Ex Astris review
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Ex Astris review

Our Review by Campbell Bird on March 12th, 2024
Rating: starstarstarstarstar :: PACE OVER PLOT
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This rpg is so exceptionally paced and designed that its poor storytelling doesn’t play a factor.


Price: $9.99
Version: 1.0.3
App Reviewed on: iPad Pro

Graphics/Sound Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar
User Interface Rating: starstarstarstarstar
Gameplay Rating: starstarstarstarstar
Replay Value Rating: starstarstarstarstar

Overall Rating: starstarstarstarstar

I've always been of the mind that the stories that video games tell tend to not matter all that much. There are various reasons (and a fair amount of nuance) for this that I can't get into here because I have a game to review, but it just so happens that this game is a perfect example of my point. For a large portion of Ex Astris, it is practically impossible to tell what is going on, but this rpg still manages to impress thanks to its inventive combat system, fascinating aesthetic, tight pacing, and surprising mobile-friendliness.

A true mystery

In Ex Astris, you play as an investigator from Earth visiting an alien planet. This planet has been previously discovered and had contact with humans before, but for some reason that relationship got cut off for awhile and now your character, Yan, is here anew to investigate... something.

If this sounds pretty vague, just wait until you dive further into this game. Very little gets explained, and--when it does--it is with proper nouns that also have very little explanation about what they are. If the vibe Ex Astris was going for was to make its world as mysterious and confusing as it might be to a young investigator that had never been there before, then mission accomplished! Even if you are able to piece things together, Ex Astris definitely avoids filling in blanks and often will skip moments of action or transition that might explain how your character arrived somewhere or what certain character motivations are.

Build a combo, dial a combo

The good news about all of this story stuff is that it largely doesn't matter. I blazed through Ex Astris because it looked cool, ran at a smooth 60 frames per second, had nice, tight dungeons, and--most importantly--an expertly-crafted combat system.

In many rpgs, there's a point at which I feel done with combat. It becomes a thing I have to do to continue progressing, though the actions associated with it lose quite a bit of luster. This did not happen with me for Ex Astris. I could not wait to hop into fights with new enemies and try to puzzle out new combos or hunt all over environments for materials I could use to build new gear or cook food that could change the interplay of my characters. It was very much a driving force throughout the game, thanks in no small part to the careful attention-to-detail given to each interlocking system--of which there are about a half dozen--including heavy emphasis on reaction-based defense and combo-inputs that make you feel like a constant, active participant in the action.

Mobile mastery

Outside of the specifics of its combat, Ex Astris is a very conventional rpg experience. You have party members, side quests, little items tucked away in corners, some light puzzle-solving within dungeons, and even an in-universe mini-game you might spend way too much time trying to get good at (as I did). It has so many of the things I’d expect from an rpg that if it weren't for the fact I was playing using touch controls, you might have been able to convince me that Ex Astris is an old and forgotten mid-tier Playstation 2 game.

Despite feeling very console-like, though, Ex Astris does a shockingly good job of being mobile-friendly. Even though the touch controls are just virtual buttons, they feel natural in the way they are placed and how they respond to inputs. Its environment design is also very open and detailed without being overwhelming. Lastly, Ex Astris is very generous with checkpointing, allows for quick restarts of fights, and handles cloud saves in a very clear way so you're never wondering where your save might be at any given time. All of this ties together into a package that feels immersive, but without being super unwieldy or overly long for mobile play.

The bottom line

By the end of Ex Astris, the story takes on a shape that explains enough stuff so that there's an ending that makes sense, but even if it didn't it wouldn't have made a difference to me. The systems at play in this game are so finely tuned, well executed, and portioned out that the entire thing could have been written in gibberish and I would have still enjoyed it immensely.

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