The PS2 is ripe with RPG games to play.  Final Fantasy, Xenosaga, Shadow Hearts, and Wild Arms are all series that have been popular series on the console.  Because of this, it would seem natural that its cousin the PSP would get some RPG games for it.  Some RPG games have come out for the PSP with mixed results.  While Ubisoft isn’t known for their RPG efforts, they are bringing out Astonishia Story for the PSP.

In Astonishia Story you follow Lloyd in the continent of Ashiria.  Lloyd is a knight in the Latein Empire.  He is charged with protecting the Staff of Cainan on a journey back to its home with the royal kingdom when their party is attacked.  After the attack Lloyd wakes up to find he is the only one to survive.  He shakes off his boots and heads out on a journey to retrieve the Staff of Cainan and figure out who was behind the ambush.

When I looked on the box for Astonishia, I wondered what it would look like when I actually played it.  I saw a couple of pictures on the back of the box and I couldn’t really tell.  When I didn’t see any pictures in the booklet I really wondered what I would run into.  Then when I recognized two of the pictures on the back of the case in the intro, I really wondered what I would come across.

When I got into the actual gameplay of Astonishia, it reminded me of something from the SNES days.  The game features 2D sprites that travel through the environments, similar to the original Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior.  The characters are drawn well, but they don’t have many frames of animation.  I think you could count about four frames of animation for every character’s movements.  There also isn’t a lot of variety in the enemies you fight against.  A fighter garolin looks different from an archer garolin for instance, but all of the fighter garolins look the same.  This is also the case with the archer garolins. 

Most of the time you are traveling through a forest, so you won’t see a whole lot of difference while traveling throughout the land of Ashiria.  Once you get in towns, you do notice some differences though.  Richer towns have nicer buildings while less prosperous towns look a little rustic.  The towns do have people walking about them, and each building has someone inside.  The local bar is always a bit more populated than the houses, which makes sense since that is the usual gathering place and where you can often get news about the surroundings.

The music in Astonishia does have a medieval and majestic sound to it.  Horns blaring and strict rhythms command the feel for the music.  However, it feels like something like you would hear from the SNES and not something from the PSP. 

The sound effects suffer from the same issues as the music.  You hear the swords clash and the arrows zip through the air during battles.  Yet, they sound like something you would hear from the days of 16-bit systems.  There isn’t any voice acting at all in the game either.  While it’s understandable that every character wouldn’t be voice acted, some kind of voice acting would have been appreciated.

Saying the controls for Astonishia are simple would be an understatement.  Movement is handled with either the D-pad or the analog nub.  Bringing up the menu options in the world maps is done by hitting Triangle.  Bringing up the combat options while in battle is done with the X button.  The case highlights “Intuitive one-button control system.”  It might not be exactly one button, but it is about as close to one button as possible.

The biggest issue that I have with the controls is that I would expect the menu options to disappear after getting out of the party option screen or using an item in the world map.  Instead it is there when you are done with that option and so it takes an extra step to get back to the action.  While this isn’t a huge issue most of the time, it does get a bit annoying.

The back of the Astonishia Story case says “an epic action RPG adventure.”  When I saw this, I figured I would get something possibly like X-Men Legends or Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance.  Maybe it would play something like Kingdom of Heaven.  Then I started getting into the game and it reminded me a bit like Zelda for the SNES with tactical combat.

Astonisha is played out on four different kinds of areas.  The field scenes are the areas like a world map.  Battle scenes are small areas where fighting takes place.  Village scenes are the populated areas where you talk to the people there, buy and sell items, and get information at the local tavern.  Dungeon scenes are similar to the field scenes, except you face much more difficult battles and the enemies don’t appear on screen.

Everything in the world feels like it is placed on a grid, although you can’t see one on the map.  Everyone occupies a square, and if an object is placed on an area you can’t move over it.  While there isn’t anything wrong with this system, it doesn’t feel like you have the freedom you should have within the environment.  This occurs on all of the different scenes.

One nice trend happening in RPGs is that instead of encountering random battles, enemy forces show up on the screen.  This happens most of the time in Astonishia, except in the dungeon areas.  However, you might run into a garolin fighter on the screen, but you’ll end up actually fighting bandits instead.  They also don’t give any indication of how strong the party is.

At first you travel alone working your way to retrieving the Staff of Cainan, but eventually you do get some traveling companions to help you on your journey.  They run the gamut of typical NPC characters, like Wizard, Fighter, Monk, and Knight.

These NPCs also assist you in battle.  When you find yourself in battle, you are placed on the screen randomly close to the other members of your party.  Here you move your party one at a time and then fight against the enemy party.  Each character goes according to their agility skill.  Once you move you can attack, use an item, use a skill, cast a spell, or try to run away.  You can do any of those before moving your character, but once you do that you won’t have an opportunity to move.  This adds some tactics to your battle plan.

As you complete battles you level up.  Leveling up increases the party’s stats and gives them new skills or spells.  The party gains experience, and the best fighter gains extra experience from the battle.

Most of the quests in the game involve defeating a certain enemy or fetching something and bringing it back.  Also, there isn’t any log to help you determine what quests you might have open and where you should go to help you complete the game.

One nice feature of Astonishia is the fact that you can save anywhere on the world map.  Since this is an RPG, you want to be able to save often.  Because of the portable nature of the PSP you want to be able to save often too.  Ubisoft has done a good job of making Astonishia a truly portable RPG.

The biggest issue with Astonishia is that it feels like it’s been done before, done a while ago, and done better.  The game isn’t very original and there really isn’t anything new introduced.  It is nice that you have a bit of strategy in your battles instead of two parties lined up against each other, but it isn’t enough to set itself apart from any other RPG.

Astonishia is an RPG, so it will take a while to finish the game.  Still, at under 20 hours it isn’t long for an RPG.  There are quite a few side quests to the game that you can complete to help your progress in the game.  These side tasks don’t seem to have anything to do with the main story though.

Astonishia gets repetitive very quickly as well.  After a while the battles feel very much the same, and you know that you can finish off most battles fairly quickly.  It’s not a difficult game either, especially since any members of your party can be revived after battle as long as one member of the party survives.  You’ll get a lot of hours out of it, but how long you can last within the tedium might be trying.  There isn’t any real reason to come back to the game either.

The PSP could really use a good RPG on it, and several attempts have been made.  Yet each attempt has fallen short.  While you don’t need great graphics or sound to make a satisfying RPG, a good story and execution are crucial.  Astonishia Story has some good things going for it, but the repetition gets old very quickly.  Still, if you are harkening for something from the days of 16-bit consoles, you might find something enjoyable in Astonishia Story.