A solid entry for your Switch's send-off.

When I first launched Astlibra Revision—a side-scrolling action JRPG from WhisperGames— I was presented with the option of playing a demo or starting a game. I chose to start, and it’s like the game knew me. “Uh, no, Hiner. Play the demo. You’re gonna need it.”

I felt disrespected, but the game was right. You may look at the screen captures and think you’ve got Astlibra Revision figured out, but that’s likely not the case. This is not just another Metroidvania or side-scrolling hack-and-slash, it’s a surprisingly deep action game that will challenge even veteran players from the onset…depending upon your choice of difficulty, anyway.

Astlibra Revision has six skill options. The easiest allows you to push through with just a fairly basic command of its combat system. I didn’t go anywhere near the hardest setting; I’m not a glutton. Even if you do decide to minimize the challenge, the game provides plenty of content to keep you engaged.

It begins with a story that doesn’t stray far from your typical setup. A young boy and his friend flee an attack on his village, only to get knocked out. Our nameless hero awakens in a cabin without his friend, but is instead accompanied by a talking crow who claims to have saved him. Thus begins an adventure that grows in ways you likely won’t expect, and that goes deeper thematically than most games of this type are willing to go. The epic tale is more conducive to turn-based or adventure JRPGs than a side-scrolling action game, but it’s handled here with confidence and purpose.

The gameplay loop also begins typically before branching off in fun ways. The areas you visit are broken into segments, each containing a large number of monsters to defeat before taking on the boss. The lesser enemies help you build up your stamina, which you’ll absolutely need in order to fight the massive bosses. But you’ll need more than that. Each boss comes with unique attack patterns and specific weaknesses to exploit, making preparation a key component. Rarely was I able to defeat a boss on my first attempt, even on an easier setting. They instead required what I’ll call practice runs, where I would learn what I could about their methods while also figuring out what to equip before returning. Between that and required grinding against the lesser enemies, If repetition turns you off, you’ll want to make sure you ease into this game’s available difficulties.

Thankfully, getting better doesn’t mean doing the same thing over and over until you’re ready to go. Side quests will help you level up, not to mention getting you up to speed on the game’s somewhat complex control scheme. There are a lot of different attacks and combos you can put together in combat, as well as your dodges and timed use of shields. I mentioned hacking and slashing earlier, but just jumping in and mashing away is not the key to victory here (although the game’s enemy-break system may make it seem like that). You’ll not only need to master your available attack combos, but also know when best to use them.

It helps that Astlibra Revision allows you to grow your character as you see fit. You decide where to assign your stat points and how to work through the skill tree. Prefer ranged weapons? Magic attacks? A trusty sword? Commit to it and go, acquiring new skills and crafting relevant items along the way.

Yes, crafting. You don’t just buy or stumble upon armor and weapons in Astlibra Revision, you acquire the materials needed to craft them. I sometimes find this approach unwieldy, but it was utilized well here, and it really helped me feel like I was making the game my own. The ability to choose the hero’s upgrade path also allows for some replayability on an already lengthy game—40 to 50 hours, not to mention the post game content to keep you playing even beyond that.

I also want to highlight the game’s graphics, which involve a striking juxtaposition of bright, colorful action elements against stunningly picturesque backdrops. The presentation is effective throughout, and never gets bogged down in rendering issues.

The game does, however, sometimes get bogged down with pacing issues. Certain areas simply take too long to work through. If you find yourself frustrated with combat and tired of grinding, this can (and did, with me) cause you to put down the controller and move on to another activity. The story in Astlibra Revision is good, but the gaps in progression often hurt the narrative’s momentum.

Still, I can’t help but feel the timing of this release is perfect. As we approach the twilight of the Nintendo Switch—and as AAA game releases start to fade—Astilibra Revision provides a solid and quite unique experience to keep your Switch active. Just remember to take the game’s advice and work through the in-game demo, and don’t be ashamed to take things easy.