Review: Astraythem

Precession, the key to the loop – a tale of star-crossed lovers.

This article was originally written on 2/15/2015. May contain conceptual/structural spoilers to the work.

According to a quick Google search (the epitome of clear academic diligence), the term ‘star-crossed lover’ refers to any lovers “whose affection for each other is doomed to end in tragedy.” Intuitively, you’d have imagined that when stars crossed, that ‘good’ things happened. After all, it’d be a will of Fate — and Fate’s certainly not an ass, right? Well, that’s my chain of thought at least. It seems that the term’s etymology derives Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and its connotation, subsequently from such (i.e. it ends in a tragedy, so the term star-crossed is used with that result in mind). Semantically though, at the term’s core, there lacks the connotation of stringent ‘tragedy’ — it simply refers to a couple, entwined within fate, to inevitably pass the other, and to also perhaps, invariably fall in love. The term ‘star-crossed’ lovers to my belief, encapsulates the general picture of Astraythem best.

It should be noted that Astraythem is a convoluted work. It’s a work that has the element of time travel as a crucial occurrence, but not necessarily, a ‘central’ one. Astraythem is not a work which focuses extensively on the mechanical components of time travel (i.e. no significant discussion of quantum mechanics; not hard science fiction). However, it doesn’t play with the the topic lightly either — as with time travel as an important component of the work, it attempts to justify, and to develop its plot around this feature. The plot’s usage of time travel is a bit more interesting than is typically done by most similar works. The general conception is that with time travel, it’s an invariable law that timelines must diverge (as if they did not, it would be illogical; this gives rise to the multiple-universes theory). Subsequently, in most works concerning the element of time travel, going back into the future is either impossible, or met with poor results. Astraythem’s interpretation of time travel doesn’t quite abandon the traditional approach, but it certainly doesn’t conform to it either. Its interpretation, perhaps reliant more on the ‘fiction’ part of science-fiction, is by no means ‘magical’ though — it’s simply a novel, interesting take on a rather ‘overdone’ concept.

It’s of my opinion that this work likely, takes its success from two aspects: one, from its fleshed-out, well-structured storyline, and two, from its central heroine. The plot of this work is difficult to talk about (even indirectly), as it’s incredibly easy to spoil. I will mention that the plot takes a lot of surprising turns, with a lot of unexpected epiphanies. As with all like works, seemingly meaningless details end up being meaningful, and seemingly annoying occurrences/plot devices, end up foreshadowing, or end up as crucial features of the work. The pacing of the work itself starts out a little ‘slow’ in that it’s basically a slice-of-life novel, concerning the protagonist and his affections for his elder sister. This work, as subsumed from the ‘time-travel’ premise, does not end ‘once’ — it loops. However, when I use the term ‘loop,’ I don’t mean it in the straightforward way. This work never gets to the point of feeling repetitive because of this ‘take’ on looping (as it’s an implicit loop, a potentiality than an actuality). On the same note, this work doesn’t get ‘addictive’ or really interesting until its halfway point at the earliest. This is a work with an intricate setting established from the get-go, being uncovered anachronistically, like a puzzle.  A moderately-apt metaphor would be this: the plot’s setting/scene is like a complicated puzzle, pieces away from being finished — prior to completing it, the solver of the puzzle is stuck, and solves it only through recollection of his actions up until that point. Indeed, despite this vague explanation of the plot — the work’s ‘greatness’ (in executing its notion of romance, of love) derives more from the execution of the plot than of the actual interactions between the characters.

The second factor of this work’s success is likely in its central heroine, the protagonist’s alleged adoptive, (elder) sister, Natsume. It’s generally the norm with a visual novel to have several heroines — I can probably count on one hand, the number of full-length works that feature only ‘one’ heroine. Astraythem isn’t quite a ‘true’ mono-heroine novel, as it does have its side heroines. However, calling them heroines would not be ‘right,’ as each respective heroine other than Natsume, are given ~<10 minute routes (from the choice of divergence). This is beneficial in that it allows the work to focus more extensively on what it wants to develop. And incidentally, despite the seemingly ‘minor’ presence that the side-heroines have, they respectively end up being critical to the storyline. But still, I think that the work should have prevented the possibility of their endings, since when branched to their endings, they’re entirely thematically irrelevant (i.e. saccharine in the scope of the heroine routes), or if the main storyline’s continued, the side heroine’s emotions are basically thrown aside (crude in the scope of the main route’s continuation & completion).  But as mentioned, Natsume, the titular heroine, is given extensive focus.

From the title art of the series (which features Natsume, respectively as an adult, in high school, and in junior high), it’s presumable that the protagonist will visit each of those instances of Natsume respectively. In each of these visits, Natsume’s developed cutely… I don’t really know how to talk about this point critically — Natsume’s basically given a lot of fan service material alongside important plot material in each respective arc. She’s adorable, as an adult, as a high school student especially, and as a junior high school girl. If the player likes her character, then they probably won’t be disappointed. This is a feature (or rather, charm) of the work best understood through playthrough than of commentary. I’ll leave it off at this — Natsume’s genuinely good-willed, and affable, invariant of age and dimension.

The aesthetics of this work were surprisingly good. The art style was consistent, and appealing — in comparison to the studio’s new work (Byakko), the production quality for this work is actually higher. In department of soundtrack, this work features numerous opening and closing themes, all of which are affable (none of which, particularly resonant though). The work is structured in a way which makes clearing simple and intuitive — there are approximately three full-lengthed ‘parts’ of the work, ended by a relatively succinct, but important epilogue (each part accessible via the menu).

I had opened up the entry talking about the notion of being ‘star-crossed.’ An oft discussed topic within this work concerned precession (if something has a tilt, and is spinning, then its rotational axis eventually begins to wobble in a small circle). It’s due to this concept that the night sky changes (note: Earth wobbles minutely) — Polaris, or the North Star, is known to be the ‘guide’ in the sky, since it’s one of the more visually ‘staple’ stars. Nonetheless, due to precession, all stars must move (Polaris as a whole, less than others to the point of seemingly being static). Now, the work uses the notion of precession in a different way than I’m about to — but I think it’s fitting still. With the concept of precession in mind, I think the goal of the work is not to change the position of the stars altogether, so as to remove the connection decreed between the star-crossed lovers. But rather, to change it minutely, so that the connection is one which ends happily, than in tragedy.

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