Astrologaster review – an Elizabethan comedy for the ages

I’ve been shouting about Astrologaster since 2019, when a build appeared in my inbox one day, and yet I still don’t know exactly how to classify it. I’m loathe to call it a visual novel even if. mechanically speaking, the shoe fits – you mostly listen to conversations between two people, and make a few decisions to move the story forward. But we often think about genres in certain terms, and to my mind a visual novel usually bestows its player with greater control, and a greater urgency to achieve a specific goal – “I have to catch the killer!” “I have to make this person like me!”

By comparison, Astrologaster really doesn’t care about you all that much. If I have to call it anything, I want to call it a play, set in 1592. It takes place on a stage, with characters in a scene standing on marks, the city background like something crafted from wood painted in bright colours, each scene beginning with you unfolding the stage like a pop-up book, which is especially charming on the Switch when you slowly drag your finger across the screen instead of using the shoulder buttons to flip the page. Since it’s set in the Elizabethan era, it also features authentic theatre music of the time, complete with the ever-delightful lute and a choir singing Madrigals.

You follow the story of Simon Forman, a real-life astrologer and physician who was well-known in Shakespeare’s social circle. The in-game Forman gains considerable acclaim by curing the plague by divining a cure from the stars, and from then on receives a colourful cast of patients in his clinic. This is where you come in – instead of taking control of Doctor Foreman, you’re essentially an oracle, playing the part of the stars Forman reads. A patient will describe their symptoms, and Forman will ask you for a cause. You then make a choice between different constellations, each shown with an interpretation that may or may not fit your querent’s situation.

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