working on Astria for about two-and-a-half years.

“It’s a brand new game set in a brand new universe that we’re very eager for players to discover,” Bourgeois said.

I like the idea of a band of heroes preserving harmony. It reminds me of The Circle of Eight from Dungeons & Dragons‘ Greyhawk setting. That group of wizards attempted to preserve the balance between good and evil, law and chaos. (This is just a coincidence, it turns out.)

I asked what role the idea of “harmony” played in Astria Ascending.

“Without spoiling the story for you, the Harmony is a bit more the just the overall balance of the world. In Astria the Harmony is a belief, almost a faith that people are trying to reach together,” Bourgeois said. “The Goddess, representing the Harmony, is in charge of selecting the Demigods and guiding them in their mission. Each tribe’s actions and way of life is driven by Harmony. That is why they eat Harmelons, to help them preserve the Harmony of the world. All I can say for now is that there might be some hidden meanings behind all that.”

Above: The Demigods care about the balance.

Image Credit: Dear Villagers

Custom job

Artisan also noted that Astria would have customizable heroes. Does this mean the Demigods will be swapping jobs and equipment, or will they have levels and stats that they can improve? Or will customization be just about equipment.

“Characters have different levels of customization, and this is not only cosmetic; tactical advantages are obtainable depending on the combinations you choose,” Bourgeois said. “Overall we believe that any two players will have a very different experience depending on the choices they make regarding their characters.”

Bourgeois said he preferred to not say more about the customization when I pressed for more details in a follow-up question.

I’m also intrigued in how the dynamic weather system plays a role in Astria. Is it just an atmospheric mood, or does it have an impact on the story or combat?

“The dynamic weather system means that while progressing in a dungeon, the weather might change and display various [meteorological conditions]. Some enemies only come out during specific weather conditions, and vice-versa,” he said. “Completing quests and tracking all monsters in the game will require the player to pay attention to the world’s shifting elements.”

I alluded to Astria’s pedigree earlier. This is most dramatic when it comes to the RPG’s art. It screams Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story.

“We feel very proud and lucky to work with people who actually worked on the games you mentioned: CyDesignation did the main character design and the art direction for the game, and it was led by Hideo Minaba, who was the art director on the games you mentioned,” he said.

And the music and sound should also be sharp since it’s coming from composer Hitoshi Sakimoto, who worked on the rich soundtracks for Final Fantasy XII and Valkyria Chronicles.

Everything about Astria Ascending screams “Play me, ye old-school JRPG fan.” I’m eager to find out more about it … especially when it’s coming out.

The D20 Beat is GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson’s column on role-playing games. It usually runs every other week, but like wandering monsters, it can appear at any time. It covers video games, the digital components of traditional tabletop RPGs, and the rise of RPG streaming. Drop me a line if you have any RPG news, insights, or memories to share … or just want to roll a digital D20 with me.

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