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Ex Astris review – a truly premium mobile RPG

In this Ex Astris review we dive into the premium mobile RPG from the creators of Arknights, exploring its rich lore, intricate combat, and more.

Ex Astris review - Vi3 looking surprised with her hands up

Our Verdict

Ex Astris is a truly impressive premium mobile RPG that really breaks the mold. Nostalgic yet fresh, this brilliant little gem combines a stunning world, deep lore, lovable characters, and an intricate turn-based-meets-real-time combat system, making for a truly striking experience that is well worth the entry fee.

A premium mobile game is a rare breed, and a premium mobile anime RPG is even rarer – especially one that doesn’t feature any microtransactions or other monetization beyond the entry fee. In fact, developers often stuff premium triple-A games on PC and other consoles with stores, skins, and in-game items that are out to empty your real-life pockets. As such, I was exceptionally excited to take on this Ex Astris review – especially as this intriguing turn-based RPG comes from Hypergraph, creator of the hit gacha game Arknights.

I first set my sights on Ex Astris sometime in late 2022, and it immediately captured my attention. Not just because of its premium status, but also because it looked absolutely beautiful, with promotional materials hinting towards a wonderfully rich, futuristic world full of deep lore, some very cute anime-style characters, and a unique combat system. And I’m happy to say it really lived up to my expectations and, in my opinion, is a strong contender for one of the best mobile games of 2024.

Now, let’s dive into the game in a bit more detail. Ex Astris is a single-player, real-time/turn-based hybrid 3D RPG set on the planet Allindo in the distant future. You initially take control of an ‘Earther’ called Yan, who has been sent to Allindo as part of an investigation accompanied by her drone-like companion, Roy. However, within the first few minutes of the game, the train Yan is traveling on crashes, and she soon finds herself teaming up with a peppy Allindo native called Vi3.

The two form a somewhat abrupt yet very endearing friendship, traveling together and uncovering a bunch of mysteries and secrets along the way. They also meet a variety of new characters who end up tagging along, all of which have their own unique combat skills and gameplay styles, allowing you to tweak your team to your liking. The general vibe of the game, including its gameplay, characters, and story, gives me a strong sense of nostalgia, as it really reminds me of the single-player RPGs I grew up playing on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360, only with some serious graphical and mechanical upgrades.

Ex Astris review - a screenshot showing Yan and Vi3 on a futuristic vehicle looking at a fallen planet

The world-building of Ex Astris is very impressive, with a backdrop of extremely rich and deep lore filling every corner of the planet. From conversations between characters to readable articles that offer glimpses of the world around you, it’s clear that a lot of love and attention went into crafting an intricate foundation for this game, and it had me intrigued from the moment I took control of Yan.

Unfortunately, the main narrative does struggle a little with clarity and pacing in some areas, with large exposition dumps occasionally thrown at you through walls of text, making it hard to synthesize everything thoroughly, and characters using unique terminology as though you’re supposed to already know what it means. As a result, there are some portions of the game where you may feel as though you’re playing a sequel rather than starting from the beginning. However, these are very minor niggles, and the story still kept me engaged throughout.

The deep lore isn’t the only thing that makes this world a treat to explore, as the visuals are also absolutely stunning and truly impressive for a mobile game. As opposed to an open world, each area is separately instanced, allowing more room for detail. Every location you visit has its own unique vibe while still working as a part of a cohesive planet, with gorgeous views in the distance, impressive water, shadow, and light physics, some truly unique architecture, and a plethora of interactable items, fauna, and flora. It maintains a lovely balance between high-tech futuristic-fantasy elements, nature, and buildings that look as though they belong in the history books.

On top of that, you also get the opportunity to explore some unique, dungeon-esque locations along your journey, including secret underground hideouts and ancient ruins from bygone times. While enemies populate many of these locations, there’s also a bunch of puzzles for you to face. The puzzles are generally quite simple and won’t be a match for you if you’re into other puzzle games, but employ some clever mechanics that suit the game’s overall vibe. The bulk of puzzles revolve around you using one character to move boxes along a track by swiping along the screen.

Ex Astris review - a screenshot of gameplay showing Vi3 standing in a puzzle room

Some of these boxes do nothing, simply acting as an obstacle, but there are others that you can activate with another character in order to open doors or reveal items. There are also some boxes that have ladders on the side, allowing you to reach higher places. Many of these locations are pretty straightforward to get through, but also feature a variety of secret platforms or paths that lead to treasures. I love this approach, as it allows you to blast through the game without penalty if you prefer, but also rewards you for truly taking in your surroundings and exploring everything – another element that reminds me of the best RPGs that I grew up with.

Of course, the characters also play a big part in making this game so special. Vi3 and Yan are especially fantastic, both in their contrasting designs and personalities that play off each other, making for a wonderfully complimentary ‘dark and light’ vibe. Yan is generally quite quiet, standoffish, and very dutiful and work-oriented, whereas Vi3 is bubbly and upbeat, making friends everywhere she goes and showing boundless empathy for others.

Even interactions with NPCs are a treat, as their reception towards Vi3 and Yan give a real insight into the world around them. As an Earther, Yan is often met with a sense of distrust and prejudice by certain groups, while others approach her with a sense of curiosity and enthusiasm to learn more about her culture and introduce her to theirs. Drawing on real-life experiences, this truly adds another dimension to the world and how Yan fits into it, while also stoking a sense of curiosity in the player as you want to uncover what makes the people of Allindo react to Earthers in such a way.

Ex Astris review - a screenshot of Vi3 holding up her hands to make a square and looking through it

While Arknights is a very different game, you can clearly see that Hypergryph’s top-notch character designs have transferred over to Ex Astris. Each member of your ever-growing party sports a gorgeous look fitting of their personality and character, and animations to match. Combat, on the other hand, really strays away from the basic turn-based affair you may expect from Arknights’ creator.

Ex Astris’ combat is essentially turn-based with real-time elements. You engage in battle by either hitting or getting hit by an enemy, then you instantly hop into a classic turn-based battle formation. You can have a team of up to three characters, with each character either aligning with Warding Light (blue) or Shadow Shift (red). Naturally, Vi3 aligns with Warding Light and Yan aligns with Shadow Shift.

However, unlike other turn-based games like Honkai Star Rail, your team technically only has one turn per round, while each of the enemies get their own turn – but this is where the unique, real-time elements come into play. You get the option to switch your stance at the beginning of each turn, which changes what skills your characters have access to. You can then begin the attack with one character and launch follow-ups with your other characters, tapping them repeatedly to unleash a full combo.

Enemies have both a health bar and something called a balance bar. Certain attacks deal higher balance damage, and, when you manage to deplete an enemy’s balance bar, they briefly enter a weakened state, during which you can launch as many attacks as possible. There’s some variety with character skills here, with some simply requiring a button-mashing approach, and others requiring precise timing to pull off proper combos. On top of that, you can continue attacking an enemy after you’ve defeated them for a brief amount of time to rack up overkill, which can earn you extra rewards at the end of the battle.

Ex Astris review - a screenshot of combat gameplay showing Yan and Vi3 attacking an enemy

When it comes to the enemies’ turn, you control one character that the enemies will automatically target, and you immediately enter a defensive state that reflects a certain portion of damage. However, you also have the opportunity to parry enemy attacks by tapping a button at the right time. Sometimes enemies unleash attacks that align with either Warding Light or Shadow Shift, and you need to switch to a character that also aligns with that state otherwise you can’t effectively parry it. Parrying also leaves you open to damage for a brief moment if you don’t time it right, which creates a bit of a ‘risk reward’ scenario.

Honestly, that’s just a brief overview of combat – there are heaps of other elements that contribute to how well you do in battle, including using items and meals for buffs or health regeneration, crafting equipment for your characters, using points to unlock nodes on your characters’ skill trees, choosing the right skills and formations, and more.

It’s a very intricate combat system that has a lot of moving parts, and it can definitely feel a little overwhelming at first, especially when you find yourself bombarded with several tutorial windows in quick succession. However, it’s pretty easy to fall into a comfortable rhythm, and it becomes very intuitive after a bit of practice. I also love that it offers so much room for customization, especially as you gain access to higher-level items and skills, and recruit more people to join your party. And, as someone who is a big fan of both turn-based and real-time action combat, this feels like the best of both worlds and definitely had me excited for whatever big battles were on the horizon.

Speaking of which, there’s a nice range of enemies throughout the game, both in standard encounters and boss battles. The enemy designs are brilliant, with a nice mixture of humans, animals, and some weird and wonderful creatures mixed in (this includes a sentient pile of rocks, a weird gelatinous blob with a spiky nose, and more), and the bosses boast some unique mechanics that keep the fights interesting.

Ex Astris review - a screenshot of gameplay showing Yan, Vi3, and Manganese standing on a lift in front of a beautiful waterfall

Now, onto the controls. Ex Astris takes the standard mobile RPG controls of using your left thumb to control your character’s movement, and your right thumb to move the camera – though the camera also has a non-aggressive auto pan that gently pulls back to center behind your character over time.

Beyond that, the game uses a mixture of taps and swiping motions to complete different actions – tap to interact and fight, swipe to equip or use items, etc. It’s all very intuitive, and inputs are generally very responsive, though sometimes the ‘button mashing’ required in certain parts of combat doesn’t feel as though it registers every tap.

While exploring you can’t jump freely or climb walls like you can in Genshin Impact and other adventure games – you can only climb ladders by interacting with them, or jump off certain ledges by running up to them. This is generally fine and reduces on-screen clutter, but does lead to some wonky moments during platforming sections where you need to hop between moving platforms, though it’s nothing egregious.

In terms of performance, I’ve been playing Ex Astris on an iPhone 13 with all the settings pushed as high as they can go, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. It maxes out at 60 FPS which is more than enough for a smooth experience on mobile, and I’ve only experienced a very rare stutter now and then. Load screens are quick, everything looks crisp and beautiful, and I’m consistently impressed with how smooth everything feels. After a long play session my phone does start to feel a little toasty in its case, and it’s pretty demanding for a mobile game, so older phones may struggle with the highest settings. But, overall, it’s clearly a very well-optimized experience that makes great use of the mobile platform, and you don’t need one of the best gaming phones in the world to play it.

Ex Astris review - a screenshot of Zero2 talking

Ex Astris’ sound design is solid, with great Japanese and Chinese voice acting that really helps to portray the emotions of each interaction, even if you don’t understand the languages. The UI and subtitles are also well-proportioned, and the option to skip or speed up cutscenes with taps is always welcome. Plus, you can save at pretty much any time and load back in as you please, so it’s easy to play on the go.

The music is pleasant and pretty, though it does blend into the background a bit at times – I can’t really imagine myself playing the OST as I work any time soon, but it’s definitely well orchestrated and does compliment the mood of each scene and environment.

Finally, we return to the one unique factor that really sets Ex Astris apart from other mobile games – its status as a premium game and whether it’s worth the price. Currently, the game sits at around 15-20 hours long, though it can certainly take longer if you take on all side quests and explore all areas.

It’s not a gacha game, and there’s no in-game shop, battle pass, or microtransactions to speak of – and for its RRP of $9.99 (£8.99), you’re definitely getting a lot of value for your money. It’s set to be an episodic affair, with more chapters coming in the future, which I presume will also cost a set price to purchase. But, even as a standalone experience, this game is definitely worth your time, and, if it’s half as good as this, I know I’ll be ready to slap down that cash when the next part comes out.

Ex Astris review - a screenshot of Zero2, Vi3, and Yan looking down at you curiously

Overall, I’m truly impressed with Ex Astris. It stands out as not only an impressive premium mobile RPG, but also a striking and engrossing modern RPG that could stand up against some of the heavy hitters currently on the market. From its stunning world and rich lore to its intricate combat system and lovable characters, it succeeds in just about everything it sets out to do, and it’s well worth the comparatively small entry fee for a game with no extra monetization hidden below the surface. Let’s face it, we all love gacha games, but it’s nice to go back to a simpler time when you could use every character without spending a fortune on their banner first, right?

Now, it’s about time for me to wrap this Ex Astris review up, though I’m sure I could go on about this intriguing little gem for hours. If you’d like to know more about Hypergryph’s other hit title, be sure to check out our Arknights tier list. Or for a little help with a different interstellar turn-based adventure, head over to our Honkai Star Rail tier list and Honkai Star Rail codes guides.