Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist Review

Last year, I finally got around to playing Astlibra Revision, an indie RPG by KEIZO with a lot of heart. Despite a few minor issues with the localisation (which is much better than how it was around launch) and balancing, it’s a great game that offers a surprising amount of content.

The announcement of a new roguelite DLC for Astlibra near the tail end of 2023 was a surprise, but more than welcome. But does Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist hold a candle to the base game?

Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist story cutscene.

Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist features another (once again unnamed) protagonist in the daughter of Rispadar Castle Town’s baker. She’s a character mentioned occasionally during the main game, but pretty much a blank slate. She’s drawn into this brand new adventure by a surprise demon invasion and Polin, a talking dog.

The baker’s daughter is told that the members of Rispadar’s guild, including the main character of Astlibra Revision, have been trapped in the titular Cave of Phantom Mist. This is a place that draws upon the memories of those that enter, which naturally means that it’s full of familiar enemies and locations from the main game.

Unlike the chapter-based structure used for most of Astlibra Revision, The Cave of Phantom Mist instead expands upon the randomised dungeon seen near the end of that game. You’ll take on groups of 10 floors, each capping out with a boss (usually taken from Astlibra Revision). While touted as a roguelite, you carry over nearly everything between runs. You can even leave at any time to bank your Force (stat upgrade currency) which you would normally lose on death.

Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist combat screenshot.

Combat through each floor, and equipment progression in general, should still feel familiar for fans of the base game. You have access to a number of one and two-handed weapons, along with shields and armour. Using each one will earn you new skills, giving you an incentive to obtain use them all.

The baker’s daughter plays very similar to the protagonist of Astlibra Revision too. Despite the simplicity, it’s still very enjoyable just to mow your way through floors of enemies. Magic returns as well, though with a new set of spells to keep things fresh. Due to the shorter nature of The Cave of Phantom Mist, it doesn’t take long to unlock some of the crazier spells that can take out a full screen of enemies with ease.

While combat is overall a very familiar experience (mostly in a good way), it’s this new focus on randomised areas that causes my first major gripe with Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist — there’s next to no variety with how floors are generated.

Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist staff weapon gameplay.

This was a problem in the base game, but it was at least a pretty small part of a 40-50 hour experience. In The Cave of Phantom Mist, you’re having to go through samey floors for up to 20 hours, each never offering much in the way of interesting designs or challenges.

Some work has been put into adding more content to each set of floors over the random dungeon mechanic in Astlibra Revision. A few new rooms can potentially spawn on a floor, ranging from a basic shop, to minigames or bosses that offer new rewards. There just isn’t enough of this to make each attempt stand out from the rest.

There’s also the fact that nearly everything (including the main bosses) is just recycled from Astlibra Revision. While I did expect this considering the relatively small price point, it’s hard not to get the feeling of deja vu. At the very least, there are a lot of new (well, new to Astlibra) music tracks that help to mitigate that feeling somewhat.

Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist style upgrade screenshot.

My second issue with The Cave of Phantom Mist is that there just isn’t much story overall. You get some small scenes at the end of each set of floors, but that’s about it. What’s there isn’t awful, but there’s so little of it that it can’t really carry a repetitive gameplay loop. Even during its weakest moments, Astlibra Revision still made me want to continue so that I could see what wild plot event would happen next.

It’s a shame, since some of the additional upgrade systems are actually quite well thought out. Instead of levelling up (your level resets to 1 each time you leave the cave), you instead find crystals that can be assigned to stats. While not a major change, it does reward you for exploring each floor and opening every chest along the way.

The young protagonist can also make use of styles, each offering different stat bonuses and an exclusive skill. Using these enough, like with weapons and armour, will also unlock new things — though they’re only stat bonuses rather than important skills. It’s another reason to experiment, even if there aren’t that many you have access to early on.

Final thoughts on Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist.

Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist Review | Final Thoughts

Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist can offer a few hours of familiar action combat, with a few tweaks here and there. But the reuse of assets and a randomised dungeon system that offers no variety makes for a rather bland experience over Astlibra Revision.

However, if you’re fine with the lack of story content and just want to blast through some monster-filled areas, then The Cave of Phantom Mist is the cheap DLC for you.

Astlibra Gaiden: The Cave of Phantom Mist was reviewed using a PC copy of the game provided by the publisher

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Isaac Todd
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