2017 has been one of the busiest years for games and the indie gaming scene has been thriving with new and interesting games. One indie game stood out from the rest for me and delivered a breath of fresh air and an overwhelming sense of freedom. AER Memories of Old is the second game developed by Swedish game studio ‘Forgotten key’ and published by Deadalic Entertainment. AER is an open world adventure that has spent 5 years in development and Forgotten Key aims to give players an atmospheric experience in an artistic and innovative world.
I only came across this game about a month ago while watching the trailer for the first time, it brought back fond memories of games I played many years ago, most distinctively Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and its cell shaded art style. AER has been designed with this minimalist vibrant art style holding to its polygon shapes that work wonderfully with this aesthetically pleasing game. As I said before it’s been in development for 5 years, of which 2 years were spent on the flying mechanics, and has received some awards along the way. In 2013, AER won the game concept challenge, it was in the IndieCade selection 2016 and also nominated for the 2017 Gamescon Indie award. Now if this isn’t enough to pique your interest then the flying mechanics will. At a press of a button you can transform into a bird and truly appreciate the beautiful landscapes of this game as you take flight and soar between the floating islands and explore this thought-provoking world created by Forgotten Key.
This game is a journey and it tells you a tragic story wrought with war, gods, spirit animals, and an impending evil that crept through the world and fractured the land. There is no action or collectables, and your aim is to explore the floating islands in search of shrines of the old gods and solve puzzles to unlock their secrets. Scattered across the islands are the stories and memories of humans that fill the gaps in the mystery of this world and create this re-imagined fable of human’s effect on the earth and environment.
You play Auk, a young woman with the ability to shift into the form of a bird and fly. She is at the start of her pilgrimage and visits the shrine of Karah the priestess. Upon making a prayer she is presented with a lantern. This will allow you to see memories of the past by shining the light upon the floating signs that reveal ghostly shapes. This is where you get your first taste of the darker undertones of the game.
Black rocks burst from the ground and the cave shakes uncontrollably as you make a quick escape. Upon finding the exit you meet your mentor, Medvin, who starts you on your quest and sends you to an island close by to meet some new NPCs that will guide you on your adventure. This is your first chance of flight and from here you are free to explore the floating islands as you wish or to continue following the storyline. Not all the islands have something on them and some just simply add to the back story of this world.
I spent my first hour just flying and exploring the islands in the first area. It was so relaxing and majestic to pass by the islands and see what was hidden away. The flying is so enjoyable and easy to get to grips with you start to push yourself and pretty soon you find yourself gaining more speed and swooping down onto the islands, dodging past tress and through archways. I caught myself several times whispering ‘thread the needle’ as I sped through a hole in a rock that lead into an airstream. As relaxing as the flying may be, you can still feel the exhilaration of going at speed and testing your flying abilities.
As you progress through the storyline and start to understand what happened to the world, you see that each section you visit holds its own secrets. You meet countless amounts of cute animals along the way that add to the serenity of the world, especially the baby lambs that follow you while emoting their love for a new friend. However, you start to notice unsettling things the more you explore. Occasionally you come across an animal speared by a black rock. I originally thought this to be a glitch and then realised that this is all a part of the darkness of this world; There is a bigger picture, that you can’t really see till the end, of what really happened but I feel that it teases slightly at a story much bigger than the game actually gives.
The game is appealing to fans of story driven games. It’s a change of pace from FPS or action adventure games, where you die every couple of minutes and it puts your blood pressure through the roof. Sometimes you just want to enjoy a game, take your time with it and have a bit of fun. AER Memories of Old offers this and gives some time to the hard working Indie game makers who put their players first and want to give an experience that’s a bit different.
There aren’t many characters in the game and you meet most of them in first 20 minutes of play. They have little back story but you learn a bit about each of them when you revisit, after exploring, looking for guidance for the next quest. You use the lantern to piece together the story of the world and find memories with speech attached which tell you what happened in each area. The other characters you meet along the way are the spirit animals that ask you for help and the gods that have been waiting for you. Their presence makes you feel small and in awe of their complexity and timelessness. They all impart their wisdom and you discover how the great divide came to be and the threat that aims to destroy the world, The Void.
The music in this game is beautiful and creates a truly wonderful experience and atmosphere. It’s peaceful and powerful, the music flows and changes seamlessly as you shift from human to bird and as you fly to a new area. It’s simple and emotive and truly adds to the game. The sound effects are simple but add a nice touch, like when you step on long grass and go chasing the animals around an island. You do get a few odd sounds from the spirit animals from time to time. There are no voiceovers or narration in the game as it sticks to an old RPG style of boxed speech. As soon as the soundtrack is available I’d like to add it to my collection as its great background music for writing reviews.
The graphics in this game are visually stunning. It’s vibrant and colourful and the minimalist design works so perfectly. The polygon shapes of the characters and scenery are reminiscent of Final Fantasy 7 but there is so much more refinement and detail in AER’s design that you welcome its purposeful graphics as an artwork. It does have a cartoon feel to the game and the large polygon clouds surrounding the islands give a beautiful vastness to the world. When I first dared to fly through one I was not disappointed. I punctured a hole through the cloud and the geometric wake left in the tailwind closed up as I broke through to the other side. As you play the game you get given objects that break apart and flow into Auk. This simple triangular effect works like magic, it’s simple and endearing and you can see this effect used elsewhere in the game. Shadows and shading are a delight, mostly in the shrines and temples you’ll experience this, as it sets a vivid atmosphere and change to the game. The loading screen is very simple; you mostly experience this when entering a shrine or cave. The cut scenes when meeting the gods and the Void are majestic and moving. You can really feel the presence of these characters in how they are graphically presented.
The Controls are simple in this game as there is no complex action. Auk runs around with a spring in her step and seems as light as a feather. If she falls from a height she lands gracefully with a little gust of wind at her feet. To transform you simply jump with A and press the A button again. Press X to flap your wings to go faster. Right and left trigger bank your flight to turn sharply. Then press A to transform back. It’s all very simple and very responsive. I did find myself transforming accidentally a lot and plunging down into the depths but if you do you just re-spawn at a checkpoint with no harm done. I did find that crashing into things while flying transformed you back into human form and could be a little annoying. While flying you can move the camera view with the right stick and centre it with the right and left buttons. It did feel a bit disorientating at times but it is something you get used to, it also doesn’t overly affect the game play.
On my first play through I completed the game in about 4 hours. This sort of left me thinking ‘is that it?’. Don’t get me wrong the story is very enjoyable but it does feel like they have started something and haven’t given the whole story. There is so much more I wanted to know and discover. The puzzles were relatively easy and could be a little more complex, maybe also a few more added in. There is only the main story to follow in the game and no real side quests to follow. You explore the world and find texts and tablets littered across the islands that tell you fragments of the past. I thought I got all this on my first play through but when I returned to it a second time I realised how out of order the events were. I started to piece together the individual stories of recurring characters in some of the texts which gave me a greater appreciation for the story. There are 20 achievements to accomplish and on my first play I achieved 17 of them, eluded by 3. This was a figure I did not find rewarding since I didn’t set out to focus on the achievements in my first play.
This game was a delight to play. From its visual beauty to its poetic and tragic storyline, it was a journey of exploration and discovery. The ability to fly is a powerful freedom we get to experience as Auk. We follow her pilgrimage to understand her world using the memories of old. This game isn’t action packed or filled to the brim with quests to follow, but offers you a profound story accompanied by a breathtaking score and moving visuals. Forgotten Key’s AER Memories of Old is an unmissable Indie game of 2017.