Astebreed is a shoot em up with an odd twist. It is constantly changing perspective from isometric, horizontal and even third person points of view. It's a neat gimmick that helps make the action look over the top and adds a bit of personality to the game. Another thing that separates it from other shoot em ups is the addition of a sword that lets you destroy most projectiles and to attack enemies for big damage. Most enemies also shoot red projectiles which can not be destroyed, so it is unwise to stay in melee range and not have time to dodge. If you are particularly talented though, holding down the melee button lets you teleport a short distance which can be used to close in on enemies and dodge red beams. I found it a bit wonky and teleporting to be unpredictable but that may have been due to my own skill.
You start off as the President leading a small group of Xbreeds to fend off the enemy. Things quickly go wrong and both you and your squad are killed. It is a good prologue that teaches you the basics of the game and is an important piece of the story. From then on you play as a young goofy looking pilot. Story is surprisingly interesting though pretty corny at times. All dialogue is spoken in Japanese and only the subtitles are in English. Which can be a problem as the characters are prone to talk during the heat of battle and it is very hard to both read and fight at the same time. Levels are also nicely interconnected and it feels like one big adventure instead of a few levels thrown together due to how well the transition from end of level story section to start of the next level mix.
There are 6 levels overall not counting the prologue and should last you a bit under an hour. After you beat the game you will unlock the hard difficulty and a lot of extra goodies like concept art, view-able character models and back-story for the world and the characters. The back-story would have been far more useful before you played the game. You are thrown in and are expected to know everything from the get go. Not sure if Astebreed is an anime or something but the story is hard to understand the first time through and is further worsened due to the fast paced nature of the game forcing the story to move at an equal pace. That leaves it no time to flesh out the characters and very little time to explain who the enemies are and the events that caused all this. You also have the option to turn off a dialogue which is very appreciated after a few playthroughs.
Gameplay is fun and you have quite a few tools at your disposal. You can use a spread shot or a narrow shot like a regular shoot em up to take out enemies. Holding down the scatter shot button lets you lock on to all enemies around your giant mech and holding down the narrow shot button lets you lock on to any area of the map and is useful against boss fights as it locks on much faster. That is also the only way to shoot behind you which some bosses and enemies annoyingly like to do. Your mech can also use a sword for heavy damage against enemies or to block most projectiles. Using your sword greatly lowers your speed while in use but by holding down the melee button you can teleport away. Which is not usually a wise thing to do as you do not know where you will end up and are likely to get hit anyways.
Unlike most bullet hell games Astebreed does not usually have a pattern to the projectiles and you are expected to block them with your sword. Sounds good until they throw in red beams making it nearly impossible to avoid damage at times. If you do get hit it is not the end of the world. You have a rechargeable shield which can take a lot of damage and it starts recharging itself slowly after a certain time without damage. If you are playing on the hard difficulty, your shield will not fully recover and the more hits you take, the lower your ability to fix your shield becomes. There are no lives and if you die you will simply be thrown back to the nearest checkpoint. There is also an “Ex attack” which allows you to damage every enemy around you and to become invulnerable for a while. Fully locking on to and enemy with your missiles and press that button unleashes an ultimate attack. Ex attacks can be recharged faster by blocking projectiles with your blade.
Graphics in Astebreed is not impressive technically, but the artstyle is amazing and makes this game very cool to look at. It is full of color and the environments are varied. You go from the Ocean, to space and inside a giant station to name a few. You would expect everything to be black and gray in those last two areas but Astebreed just has a certain style that you can't help but love. Some cutscenes are hand drawn and anime style. These are nice to look at though they do break the flow of the game. I can't say if the voice acting is any good since I don't speak Japanese but the quality of whatever they used to record the voices sounds pretty low budget and scratchy at times. Music on the other hand is decent and fits into the game perfectly.
Overall this is a pretty good game with a decent amount of content to look at in the extras menu. After beating it you can start off with the mech that you unlock late game, which is a nice addition. It does have a few problems like the targeting when the boss goes far behind you, which can be very hard to aim it precisely where you want it before it's on the move again. Another problem is the teleport feature that needs to be refined a bit, as well as allowing it to be mapped to a different key, instead of having to hold down the melee for a few seconds which makes it very hard to use when you need it most. Other than those problems this is a very well made and fun game. The big focus on story is an oddity for these types of games and helps carve out it's own identity. Astebreed is highly recommended to those looking for a twist on the genre or are simply looking for a good shoot em up.