Demo Review: Ascension

Cervine Prince brings us Ascension, a BL visual novel full of magic, mystery, and school drama. Follow Eric Koenig into the Alexandria College of Arcanists as he tries to clear his family name and solve a series of mystifying murders.

This review was requested through the VN Game Den Review Request Form. 

Opening

Ascension starts with a cutscene that utilizes CGs. It’s an introduction similar to RPGs like Dragon Age: Origins, but without the voice acting, it’s a lot less impactful. 

While the animated opening is a nice touch visually, the writing falls short. All of the background knowledge is told to players in the beginning as an infodump rather than threading the ideas throughout for the player to discover gradually on their own. This sets up the rest of the story for a lot of telling, and not enough showing, which is particularly disappointing in a tale that markets itself as a mystery. 

Story

The story follows Eric’s day-to-day experience as he leaves his home and enrolls into the Alexandria College of Arcanists, where a series of murders have been occurring. Eric finds himself getting to know his classmates amidst the pounding pressure of solving a mystery.

The stakes are high, and yet the story doesn’t feel particularly dark or heavy. We still get a glimpse of some lighthearted moments as Eric converses with his classmates and teachers. He’s a good sport, and that makes for a lovable protagonist.

The day-to-day action seems almost too quick. We jump in, see a snippet of a scene, and then are dragged to another. Because of that, it’s hard to get attached to any of the characters. That said, this is only a demo, so perhaps we’ll see more in the full version. 


Art

What Ascension does marvelously is present the players with a substantial visual experience. There are plenty of CGs, and every single member of the large cast has a sprite—even those that only have a few lines of dialogue. 

It’s important to mention that this demo was created for Yaoi Game Jam 2019, which placed a 2 month deadline on the production of the game. With that time constraint in mind, the game’s art undertaking is a serious feat.

While the art style might not be for everyone, it is consistent throughout. The sprite style matches the backgrounds and the UI ties the experience all together.

Stat Raising

Ascension presents players with a particularly interesting mechanic—stat raising. The game warns in the beginning that cruelty and compassion stats can affect Eric and some characters around him, but unfortunately we’re not told what the other stats do. That leaves the player clicking around blindly, at least for the first few choices. 

The interface for this is well done; I only wish that I knew what was happening when I applied certain stats. I’m sure this will be more apparent in the full version when there are more scenes to maneuver through. 

Animations

The animations in this game are lackluster. There is a missed opportunity to showcase magical powers and fight scenes. While one of the major fight scenes is done using CGs, it could be enhanced by sound effects and a screen shake. 

With appropriately themed music, ample art, and a likeable protagonist, Ascension creates a charming experience despite its shortcomings. The full version needs a little work to be fully polished, but there is the seed of an exciting tale already planted. 

You can download the demo of Ascension on itch.io.