Rewriting Astria Ascending

Despite all my hopes and wishes, Astria Ascending is not a good game. One only need do a quick search to see that almost every reviewer who looked at it says as much. I was excited for the game despite that. It promised a mature story, with (and I’m quoting the back of the case here) “adult characters… and extensive dialogue.” The game was literally bragging about its story and using that as one of its biggest selling points. Not its throwback turn based JRPG battle system, which while flawed is one of the game’s few high points (though the do mention “rewarding turn-based combat,” which I’d call one of the few accurate descriptions).

See, for the most part, Astria Ascending takes the wrong choice every time it’s offered. This includes story, traversal, game play mechanics, voice acting, music, and just about everything involved. However, there is an interesting overall world concept here. The basic idea is that the world adheres to a principle called Harmony. Disparate races have all come together to worship a singular goddess and follow this belief system. This results in something like a utopia (there should be red flags here; the game itself has none). Guarding this utopia are eight demi-gods. They operate for exactly three years, before the plot kills them.

That shell has some interesting ideas, but the game itself takes little advantage of them. The characters are unlikable for the most part, with at least one being the worst written character I’ve seen in a JRPG for some time. The story is almost nonsensical at times. For example, everyone in the land eats a fruit called the harmelon. This fruit is never shown, never described, and a full description of what precisely it does is given. However, the bad guys are bad because they don’t eat it, to the extent that the heroes call them… the Fruitless (I do not know why the bad guys decide that’s a great name, considering that it literally means they’re pointless). There’s no questioning Harmony and Goodness.

Honestly, Soundfall had more depth to its story. Soundfall, a looter shooter rhythm game, has a more logical, well thought out plot involving some of the exact same ideas as this JRPG. That’s how bad this game botches it.

However, there’s good bones here. And I fancy myself something of a writer (I’ve several manuscripts finished and am actively looking for an agent), as the Stardew Valley review might attest. So we’re going to attempt to rewrite the story of Astria Ascending.

Now, to make this somewhat challenging and to somewhat respect the original text, we’re going to try and keep as many of the idea presented in the game as possible. This means we’ll keep the fact that the demi-gods are on year 3 of 3 in their journey, despite it being an awful move that throws 8 party members at you at once and feels like you’re jumping in at act three of the game. We’re also going to keep the concept of the harmelons, which, again, are completely ridiculous and taken entirely at face value in the original game. I’m going to try and change the characters little from their original concepts as well, even if I’d probably eject a few characters or tweak things.

Speaking of characters, I’m going to begin with outlining each character and what we’ll be altering for our rewrite here.

Ulan is our protagonist, and as the description points out, she’s the nominal leader who would “like everyone to get along” (seriously, this is not mature writing). In the game, this often makes her come off like one of those mothers who is almost smiling as they tell their willful children to stop. She seems determined that her party of demi-gods not fight with one another for whatever reason, and seems to prize that group harmony over everything else.

Let’s lean a bit more on that. Ulan is struggling to keep the group together because after 3 years, many of the demi-gods are done. They don’t like one another, and quite a few know there’s only a few months left until this is done. Most still have a reason to keep in the group, but the tensions have mounted. Ulan was told during her training that if a demi-god group dissolves, it is the absolute worst thing that can happen, spreading a time of dissonance throughout the land that will disturb the delicate balance.

Ulan’s also been struggling to lead this group. She’s not one of the oldest, and she sometimes feels like one of the older demi-gods should have taken the role. Prior to this she dealt primarily with the migmies, the barely intelligent race of sort of messenger imps, and some part of her longs for that simplicity again.

Her belief in harmony comes more from the personal interactions. She grew up in United Town, and therefore saw how getting along has built a great society of people together. It pulled various races to create a community where their differences meld together, that whole melting pot idea made real. Thus she desperately wants harmony to stay, because she believes it’s what keeps the races together.

This means that the player can sympathize with her: she’s almost the oldest child struggling to keep the family together. She also knows that group friction could have consequences, which will help set stakes. Her desire to keep the party together should mimic the player’s, as you’ll want your full squad to venture into dungeons and so forth.

In the game, Alassia is probably one of the least developed characters, which is frustrating, as she also has some of the most dialogue in the game. They use her as the group’s scholar (which is ironic as that is literally the title of another character’s job). That means that she’s researched and looked into a lot around this world, and thus she often takes the job as exposition giver. Additionally her other job seems to be shaking her head whenever her husband says something unpleasant. I mean, look at her description: it literally just points to her age and her relationship with the group’s racist grandpa.

She can be the one who knows and understands the history better than everyone. In fact, let’s have it so she got so lost in it that she sometimes lost track of the present. This includes her husband’s incredibly poor behaviors. Alassia will be the character that lives too much in the past, either through books or her memories of a better life.

We’ll even start with her having access to all the Astrae, this game’s summoned creatures, from the start. This will make her stupidly powerful, but she needs it, as otherwise she’s just a backup healer. But she’ll have that connection from the start, and thus have a very direct link to Harmony. Have her start to realize that Chaos is barely being held back from the start. Throw in a scene where she takes Ulan to the side to explain that her research has shown that there’s this big sealed god thing, and it could be a problem.

Personality wise, let’s have her speak up a little more. Instead of sort of shaking her head at Arpajo, she’ll use history to almost sort of support him. There will be some acknowledging of the other races’ deeds, but it’s always in that sort of “isn’t it impressive what the savages could accomplish” sort of tone. This lead to her looking further into history and realizing that the races can accomplish things.

She’ll still try to keep the peace, but do so using grandmotherly guilt, which she should have anyway. She weaponizes guilt and wields it against the younger members of the party, which should work well as Alek and Kaydin are going to be two of the ones that most argue. She’ll mostly stand back when her husband is involved, but we’ll have Kress and Ulan to take over then.

Alassia will have the initial blow, because we’ll have her lose contact with the Astrae and that great connection. Then she becomes humbled by what she encounters and starts to realize what the group needs.

Contrasting sharply with Alassia, Dagmar is one of the better written characters among the group. They technically state that he only speaks when he feels it necessary, though the game actually makes him out to be quite chatty on the whole. We’re going to lean a bit more into the whole initial description.

Dagmar is reserved. He doesn’t fully understand his companions after even three years: their behaviors are too strange for him and his culture. His belief in Harmony stems less from his desire for races to get along or because of the religion and more because of tradition. In the game already we know that Dagmar believes firmly in tradition and that the rules are there for a reason. We’re going to lean more heavily into that. He becomes openly disgruntled when people challenge the rules, growling and the like, but he’ll be mostly quiet, simmering until it can all come boiling over at just the wrong moment.

And we’ll have him grow particularly prickly whenever his son is mentioned. We’re going to amp up the already existing fractious relationship there: Dagmar disowned Zimar whenever Zimar romanced the Awisi Seryn. This has also led to Dagmar having an irrational hatred of the entire Awisi race: he believes that they’re all sneaky and conniving because of the one Awisi who stole his son and broke tradition.

Dagmar can mostly follow his path in the game. He starts to see how he pushed his son away and what the pain of being a demi-god has caused their families. Have him start to silently realize that there may be a point to this whole chaos and freedom thing, if it grants freedom, and thus start questioning his beliefs and growing. Then when the hard break happens, its surprising that he breaks.

Kress is a personal favorite of mine, and another moderately well written character from the start. She comes off as polite and refined, diplomatic and a firm believer in manners. She’s also the one who agonizes the most over the group’s decisions. This leads to her having some of the best moments, such as when the group encounters the wife of someone they had to kill because he’d stopped eating the harmelons. It’s Kress who points out that they essentially murdered or killed this man, and that they should take the blame for it.

It’s also stated that Kress has it all together, because despite being female she was chosen to lead her clan. We’ll build from these two ideas. Kress is often a responsible individual, and will often find herself working with Ulan to keep the group together and harmonious, intervening when the various characters get to one another. However, while Ulan often upbraids and scolds them like children, Kress will be the diplomatic one who gets to the heart of the problem. This way, Ulan starts to look up to the fencer: Kress knows how to really handle problems and is by far the group’s best diplomat.

She’ll also be the first to object more morally to what they’re doing. As enforcers of harmony, they’re finding themselves more and more in this position where they have to kill others. Game-Kress already regrets this, but our rewrite is going to let it weigh more and more on her conscious. We’ll see this develop as in later arguments she starts going more silent, or agreeing with those that feel that the ideas of chaos and freedom aren’t necessarily bad. This will go doubly when she has to kill her brother partway through. She knows she made the right decision, but it doesn’t feel right to her.

The idea is to sort of develop Kress into another sort of heart of the party, or at least the one with strong moral ideas. We’ll also have her be one of those that makes a hard break at some point in the narrative, arguing that they need to adopt some of the ideals of harmony in order to really achieve a better world.

Alek is an awfully written character. The little tidbits of personality up there are barely touched upon. I can’t think of many, if any, moments in the game where Alek is the voice of reason, and the only bits they have about his jealousy with Ulan occur in the very beginning of the game. Mostly what he is is a slavish follower of Harmony, particularly the goddess Yuno, to the point where the other demi-gods, who all pretty well blindly follow the precepts, seem to tease him for it.

We’re going to build on his envy and the relationship with Yuno. Alek’s attentions read like one of those religious followers who almost wants to date the head of their particular religion. We’ll lean into that idea a bit more. Part of the reason why Alek is jealous of Ulan is that Ulan gets some special attention from the goddess, and Alek’s devotion is not so secretly covering up a romantic affection for Yuno. He believes that if he follows the precepts and such well, he’ll grow closer with Yuno.

This will even extend to the fact that if he burns out and dies, then he’ll be put in an afterlife near the goddess. She’s the goddess, after all. To get that close, Alek believes that he has to fervently, aggressively do as she commands and as Harmony dictates. This also leads to his friction with his father, who owns an orchard and was attempting to grow something besides harmelon in order to get some money.

Thus Alek will have to confront his beliefs more directly. Have Yuno return his affections and have that be a sort of hint that something may be up with Harmony (I like this idea for several reasons). But also have it hint that the relationship could be causing Chaos and break precepts. Then have it so Alek has to make moral decisions that aren’t black and white, possibly tying in to his desires to prove himself.

This guy right here is the worst written character in a JRPG I’ve encountered for some time. They mention that he “jokes around,” but his jokes seem to primarily be racist comments, judgments of his fellow demi-gods, or complaints about life in general. He’s entirely unfunny, rude, and the game’s attempts to salvage him are laughable at best. Nobody ever calls him out on his nonsense, besides a few whining attempts from Eko, who the entire group then gangs up on. They try to make it out that he’s attempting to alienate people because of what happened to his son, but that’s literally making excuses for his awful behavior, not to mention attempting to hand wave away his blatant racism.

See? Even he says so

Characters like this rarely work in a game, because we have to like them. That and writers seem to really struggle with any form of racism in games. Arpajo reminds me of another “likeable” racist in a similar game, Wakka from Final Fantasy X.

This Wakka, who says this to a girl after her home explodes

Wakka’s racism comes entirely from ignorance in the game. He’s never really met an Al Bhed, and he doesn’t realize that Yuna is half-Al-Bhed or that Rikku (pictured above) is entirely one. Thus his comments about how all Al-Bhed are awful come off as uniformed and almost awful.

However, whenever he finds out, Wakka attempts to rethink things. He struggles with how what he’s been told about these people is outright wrong (this extends to what he’s been told about the religion; writers of Astria Ascending, take more notes). He starts to attempt to connect with Al-Bhed. His statement above is entirely ignorant, awful, and badly done, but it’s also the idiot’s attempts at becoming a better person. He’s also immediately called on his BS, and Wakka starts to learn and apologize.

This would probably be the best route for Arpajo. Have the other demi-gods, particularly Alassia, seem to initially “tolerate” it. This is less because anyone can stand Arpajo’s blatant racism and more because the group’s peacekeepers (Ulan, Alassia, and Kress) have been doing their best. However, still have Kress call Arpajo out, more for his rudeness. Have her be the one to start pointing out that he can’t say that in front of his fellow demi-gods at the least (with Kaydin, soon to come, taking it a step further).

Then have Arpajo be outright confronted by his racism at several points. Have him realize that Eko, the Peyska, is probably the second most intelligent member of their group. Have him see Kaydin risk herself to save others. Scatter incidents that challenge his stupid racism and make him realize that he’s the dumb racist he is. Force him to undergo change. Eject this whole idea that he’s doing it to lash out because of his son: don’t excuse his poor behavior or his dumb ideas.

If you still want to try and make him “funny,” don’t do it in such a way that it comes off like a hyper conservative “comedian.” Have him start making self-deprecating jokes (this would also jive well with the idea that he’s punishing himself for his son). Have him make improper comments. Maybe even start having him start to riff on attempts of humor from those races he apparently despises. For the love of God, have him grow as a person.

We’re going to use the descriptor here and what the game gives us. Eko’s another character who argues, obviously, but usually does so in the manner of a petulant child. His actual age isn’t revealed in the game, but he looks and acts like a child (though for some reason there’s hints of a romance? This game is all over the place). Given the situation, he has to be some kind of child genius of some kind. Either that or the Peyska age incredibly fast or mature quickly (we’re not told). He’s another that almost devolves into just exposition (because this game loves that).

We’re going to lean into the whole child genius thing. We’ll say the whole demi-god thing seeks out potential to inherit the powers and the Astral Ring, more than anything else (we’ll have flashbacks to the recruitment of each character to get some of that). Eko was picked, but he was terrified because he was young. Someone encouraged him to eat harmelon to steady himself. Eko overindulged on the fruit, which is known to increase Peyska intelligence.

So he’s going in with a bit of an inferiority complex, and maybe some slight addiction to the stupid fruit the game thrust into the story. He already knows that many view the Peshka poorly, so he’s attempting to prove them wrong, though at the same time he’s worried it’s the fruit doing it, not him. He’s become a devout follower of Harmony (not realizing it’s the fruit doing that some), and he doesn’t quite understand why. When pushed, he just doesn’t understand precepts and such, which gives the more intelligent characters like Alassia reason to preach the game’s religion at us.

He’ll struggle, because we’ll reveal something’s up with the harmelon. Since we’re aiming for a “mature’ story here, we’ll actually have it so that the harmelon does increase intelligence in the Peshka, and did so for Eko. But he knows they have to stop eating it because of its other side effects, which causes issues as he starts to get less and less intelligent. It means less for him because he’ll die soon, but still.

Kaydin is probably one of the better written (and worst voice acted) characters in the game. They dangle a lot of potential good stuff about her. For one thing, she actually calls several characters on their BS, including Arpajo. for another, it’s revealed that she worked with the antagonist, Seryn, at some point, and shared her beliefs.

Like with most, we’re going to build on that. Because this is me, we’re going to suggest that Seryn outright seduced Kaydin. This was first intellectual: the Awisi loves her freedom, but then it became something more. Have it be that Kaydin noticed her “beloved” started getting more and more wild as the Chaos leaked into the good ideas and started infecting her. Kaydin tried to help her, but couldn’t.

So when she’s picked, she thinks this might be a chance to fix several issues. She joins with ulterior motives (but like half the cast does at various points). Throughout the journey, she’s constantly pointing out the issues in Harmony. She’ll be the first to note that the followers of Chaos have a point, and that their task may not be as “Fruitless” as everyone thinks. And she’ll be aggressive in pointing out Arpajo’s issues.

This means that the whole Chaos Crew/Fruitless have a sort of demi-god in from the start. But Kaydin’s not corrupted by Chaos because she chose to do the right thing instead. This offers up the idea that there’s another route beside blind, drugged following and utter cruel chaos, which is overly simplistic and what they give us. This does put a lot of weight on Kaydin as that champion, but the idea is to give Ulan some guidelines as she works as the sort of baseline.

Okay, now onto the plot itself. I don’t want to go too into detail regarding my ideas, because just breaking down the characters has taken just about forever and a lot of writing. I do want to at least sketch the basics, and possibly address a few other issues.

First, instead of immediately jumping into the chaos with a full party of eight personalities, we’re going to just start with an Ulan focus. Have it be before all the nonsense happens, just her working out the routine. Alek approaches her because they need to check on a nearby temple: Alassia felt something was off. Ulan decides this isn’t enough to bother everyone, so she grabs Alek, Eko (who’s nearby), and Kaydin. This gives us a moderately balanced party of four to start learning things, and we can immediately start seeing some dynamics.

It’ll also allow both Eko and Kaydin, who need some development, time to shine without the racists to bash them. We’ll have Alek in his stringent ideas, but he’s much more levelheaded. They go to the temple, and everything seems more or less alright. Introduce the platforming here, with more of a focus on that. Have a Noise (the game’s nonhuman enemies) show at the very end, but have Alek and Eko dismiss it as nothing. Kaydin wonders more, but Ulan goes with the majority (as she’ll always do).

Group returns. Then we have an initial Noise complain (ha, pun!) happen not in the orchard, but in the Arktan Valley. Dagmar’s already looking into it, and this throws our elemental guy in to better work through that aspect. Plus we’ll get some more idea for him. They all look into things, but it seems to be just a light Noise that got through. It’s still disheartening that it’s so close to home though, and they wonder about that temple.

Alek, being the simp that he is, suggests they talk to Yuno. This leads to some hints about that relationship, as Yuno breaks things down. She reminds them of how they were all called, which leads to a flashback mission. Here we can possibly throw in a few of the demi-gods that we haven’t seen yet, but the mission is pretty basic stuff. But we see some of the background and get more fleshing out of why our characters care.

Back in the present, Alassia reveals that she’s having some issues with some of the Astrae and wants to check things out herself. She drags her husband along, and Arpajo says something racist, which causes Eko and Kaydin to want to sit this one out, despite the group’s protests. Basically we’re now playing with still a smaller party, but we start shifting who’s involved. Our entirely pro-Harmony group finds out that the Astrae are being disrupted, and there’s hints that it’s Alassia and Arpajo’s son.

When that’s revealed, Kaydin jumps on it. This slides Kress in, who’s been dealing with family issues herself. She asks the others to look in, and we start the general thing of noticing that various family members are involved with what will become the Fruitless. However, we’ll have them be a bit more sympathetic, with hints that each one starts for reasons that starts shaking the demi-gods’ core beliefs.

Again Yuno’s powers wane and she worries, but our fanboy Alek takes it a step further. He attempts to outright assault a supposed Fruitless camp. Our group goes to stop him, only to find that not everyone who doesn’t eat the fruit is in this whole Chaos worshiping crew. They start wondering, and Alek suggests they visit his father to get more info on the fruit. This leads to finding out that Alek’s dad is sort of working for the Fruitless, but, again, doesn’t follow Chaos.

Not caring, Alek arrests him. During the whole breakdown of that, Alassia loses contact with another Astrae, this one in the Peyska homeland. The group runs off there, with the usual racist stuff coming about. However, they discover that the whole harmelon thing has layers; it gives the Peyska intelligence, but seems to be denying them creativity or something along the way. This is really exemplified in Eko, who it turns out has almost none left or something along those lines.

The group barely gets to digest this when the whole home thing for Kress bubbles over. They zip over there, only to find that Seryn has started amping things up. She’s gathered Fruitless to go after several temples at once. The group decides to split some, hitting different locations to try and move quickly.

There is no side-scrolling shoot’em up scene.

Because this late game surprise sucks

The group works to fight back the Fruitless, but the cracks are starting to show. Kaydin confronts Seryn and the group finds out about their past relationship. Kaydin is sidelined for a combined mission to one of the sky temples. While sidelined, they find that she set off on her own little mission to help some Zeft who are breaking from the fruit thing. This infuriates Kress, until she finds out that the fruit was keeping her people in check somehow, and that it’s affecting them. Kress is determined to find out more, and the group goes along with this, with high tension.

They discover that the fruit is bleeding the Astrae. It’s not just the fruitless, but the overuse of harmelon: it was never meant to be used on this wide of a scale. Plus it really does have poor side effects for the various races, causing the Awisis to fly lower, the Zeft to lose their ability to breathe fire and harness draconic traits, the Peshkas lose creativity, and this leads Dagmar to wonder what his people lose.

They track that down, maybe use a temple, and find that Dagmar’s people require the hermelon to stave off their most bloodthirsty tendencies. Hence the tradition among the people. Kaydin realizes that Zimar, Dagmar’s son, has stopped eating, and they race to where they know him to be.

When they reach him, he seems fine. They discover that Alek’s father has been helping with another of those Fruitile fruits or whatever (the names in this game are atrocious; I’m trying). This leads them to trying to figure out what goes on. Yuno summons Alek for a one on one. She reveals that things are more complicated, but that Chaos is coming.

Alassia admits to knowing this, which causes Arpajo to finally become unhappy and leave for a bit. The group seeks him out, actually feeling sorry for the racist. He apologies and recognizes that he’s been wrong, and then Leonard shows up. Leonard starts revealing things, promising more if the group meets at a location.

They do, and find that Leonard knows of Chaos. With Kaydin and the others, they talk about a possible solution. Kaydin, Kress, Dagmar, and surprisingly Arpajo all state that they need to follow the new path, that they should find a new fruit. Eko, Alassia, and Alek are all still steadfast followers of Harmony. Ulan’s caught in between, and tries to work both groups, but there’s no working to separate their ideas and ideals now.

Players can either choose or maybe we’ll play both. Get a few missions, before news of rising Chaos forces them to look. The various temples are all in trouble, as are locations and family members, both Fruitless and Followers. Here the player gets some open choice as they bounce around, before finding out Yuno is in trouble.

Go back to the Tower, find out Yuno has been holding back Chaos. She connects with Alek, confesses her love, and seems to fade. Alek goes on another rage thing and attempts to fight Seryn and that one Zeft that’s totally super evil. Seryn’s still corrupted, but Kaydin tries to reach her. There seems to be something before Chaos gains control. They fight a Chaos controlled Seryn who summons alternate Astrae.

Meanwhile Alek confronts the Zeft and finds out that they’re going to release Chaos. The slavish following of Harmony let it all happen. Alek’s rage will be the final key. He can’t help himself, but Yuno reaches him through memory or vision or something.

The group hurries to stop, arrives moments late. Chaos shows up, big fight.

There’s possibly a few things I’d change here, but it’s a lot less formulaic and nuanced than what the game gave us. It’s still got some of the general elements, but would give us more to sink our teeth into, along with some more reasoning. I’d flesh it out more if I were more interested.

I’m tempted to try this with some other games, but I mostly play games I like, so there’s less to change to work with. Again, Astria Ascending is bad. It’s a 3/10 easy, with good ideas it never tries. But there’s some stuff to work with. This still wouldn’t fix the game, but at least it would give us, oh, I don’t know…

“a mature story with adult characters and extensive dialogue?”

Irony, not this game’s strong suit

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