I remember in secondary school, I had a massive crush on this one girl. I never did anything about it, I was shy and she was gorgeous. She had this unique quirk to her that the other girls didn’t, just something about her style made her stand out. I admired her from afar throughout school up until we all finished our exams and went on to higher education. To my surprise, she and I had a class together in college and we even sat next to one another. It was then that we started talking, I was shocked to discover… she was boring, vapid and I think a little racist. So the whole point of that meandering little story was just to say that looks aren’t everything. A lesson I re-learnt recently playing through AereA.
I really wanted to love this game, mostly because its so god damn adorable. The central conceit of the game is that its an ARPG (akin to Torchlight or Diablo) but instead of swords, bows and the like you fight with music. Well, not with music really, but here is some serious misuse of instruments on show here. Music permeates every inch of AereA,from the weaponry to the enemies and of course the lore is all about music. You play as one of four students of the great and powerful Maestro Guido (imagine if Gandalf was a conductor) at the prestigious grand hall. Things quickly get strange as you investigate some odd ongoings, you soon discover that the primordial instruments have been stolen and you need to retrieve them all or else disaster will strike. You see the world of Aezir, is floating in the sky and the magic that holds the islands afloat is the music from these instruments. Its all very derivative, but the musical spin does a lot to make the story feel a bit more fresh. Especially considering that there’s a parrot called Clef.
The real success of AereA is the visual design, which is just superb as far as I’m concerned. It’s not a particularly taxing game so you’ll be able to play it on most any machine you may have. The game has an almost oil painting look to it, I think the idea here was to make you think of classical art. Which makes a lot of sense because of the orchestral score that underpins the experience. It really is a treat for the eyes and ears. The lavishly decadent great music halls that contrasts so brilliantly with lush greens of the forest zone, or the stoic isolation present in the temple area. AereA presents a fantastically varied world, that all feels consistent thanks to strong art direction. I just adore the way everything has some kind of musical infusion too. The Cello Knight being a particular favourite of mine, but the accordion snake is not to be sniffed at either. The game is truly a treat for the eyes and ears… now if only it was a treat to play.
AereA is totally mind numbing to play. The core gameplay loop is exactly as you’d expect from an ARPG, you explore the dungeon killing critters and fulfilling you objectives, but there is just no engagement. All of the problems kind of feed into one another with this game, so you’ll have to forgive me if this next section feels unfocused, because if I start describing one thing, I’ll have to talk about how it breaks something else.
First and foremost is the controls. The steam page for this one proudly announces full controller support, but it really should have said controller exclusive, yes you can play with the keyboard, but its extremely unnatural. You see, unlike other ARPG there is no mouse aim, you shoot/swing/magic/concerto in whatever direction you are facing at the time. This feels fine with a thumb stick, but not at all pleasant with the traditional PC set up. What this means for the rest of the game is that the enemy AI has been dumbed down to allow for more simplified inputs. In a game like Torchlight you can balance the game around the knowledge that the play can move and aim independently, but AereA this is an impossibility, so every single enemy in the game winds up having the same plan of attack… swarm you. Much like in other ARPGs you do learn skills as the game goes on, which is meant to deepen the strategy of how you approach foes. But because the game has been designed around controller input you have to scroll through your skill list and then activate them, rather than just pushing one button and having the feat activate. Which is generally fine, but it limits the amounts skills you can slot in at any one time, which might have lead to some interesting decision making on the players decision, but like I just said the AI is big and dumb and doesn’t require any thought from the player.
There is a surprising lack of thought put into how systems interact in this game. The best example of this is the way Co Op works. Oh yeah, this game has couch Co Op, which is pretty damn cool, not many PC games offer that functionality. The problem is the game doesn’t actually change itself in any way to accommodate extra players. In theory, the characters should balance each other out as they all have strength and weaknesses. But again this comes back to the god awful enemy design, but there is just no need! I played a fair few levels with my girlfriend and I was the tanky Cello Knight and she was the ranged Harp Archer, so you’d think I would be drawing aggro while she laid down covering fire, but in reality all we had to do with hold down the A button and maybe heal if we felt fancy. Bosses, were the worst example of this because they just couldn’t handle the mental strain caused by more than one target.
The really frustrating thing is that this problems could have been fixed with relative ease. And because this game is massively over long, with repetitive fetch quests galore, I had a lot of time to think about possible fixes. You want me to list them? Why I’d be happy to!
- Scaling enemy levels.
The level design is pretty maze-like, and because there is no proper map and mobs respawn, you’ll likely end up accidental grinding while you roam about. Meaning you are way to strong for the rest of the game. If you scale the damage and HP of the bad guys you’d fix that difficulty curve right up.
- Wind ups and defensive moves
Enemies basically just jump at you with no warning all the god damn time. If you added just a little bit of warning to each of their moves it would add a much needed sense of urgency to player movement. Of course there’s no point warning the player of an attack if they can’t dodge it so give the heroes more ability to dodge or block.
- Boss strategy
Bosses just cannot handle more than one player… hell sometimes they can’t even handle one player. They needed more crowd control options to divide and conquer, forcing the heroes to actually use a little bit of strategy
I could go on, but I think I’ve laboured the point enough. I really wanted to like this one, mostly because I think its so cute. But looks really are not everything and as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, there really isn’t much going on beyond those aesthetics. Unless you’re really into musical puns in your games, there is very little to enjoy in AereA. You know what, maybe if you are really into ARPGs and you want to introduce your child to the genre, maybe then you’ll get value out of this one. Its pretty though.