Asterigos: Curse of the Stars

At this point, I’ve spent something like 70 hours with Asterigos: Curse of the Stars. I’ve beaten the game twice now, and I’ve managed to take down every boss in the game, including the ten optional Trinity bosses. I’ve not done every side quest, and the “True” ending still eludes me, but I think it’s fair to say that I’ve seen a vast majority of what Asterigos has on offer.

And I really enjoyed my time with this game. This is one of those games that eats away at me a little at a time; when I put it down for a day or two, I start feeling the desire to return to it and suss out more of its secrets.

However, the first half of the game makes two huge mistakes that I think are preventing a lot of players from truly giving Asterigos the chance it deserves. If you can push through the first half of the game, there’s an absolute bounty of content waiting for you on the other side.

Asterigos: Curse of the Stars

The first mistake — and by far the game’s biggest sin — is that you don’t get the ability to fast-travel until almost the midpoint of the story. Yes, there’s some narrative justification for this decision, as Minerva holds back the ability until she’s sure she can trust Hilda to use it responsibly. However, from a gameplay perspective, this bogs down the pacing, oftentimes slowing your progress to a painful crawl through the muck.

The game world is designed to feature a lot of doubling back and re-exploring areas once you’ve gained new elemental abilities. For example, you might see vines with red flowers blocking a path before you acquire the Fire Enchantite, which allows you to burn through them. You’ll try to remember where those vines were so you can return later and reveal the secrets that lie beyond. However, in the first half of the game, you have to weigh your desire to uncover those secrets against the drudgery of having to replay massive sections of the game world that you’ve already been through.

Personally, I think Hilda should get the ability to fast-travel between Conduits much, much earlier in the game. In fact, the best time to grant this ability, in my opinion, would be the very first time she enters the Shelter. This happens less than an hour into the game (I made it to this point within ten minutes when I played New Game Plus), and it seems like the place the player would unlock this feature here. I suspect that a lot of people, when they don’t unlock the feature at this point in the game, assume that the game doesn’t have Conduit-to-Conduit fast-travel at all. That was my assumption on my first playthrough, anyway.

Asterigos: Curse of the Stars

The second mistake the game makes is that it’s way too heavy-handed with its dialogue. Every character you meet will talk and talk and talk and talk until you just completely zone out. Yes, there’s a lot of lore in Asterigos, but the game seems way to self-conscious about this. It feels like the development team had a lot of anxiety about players missing a neat little piece of lore — a connection between two characters, or an item with an important history, for example — so they make their NPCs explain it all to you.

Contrast this with something like Elden Ring, which has so much faith in its own world that it distills its lore down to the essential elements. If a player figures out the connections between things, cool. If not, that’s also cool. And this creates a sense of wonder, where every item description, every line of dialogue becomes meaningful.

And it’s not like Asterigos doesn’t take this approach in some aspects of the game. For example, progressing side quests requires you to pay close attention to NPC dialogue and to make use of Hilda’s journal as an anchor point. You can easily be roadblocked by a quest that requires you to procure a particular item that you can only get by digging deep, deep into an NPC’s dialogue tree. But this is completely diminished by the fact that NPCs prattle on and on and on and on when they don’t need to. It can become super frustrating to miss the single important line you needed to hear because you mashed the X button through a 3,000-word monologue about the culture and customs of Aphes.

Asterigos: Curse of the Stars

To be clear, the overstuffed dialogue problem persists through the entire game, but for me, the point where I finally just caved and started mashing through most of it happened at about the same point where I gained the fast-travel ability. This gave the illusion that these two things were connected, when I can see in retrospect that they actually weren’t. But I promise you, the game becomes much better once you start skipping any dialogue that you’re not interested in.

Because of these two mistakes (the delayed fast-travel feature and the laborious dialogue trees), Asterigos can start to feel tedious. However, once you move beyond them (by earning fast-travel in the second half of the game and learning to be okay with button-mashing through dialogue), you’re served a cornucopia of incredible game content.

For example, the Trinity bosses, which I mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, are an absolute delight to track down and defeat, one at a time. These only become available after a certain point in the story, when night falls and the world is engulfed in darkness. But once that happens, you are tasked with hunting down these monsters on your own, with little to no guidance from the game. (I’ve made my own guide, of course). But the thrill of stumbling into one of these fights completely justifies their elusive nature. There are ten of these optional bosses, and killing all ten almost feels like an entire second game on its own.

Asterigos: Curse of the Stars

Further, there are tons of side quests that are handled in that FromSoftware style, where you’re only ever given vague hints about what it is you’re even supposed to do. This can be super frustrating for completionists, but it’s such a satisfying way of handling side quests. In a lot of cases, you don’t even realize you’ve been working on a long quest chain until you’re more than halfway through it. This storytelling style feels like such a contrast with the extended-to-the-point-of-tedium NPC dialogue, but the game handles it brilliantly.

When you get deep enough into Asterigos to start enjoying the buffet of content that exists in its second half, you’ll start to realize just how incredibly well-crafted this game actually is. Unfortunately, I think a lot of players are going to bounce off of it before they ever get that far.

At the time of this writing, I can see a massive dropoff in player interest by looking at the Trophy completion percentages. The first boss has an 89.3% completion rate, which drops down to 58% for the second boss and 36.5% for the third. The Laurel Craft event — which is the point where I think the game truly becomes what it sets out to be in the first place — has a 21.4% completion rate. That means that almost 4 out of 5 players haven’t made it far enough to unlock fast-travel yet.

Sure, every game has completion dropoff. It only makes sense that more players will beat the first boss than the second, as it’s impossible for the reverse to be true (you can’t beat the second boss without beating the first). Still, barely a fifth of players are making it to what I consider to be the actual game. My assumption is that the two problems I’ve outlined have created a barrier that prevents a lot of that almost-80% of players to stop digging before they reach the true treasure of Asterigos.

Asterigos: Curse of the Stars

I hope this is something that can be addressed in the future. Sure, it’s too late for a massive cleanup/rewrite of dialogue trees, but I don’t think it’s too late to patch the game to allow players to fast-travel earlier. I also hope the dev team at Acme Game Studio has enough confidence now to trim the fat on the dialogue in their next game, whether that’s a sequel to Curse of the Stars or a new game entirely (I’m really hoping for a second Asterigos game, to be honest). Obviously, this is a team with an immense amount of talent, and if Asterigos is just a small taste of what they’re capable of, there are good things in store for the gaming world.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Asterigos: Curse of the Stars for PS5, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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