Starting out our coverage of the new Steam Next Fest, we have the gorgeous ARPG Astra: Knights of Veda.
Astra: Knights of Veda is planned as a free-to-play mobile/PC ARPG, where you play as a servant of the goddess Veda trying to save the kingdom from the mad king Magnus.
The game pulls a lot from Vanillaware’s titles, both in gameplay and art style, and while it does a good job for the most part, the game doesn’t come without its issues.
The first thing players will notice in Knights of Veda is the fact that they keep getting rewarded for no reason. That is a common tactic in mobile games, where the game is desperate for player retention. As long as a shiny thing pops up on screen every once in a while, the average mobile gamer will be entertained.
The game really doesn’t need to resort to these things, as it has both a gorgeous art style and some really nice presentation, but it still feels the need to keep showering you with rewards in exchange for your attention, as if it were an unattractive rich girlfriend.
The game’s levels average a three minute duration, which is also part of the mobile gameplay loop. I’m sure there’s some very evil psychological reasoning for this, but at the very least the gameplay is pretty good.
After attempting an attack against the mad king, our character dies and loses his body, but his spirit is rescued by the goddess Veda who turns him into the 13th book master. Being a book master means that our character can essentially reach for the powers of every other knight of Veda, essentially letting him embody powerful historical figures.
The game works as a 2.5D beat ’em up where you can freely switch between four equipped knights of Veda, who have a set of four skills each. Some of these skills remain active after you switch characters, similar to how Genshin Impact approaches its combat.
The character-switching is a really superfluous system meant to push more characters through gacha onto the player, as it doesn’t feel excessively relevant to your performance. It’s certainly beneficial to do so, but you won’t be fighting for your life if you ignore the system.
The moment where you unlock the first three characters is pretty touching, as you get some insight into their backstory as an adventurer party who also lost their lives trying to take down the mad king. Unfortunately, after that we just randomly acquire characters through gacha, which really undermines the significance of your party.
I didn’t really dive deep into the gacha mechanics yet so I’ll refrain from calling them predatory, even though that’s what gacha always is. The main unlocks in Astra: Knights of Veda are the game’s characters, which is evidenced by their fantastic designs.
The game’s art seems really inspired by the works of George Kamitani, Vanillaware’s director and character designer, and while the art never goes into the levels of Dragon’s Crown it still remains very pleasing to the eyes.
The game seems to, miraculously, not have been censored, so you get to see some very titillating designs that only Korean studios can come up with.
Despite being Korean, Astra: Knights of Veda is fully voice-acted in English. This would usually be a positive point, but a lot of the performances sound like really bad AI. The dialogue also has this annoying tendency to keep going around in circles, and it’s pretty common for characters to repeat something three times in a row, just worded differently.
A lot of the game’s wording doesn’t click together, especially pertaining to the dialogue, which shows that the localization isn’t 100% there just yet. Cutscenes can also be really hard to watch because the game’s sound designer was out to lunch.
Something about the game’s background music makes the character’s voice lines extremely blown out, making for very grating watching experience. It got to the point where I just started skipping cutscenes if they went on for too long, because I was starting to get a headache from the terrible sound mix.
The game is definitely at its best when you are moving through levels and hitting things, because while the story does try to immerse you, it definitely overstays its welcome at points. The game introduces a million characters to the player at any chance it has, which grinds the pace of gameplay to a halt.
It also doesn’t help that the game teases us with peace for a good hour or so, before not being able to contain itself anymore and introducing a wacky sidekick with an annoying voice to tag along in our journey. Game developers really didn’t seem to get the memo that Navi and Paimon are universally hated characters.
Our sidekick is a miniature version of the goddess Veda, except instead of being charming and sleepy, she’s really annoying and speaks with a high-pitched voice.
Overall, Astra: Knights of Veda would be much better as a paid RPG with online multiplayer. It’s not that it doesn’t work as a free-to-play game, but the mobile-game-isms constantly get in the way of letting the player actually enjoy things.
The game constantly aims at the lowest common denominator, by feeding you with currency for simply watching a cutscene, or by over-tutorializing the player so they absolutely know what to do at all times, which unfortunately backfires, because there’s only so many times you can teach the player how to walk before they start getting annoyed.
It’s commendable that the game still tries to have a big focus on story and has decently-sized levels for a gacha game, but I just wish Astra: Knights of Veda was a “real” title, instead of another gacha treadmill for whales to get lost on.