Review – Astrologaster

PC (reviewed), iOS, Mac

Developer: Nyamyam
Publisher: Nyamyam
Genre: Adventure
Platform: PC, iOS
Rating: T (Teen)
Price: $9.99 on Steam, $4.99 on iOS

Set in Shakespeare’s England, Astrologaster casts you as Simon Forman, a historical “doctor” who treats his patients with the help of the stars. Through reading the stars, you’ll influence marriages, cure diseases, predict the future, and alter careers. As Forman tries to treat his patients’ sick bodies, minds, and hearts, things are complicated by tensions over religion, politics, and romance. Every aspect of Astrologaster is based on the real-life era and characters—Forman was a real guy—bringing to life this fascinating period of world history. With humor, dialogue, and a story-book interface, Astrologaster is a promising game about reading people just as much as the stars.

You play as Simon Forman, an astrologist and “doctor” treating your patients with star readings and natural remedies.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: Forman is an astrologist, reading the stars for predictions and diagnoses. It’s definitely not witchcraft, and it’s important to consider the times. Elizabethan England had a very muddy line between science and magic, medicine and myth, which explains why astrology was considered a legitimate science. In Forman’s words, “The stars are another way God speaks to us.” This game is loosely based on real astrology, and isn’t seeking to convince you that it’s a real science at all. 

Elizabethan England—okay, England in general—had a LOT of religious turmoil. The Church, Christianity, and religion itself were all huge parts of culture and life, but look radically different than they do today. There’s plenty of religious bigotry, misbehaving churchmen, and outright hypocrisy present. However, there’s no excplicit bashing of any religion by the game as a whole, with religious debauchery always being a matter of a character’s personal flaws or reflections of how society at the time was unjust in general.

Violence: There’s no visual depictions of violence, but there are descriptions of people dying or going off to war and battles. One character does die onscreen but the storybook paper-doll look makes it very tame.

Language: There’s definitely some Elizabethan swearing, but not much in modern speech.

Sexual Content: There’s nothing explicit in Astrologaster, but sex and sexual innuendo are all throughout the game. Several characters come to you with sexual issues, questions about affairs, or advise about romantic exploits. Most of the dirty stuff is wrapped up in flowery Elizabethan English, but there’s definitely some descriptions of suggestive activities. You can even have affairs with some of your patients, but the player has little control over this and it’s offscreen.

Alcohol/Drug Use: Some characters are drinkers or drunks.

Astrologaster places you at the center of society and history during the Elizabethan era.

Review

As an English major in college, Shakespeare and Shakespearean England is my second home. I took British Literature last semester and I’m in a Shakespeare class this semester, so I’m simply surrounded by this era in human history and it’s writing. And honestly, I ain’t complaining. It was such a fascinating time—the new world is being discovered, the Renaissance is beginning, new questions about the nature of everything are being explored, and society is in this weird period between the medieval and the modern. No one knows what they’re doing, but everyone’s trying to figure it out—without explicitly saying so.  I’ve written at least 50 pages on this time period and it’s literature, so when I found this game, I was SO excited.

That said, quick preface: this entire game is written in Elizabethan English. But I promise it’s absolutely amazing and way less complicated than you think. Astrologaster is trying to be funny above all else, so let all those fears of pretentious Shakespearean English die now.

While a history or literature buff may get more of the inside jokes, anyone can enjoy this game. It’s incredibly accessible and you’ll figure out what most things mean quickly. If anything, the flowery language actually makes things funnier as people use it to avoid being upfront, rely on funny innuendos, or fail to understand each other because of it.

You’re given several star-readings to choose from to answer your patient’s problems.

So onto the game itself.

Astrologaster casts you as Simon Forman, a “doctor” who survives the Black Death in London through astrology and natural remedies. His ability to “cure” the plague leaves him as one of the last medical “professionals” left in London, allowing him to establish a clinic. 

The whole story and game is told in a storybook format, with you actively turning the page onscreen to progress. The whole interface and aesthetic is made to look like a pop-up book, with 2D and paper-doll style characters and buildings. Characters and plot points are introduced via an Elizabethan choir with each patient having their own choral number. All this adds to the whimsical, historical feel of the game and makes it feel unique.

The gameplay is a mix of a choice-based narrative and playing detective. You, as Forman, need to listen to the needs of your patient and then pick the best star reading for their scenario. Don’t make the mistake I did of thinking that what the patients say doesn’t really matter because IT DOES. Sometimes they’ll drop clues without meaning to, their body language is telling, or they’ll spill gossip that’ll help you with future patients.

Patients will come in with various issues from medical to relational to financial, asking specific questions of the stars.

You’ll see most of your patients five to six times, getting to know them and building a relationship with them. Once England declares non-licensed doctors—such as yourself—illegal, your patient relationships become even more important as you’ll need eight letters of recommendation to get licensed.

So not only do you need to give them true, relevant advice, you also have the gauge what they actually wanna hear. This leads to thoughts like: “Sure, this guy’s probably gonna die if he tries to overthrow the Queen but if I tell him to go for it and that he’s destined to be king, I’ll get another letter of recommendation…”. And usually it’s harder choices like that, especially as the stories progress and your patient’s problems are less and less about medicine and more and more about relationship, financial, or heart issues. 

The good news is you only need eight letters and there’s twelve patients in total, so you’re completely free to share your true, terrible opinion with a few people while saving the good advice for the others. As the game goes on and one bad choice leads to five people being mad at you, this leeway is especially nice.

You’ll be given several star readings to choose from, using star placement as evidence for each reading.

But this does lead me to one of my only complaints: success is incredibly random. Sometimes I needed to listen better, sometimes I missed a little detail, and sometimes I just didn’t read the stars right, but other times I was just guessing into the wind and then the patient would get upset at me. In addition, you only get to pick the general star reading with no telling how far Forman’s going to take it. As choices and conversations become increasingly delicate and intense, it becomes impossible to know you’re making the right choice. In a way, this illustrates how astrology is not king of everything—shocking, I know—and it can be damaging and frustrating as well.

You also can’t save and try again—without replaying the whole thing, that is—and that definitely damages the replayability. However, I would argue that this actually enhances the experience, as the game does hold up to multiple playthroughs and does change with different choices.  Astrologaster gives you plenty of opportunity to fix your mistakes, and the increasingly complex storyline stays interesting several times over.

Interactions and your relationships with your patients are the meat of Astrologaster.

Speaking of, the best part of Astrologaster is the story. The writing is just good. Some parts made me laugh out loud, others made me seethe with anger, others completely caught me off guard. Your patients are always very colorful characters, with mixed backgrounds and vibrant strengths and weaknesses. They’re all over the wacko map and, honestly, so is Forman. Each story is welldone, exploring different kinds of people and parts of Elizabethan society.

At first, you’re mainly dealing with townsfolk with belly aches and miscarriages, but eventually you’re advising wealthy nobles and leading churchmen on political matters or next moves. These varying stories keep the game from feeling monotonous or tiring as you jump from illnesses to affairs to finances to politics to relational issues.

The patient’s stories also become more intertwined, often in unexpected ways, which adds to the intrigue. By the end, patients that once came in with low fevers or childish crushes are now pouring out their souls to you. And you start caring. A lot. Overall, Astrologaster is a story about humans being human in Elizabethan England and it’s a beautiful, messed up, hilarious, raunchy thing.

A choir introduces each unique patient with their very own theme song.

In the end, I would highly recommend Astrologaster to anyone who enjoys a good story-based game. It features a good balance of intrigue, romance, humor, and history, enticing anyone interested in playing. With over 10 hours of content, it’s a well-written, packed, and unique experience, a steal for as little as five dollars on iOS, and a one hundred percent must-try if you’re into Shakespeare, literature, or history.

The Bottom Line

 

With witty dialogue and historical references galore, Astrologaster is a great experience for anyone interested in a good story that holds up for multiple playthroughs.

 

8.0

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Sydney Stoddard

In love with people, words, and justice, Sydney Stoddard is a jack-of-all-trades writer out of Las Vegas, Nevada. Sydney is an English major at UNLV, studying literature, writing, and storytelling. In her spare time, you can find her meeting friends, writing about anything and everything, managing websites and advocating for anti-trafficking organizations. You can check out more of her writing at: http://sydneystoddard.com

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