A quirky comedy set in 16th century England that fuses astrology and medicine.
In a world where nothing is sure but eventual death, you look to the stars for guidance. That’s the philosophy of the main character of Astrologaster anyway. This game from developer Nyamyam focuses on a “doctor” during the Renaissance period in England. While the question of whether protagonist Simon Forman is really a doctor remains in question, the man did in fact exist, making this game a fun combination of reality and farce.
When you start, you hit the ground running. You are instantly thrown into the Renaissance atmosphere with an early music soundtrack that doubles as narration. This hit home for me, weirdly. One of my side jobs, when COVID is not ravaging the world, is as a singer in an episcopal church choir, and the music we typically sing is from this same period. It made me very nostalgic at a time where I cannot be making music in a choir. While this hits a specific note for me, maybe there will be others who at the very least are entertained by the music. It truly sets the stage for the bonkers game to come.
In the same way we hit the ground running with atmosphere, the same can be said for the gameplay. You get a brief introduction of Simon Forman and his contribution during the plague, and then soon after you have your first client. Each visit involves Simon gazing at the stars and trying to divine how to help people as they explain their maladies. No real explanation is given to guide you of what you’re looking for when you look at the stars; it relies on your best judgement to decide. You’re given two to three options to choose from, and then choose what you think is the best reading. I found it tricky at first to determine the best strategy, but it honestly comes down to attention to detail and intuition. While I’m usually decent with intuitive choices, this game focuses heavily on attention to detail. I had several of those “oh yeah they did say that, you idiot” moments when I went with the wrong reading. Because your clients come back several times, by their last visits you are expected to remember significant details, which messed me up more than once.
Another interesting peril is your interpretation of the stars versus the game’s interpretation. I had a few instances where I chose a reading and thought it would mean one thing to the client, but then Simon Forman would start explaining something to the client that was not what I had in mind. Could this be another instance of not paying enough attention to detail? Possibly. But with the nature of the game being so subjective, I have a feeling this is just a hazard of the gameplay that makes some of the astrology chicanery have a disconnect.
I’d be remiss to talk about the great humor of this game. Between the lyrics and the doctor/client interactions, amusing moments are a constant. Many times it’s the things that aren’t said that make the biggest impact. For instance the lyrics of the songs cleverly shift to “fa la la las” in place of a choice word. Another source of entertainment is the commitment to 16th century terminology. Being a doctor, you get brought a number of bodily ailments, and lots of interesting ways to pronounce butt and penis. Honestly if I tried to use a euphemism for those words, they would pale in comparison to what terms Astrologaster uses.
Overall, Astrologaster is a fun romp through 16th century England. It chose its lane and fully committed to going full farce, turning out to be a very well conceived and interesting game. I enjoyed it, even if I felt at odds with some of the conclusions the game took from dialogue choices. The gameplay was always intriguing enough to keep me going. And somehow, in a world of pandemic and astrology TikTok, this game feels relevant even while it lives in the past. If you’re looking for something a little different, with unique gameplay, and a very entertaining soundtrack, I’d definitely suggest giving Astrologaster a try.