A few years back, I declared my intent to play and review La Valeur. Upon hearing that plan, my friend and fellow valiant writer — Sho — screamed. Apparently he has played that particular RPG and did not care for it.
After Sho’s unexpected protest, I relented and filed La Valeur back on the shelf. I instead chose to review Mateki Densetsu Astralius, an RPG so obscure that even Sho could not comment. To this day, I am only aware of two other people who have played this game. One is the burly IvaNEC, and his accounts are detailed at The Brothers Duomazov. The other person is the RPG legend himself, Victor Ireland, as chronicled in the storied pages of TurboPlay. In an article about upcoming releases, the following cinema picture was prominently displayed:
It’s a nice picture, and it’s accompanied by a complimentary caption. Mr. Ireland’s article hyped Astralius as “…said to give both Y’s games a serious run for the top honor. [sic] It should prove to be one of the toughest games made as well.”
In other news, some people at GameFAQs say that Shaq Fu is awesome.
The US localization was cancelled, but hold the lamentations. Astralius is no hidden gem — it’s just old and obscure. Hell, it’s not even decent. Not by modern standards, and not by generous comparison to other 19-year-old titles. However, for all of its glaring faults, Astralius is a promising game, and that promise should have pulled it from the slimy, slippery tar pits populated by other PC Engine fossils. Fossils like La Valeur.
Similar to Dragon Warrior and other formative JRPGs, Astralius loves menus. When you want to talk to someone, you have to open a menu. When you want to examine something, you have to open a menu. To developer IGS’s credit, they did eliminate Dragon Warrior‘s explicit command for “walk upstairs”, but it’s still pretty damn annoying to chase people down and start fiddling with menus, praying they don’t walk away before you can select the “talk” command.
That cumbersome interface would be understandable if Astralius itself were a formative JRPG, but it’s not. No, Astralius was a direct competitor to Xak, Cosmic Fantasy 2, The Legend of Heroes, Phantasy Star 2, Final Fantasy 4, and Ys Book 1&2. When I say “competitor”, I really mean “people were spending their money on those other games instead of buying Astralius”. I doubt anyone other than Victor Ireland seriously thought this could compete.
When not fiddling with menus, you’re s-l-o-w-l-y guiding the main character — a manly flutist — across massive landscapes and through labyrinthine dungeons, where he and his friends get attacked by funny-looking monsters every three or four steps. Those are some of the aforementioned funny-looking monsters on the right. During each random encounter, you have to pick “look at monsters” from a menu to see your opponents. Otherwise you’ll just see a black screen with text. Yes, really.
After walking three or four more steps, the flutist will encounter more monsters. That’s one thing the TurboPlay article got right: Astralius is a tough game. Maddeningly so. Not only are battles frequent, not only are battles soul-crushingly difficult, but if a particular hero’s target monster should die or flee, the hero just doesn’t attack anyone at all. By the 1990s, most developers had abandoned that notorious practice.
Then there’s the airship. After you locate this wonderful contraption, which is normally an oldschool RPG high point, you have to spend hours trudging through painstaking random battles to locate the ignition key. When you finally acquire the key and activate the airship, gleefully flying into the next segment of the game, you can’t land anywhere because THE ENTIRE CONTINENT IS COVERED IN MOUNTAINS.
Then there’s the joke of a world map. In Final Fantasy, you discovered an overworld map pretty early in the game, and you could press “B + SELECT” at any time to see your location. The map was convenient, and it became a common inclusion in oldschool RPGs. Common as it may have been, that’s not how such things work in Satan’s favorite RPG. In Astralius, you must wade through grueling deserts and countless battles to discover the world map . . . which is painted on the floor of an arbitrary hut. If you ever want to see the map again, you can’t just press “II + SELECT” or anything simple like that. No, you have to walk all the way back to that out-of-the-way hut and stare at the floor again, which is a massive undertaking since you’re getting sucked into random encounters every time you take three or four steps.
Those insulting issues only comprise a small sample of my numerous gripes. It’s a rotten game. That’s unfortunate, because Astralius features some really nifty concepts.
Here are some of the cool parts you won’t live to see:
Mateki Densetsu Astralius is a creative game. It’s also a disgustingly misguided game. If I were clever, then I’d say that Astralius is the shapely lass that you take to bed only to discover that her body is covered in festering boils. But since I’m not clever, I’ll just say that it was a disappointing and emotionally exhausting experience from beginning to end. It’s obvious that IGS cared, but sometimes giving a crap isn’t enough to prevent a company from producing crap.