What do you get when you cross two cute twins, an alien invasion and family drama? A mecha shoot-em-up of course, specifically you get the ghost-girl powered Astebreed!
Genre(s): Shoot ’em Up | Action
Publisher: AGM Games Playism
Release Date: May 2014
Played Main Story
I picked up Astebreed months ago, during a sale on GoG but never thought to try it. First, it was at the bottom of my backlog and second, I thought it was an on-rails game and I tend to hate those. A couple of weeks ago I decided to give it a short try for my nightly stream and I realised I’d been right…and wrong, so very wrong! Yes, Astebreed is on rails, but it’s also a bullet hell game and a Mecha Shoot ‘Em Up! It’s an on-rails and highly intense Zone of the Enders! But as that statement isn’t a review, let’s keep going!
Astebreed opens with its prologue, where a trio of characters get brutally murdered by the Filune, a mechanical species bent on universal conquest and destruction, their latest target being Earth and humanity. Before our temporary protagonist dies from his wounds, he finds two robots with his daughters’ voices. Turns out they were taken by the aliens and bonded to the mechs as the organic components of Lucis, the reality altering system built into the robots. He boards one of the mechs and they escape but leave the other one behind.
Some time later, Roy Becket becomes the pilot of the XBreed, the mech our prologue protagonist used to escape. It’s been retrofitted and combined with Earth technology and with Fiona handling the Lucis system, they become Earth’s new aces against the Filune. This is where the game starts off. What follows is a journey of discovery, reconnecting with Fiona’s sister Esto, taken by Filune and turned to hate everything she held dear.
If the above description of the plot left you confused, welcome to my world. I’m very good at following plotlines, even convoluted ones, but Astebreed is another level. The game bombards you with exposition during the levels, so there is often a lot you’re missing because your attention isn’t on the subtitles but on the red beams of death coming for you. It’s not a bad plot and the way they succeed in their mission is deviously creative. The ending on the other hand is all over the place, with no consistent tone.
Gameplay is frankly amazing. It’s on rails meaning you only have limited directional movement and the game auto-scrolls for you, sometimes even changing perspective from top down to a side view and even behind the shoulder view.
Your mech, the XBreed and later Astebreed, has three main modes of attack. A wide shot laser, a machinegun laser and of course, a giant insane sword. The two laser cannons can be charged and used to lock on to multiple enemies. Releasing the button then unleashes the Lucis system particles floating around you to deal humongous levels of damage. You attacks charge your EX gauge, and once filled you can unleash the Breed’s EX-Attack, a shockwave that negates all beams and deals high damage or a flurry of sword strikes on enemies targeted with the charged shots. If your charge is set on just one enemy, the flurry deals tremendous damage to them. It was my strategy of choice on most boss fights and in some it’s actually the only way to damage them effectively…also, it looks so cool!
At any given point in the game there can be up to twenty enemies on screen, each firing their own individual attacks for you to dodge or parry with your sword, unless they’re red beams, those will destroy you. If you avoid taking damage, your health will slowly regenerate, which is a blessing considering the sheer lunatic spectacle of bullets that are the Astebreed levels. Levels get increasingly dangerous and deadly and the bosses are punishingly hard, with the last boss being a particular point of frustration—and elation once you’ve beaten it. It’s the SHMUP equivalent of Ornstein & Smough from Dark Souls!
The gameplay is intense, fast-paced and leaves very little room for mistakes. A single shot from a tiny enemy can kill you, but you still have ways to counter most attacks. Sometimes it’s a matter of blasting everyone around you and others it’s taking out key priority targets to give you some breathing room. But not to worry, you can pick the controls and mechanics up quite easily and quickly and soon you’ll be bobbing and weaving and blasting all your targets to bits! The game is quite tough, but it’s fair as well.
Sadly, the experience is rather short, with only six and a half chapters to it. Each chapter, without counting the time you’ll spend replaying after dying, lasts for about ten to twenty minutes, meaning the game offers around two hours’ worth of gameplay in the very best of cases. After clearing it though, you gain access to the Hard mode, and having played through some of it I can tell you, it is freaking hard. Enemies have new patterns, bosses get new abilities and your health doesn’t fully regenerate anymore. It’s a true test of skill.
Visuals are quite good, with beautiful scenery and backgrounds and with amazingly detailed enemies. Filune are collapsible entities and you’ll often see them unfold into their battle forms in the middle of the screen and it’s a joy to watch them for a Mecha Anime and Transformers fan like me. Lighting and visual effects are fantastic, wild and vivid and terribly exciting. Between explosions, the slashes of your sword and the bursts of power from the Lucis system, you’ll constantly enjoy a spectacle of light and wonder.
Finally, the sound design. Voice acting is top-notch and I recognised a few of the voice actors from several anime I’ve seen in the past. They hit all the right marks and deliver emotional lines flawlessly, something this quite strange plot needs to keep you invested. Music is phenomenal, with upbeat techno tunes with a few guitar riffs and fast-paced pieces that will keep you moving and thinking at the speed Astebreed needs you to stay if you wish to survive the next wave of enemies.
Astebreed lacks length and could’ve used it if only to flesh out the plot a bit more and make it easier to digest, but beyond those issues it’s a phenomenal Shoot ‘Em Up that still keeps me going back to clear it on hard!
4/5 – Exceptional