Ever since the release of Slay the Spire (2017) in 2017, the deck-building roguelikes won’t stop coming. I suppose this is another one of the symptoms of the roguelike trend that has overtaken indie gaming at large, and not strictly the result of Slay the Spire’s (2017) success, but it’s hard to deny that Slay the Spire (2017) put the idea of deck-building roguelikes specifically into the heads of many people. And as a fan of card games, this subgenre of roguelikes has always been the one I’m most interested in.
But with a genre this prolific, every new entry ideally needs to bring something new to the table to stand out in the crowd. So what does Astrea: Six-Sided Oracles, developed by Little Leo Games and published by Akupara Games, have to offer? Well, first of all, you don’t build a deck of cards, but a deck of dice. This differentiates it from some deckbuilding roguelikes, but it’s not the first game to throw dice into the genre. What really sets this one apart, is its unique purification/corruption system.
Damage works a little differently in Astrea than it does in pretty much any other game. The sides on your dice can have one of two damage types. Purification deals damage to the enemies and heals yourself, while corruption deals damage to yourself and heals the enemy. So already, on the most basic level, every turn is a balancing act of using your resources correctly to deal the maximum damage to the enemy while trying to keep your own health above zero. Do you accept and take the damage of the corruption dice you threw, or do you heal your enemy back up and drag out the fight? Do you use your purification dice to keep yourself afloat since you desperately need some health right now, or do you go into the offense and use it to deal more damage to your enemy? This in itself makes for an interesting risk and reward system, but there are more layers to it.
First of all, corrupting the enemy doesn’t just heal them, it also fills their corruption meter, activating their ability every time it’s completely filled. They also slowly fill this meter by themselves with their own dice throws by the way, but hitting them with corruption will accelerate it. But that isn’t the interesting part yet. At the end of the day, all it does makes using corruption on an enemy even worse than it already is in most cases. Where it gets interesting is what happens when you use corruption on yourself. Because you too have a corruption meter. Your health.
As your health drops and you get more corrupted, you gain access to more abilities. If you’re really smart about it, you can even corrupt yourself to use your special abilities, purify yourself back up, and then corrupt yourself again to use your special abilities once more, all in the same turn. This purification vs. corruption system creates a dynamic combat system where your life bar is nothing more than a resource that has to be used to its fullest potential, dealing damage and healing yourself in the right moments to maximize your effectiveness every single turn with the dice rolls that you’re given. It’s such a simple idea, but it’s so clever.
Thematically, it also makes perfect sense. In Astrea, a civilization among the stars has been overtaken by a dark force, corrupting the astral beings and turning them into uncontrollable monsters. The titular six-sided oracles are the blessed ones and need to go on a dangerous journey to save their star system. But to defeat their enemies, they too have to make use of this dark, chaotic power. Letting themselves be corrupted to gain the necessary strength to deal with their adversaries, but without losing themselves to the madness. It’s also worth noting that you don’t kill your enemies when you defeat them, instead you simply purify them, bringing them back to their original state.
In case it’s not obvious yet, the six-sided oracles are the different playable characters. They all have different abilities, as well as different sets of dice they have access to, allowing each of them to have their own unique playstyle. You also gain EXP after every run, leveling up your characters and unlocking more different gear to collect in your runs. Like any roguelike, you get rewards in between every fight. More dice for your deck, passive blessings, sentinels that fight alongside you with their own dice and abilities etc.
My only problem with all of this, as fun as it is conceptually, is that I found it fairly easy to break the system. This is not inherently a bad thing. I believe any good roguelike lets you get strong enough to break the game if you know what you’re doing and are lucky enough in a given run. But in Astrea it’s just too easy. Once you know what strategy you want to go with, it’s rather simple to collect the materials you need for it. On top of that, you realize quite quickly what’s the strongest strategy for any given character. In fairness, the game does have anomaly levels that are unlocked upon completing a run, making the game more difficult. I still think it could need a little more balancing, because the decisions you have to make in your run are often much more straightforward than they should be. Doing run after run isn’t as exciting if you can allow yourself to go for basically the same strategy every time.
This game does look fantastic. It primarily uses two colours. Blue, the purified, and red, the corrupted, with accents of white and black respectively. On top of that, the artists here have done texture work that makes every character and monster feel so… sparkly, for the lack of a better word. They look like diamonds refracting light and creating a beautiful rainbow shimmer on their surface. While I did get a little tired of the gameplay eventually, I never got tired of looking at the beautiful visuals.
Nairon played Astrea: Six-Sided Oracles on PC with a review key. Astrea: Six-Sided Oracles is also available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series.