Disclaimer: This review of Astrologaster was conducted using a review code given to me by the game’s PR agency. This does not affect my judgement of the game and is explained for the purpose of transparency.
Any media based on true events always interest me. This is predominately what grabbed my attention about Astrologaster. The game follows the story of wannabe doctor Simon Forman. Now Forman was a real person, and back during the Great Plague of 1592, Forman became extremely popular. Mainly as, while many other doctors had fled the capital, Forman remained there. But with his combination of medical knowledge and astrology, Forman claims to be able to provide a range of treatments to his clients.
Not only is Forman capable of informing the client of why they are ill, as well as what treatment to follow, Forman also provides life advice. By reading the stars, Forman believes that he can offer advice on essentially any topic. However, once the plague ends and the doctors return to London, Forman begins to find himself in a heap of trouble. Being an unlicensed medical practitioner is an issue, and the College of Physicians seek to put a stop to Forman’s practice. The player must inform Forman’s patients, and if you provide good advice Forman may even receive a medical licence. If he does, he will be able to read the stars to his heart’s content. Free of the scorn of the College of Physicians. But it sadly isn’t that easy. Giving the wrong advice can damage your chances of getting a letter of recommendation, which is essential to getting the licence. Giving bad advice can even cause issues in the relationships you have with clients, some of which may begin to move past doctor-patient confidentiality ….
When it comes to gameplay, Astrologaster is rather simple. However, don’t let that deceive you into thinking that the game is not fun. Forman has regular clients across the course of the game, who will come in with a range of problems. After listening to their woes, and identifying any symptoms, you will have to choose which stars to follow. For some patients, the decision will involve choosing one of several Zodiac signs. Each sign will represent a different diagnosis. Some are logical, and others are just very obviously silly. For example, if one character complains about vomiting and feeling sick a night of wine drinking it makes sense that they are experiencing a hangover. But one of the signs might show a diagnosis for melancholy, or sadness. You can still choose this, and see how it affects your relationship with that patron. But to get on good terms with them, and get the letter of recommendation, the idea is to pick the best choice.
And you need eight letters to get your medical licence, so it is somewhat of a struggle. Sometimes though, the cases presented may be a tad more complex. These more complex cases often come in the form of life decisions the character must make. During these, there are multiple paths to choose from. Each path will show multiple things to consider, and after reading each path you must choose the one with the points most relevant to what you believe to be the correct answer. For example, one patron will come asking for advice on whether they should “borrow” the Queen’s ships to steal gold from a Spanish ship. There are many things to consider here. Will they reach the ship in time? How will the Queen react to having her ships borrowed? Whichever option you pick is the one the character will follow, and so your choices can shape the game in a sense. As far as I can tell, the only effect it has is on Forman’s relationship with the character. However, this in turn does impact your chances of getting the letter.
That being said, you aren’t really playing the game for its story. While it is based on genuine cases that Forman oversaw, you find yourself continuing to play because of the game’s humour. Astrologaster is full of tongue-in-cheek comedy, mixed with even more sarcasm. Yet it isn’t so much that it becomes overbearing, instead Astrologaster delicately dances on the line between just enough and too much. In addition to the game’s actual dialogue, there are cutscenes introducing each character. Sung in an operatic style, the song will introduce the character in a sarcastic manner and also hint as to why they have come to visit. These songs start off as funny and charming. But I personally found them to become slightly tedious as time went on. The entire art style of the game is presented as a pop-up book, with the player having to turn the page to progress the story. The art-style is lovely to look at, and unlike the songs is one I never found myself becoming bored of seeing.
Overall, Astrologaster is a charming game with good humour. The gameplay is intriguing and kept my attention throughout my playthrough. I was eager to see how my choice would play out in the grand scheme of things. That being said, I personally cannot see myself playing through the game a second time. That’s not to say that you cannot play it more than once, you most certainly could. There are enough options to cover multiple playthroughs, and for £8.99 you’re definitely getting your money.