Some games come out of nowhere. Such is the case with AeternoBlade, a 2D action platformer from Corecell Technology -- a relatively unknown eastern developer. It was hit with a few delays in the West, but now, it has a solid release date, and it's finally ready to hit the 3DS eShop.
Even though it doesn't really reach for the stars and looks decidedly dated, it's a decent way for any Metroidvania fan to spend their time.
Developer: Corecell Technology
Publisher: Corecell Technology
Released: February 18, 2014
After a cool little PS1-era cutscene intro, the game kicks off -- and continues the PS1 aesthetic throughout. Not that it's inherently a bad thing as the gameplay is mostly what matters in an action game, but it's something to be aware of. The 3D effect is minimal but it's there, and doesn't get in the way in the slightest -- it's especially cool to see all of the damage indicators fly off enemies.
The crux of the story deals with the heroine Freyja's conflict with the Evil Beladim -- a satanic-like creature who destroyed her village. Freyja actually dies at the beginning of the game in an attempt to slay the demon, and gets sent back seven days before her fall, courtesy of her time-bending sword. It's your job to power up the blade to its full potential and vanquish Beladim once and for all.
While I would hesitate to call the narrative "bad," it's certainly dull, with a string of predictable twists and abstract dream sequences. It also sports a simple translation job that doesn't really compare to the work of some of the great localization teams out there, but it gets the job done since it's not in your face most of the time -- this is an action game, after all.
So how does the action hold up? It's actually pretty smooth, if a bit too simplistic -- at least, at first. Attacking sequentially engages a combo, and you'll get a different string of attacks while crouching, standing, or jumping. AeternoBlade also follows the tried-and-true orb system, which drops a variety of buffs after defeating enemies. Yellow functions as experience points, red is health, blue is magic, and green helps refill your special power bar. The initial offering of enemies is fairly generic fodder though, and doesn't really test your skills in any way.
Thankfully, AeternoBlade picks up a bit once you start to earn some more skills and time abilities and the enemies start to use more diverse tactics. Specifically, when you get the dash cancel and unlock more combos like launchers and group attacks, the game really opens up. Freyja can also tap into the power of the AeternoBlade itself, which can rewind time if she has the mana to spare. I generally like this genre mechanic since it allows for some mistakes, and it's nice to see this implemented here without being overpowered.
You'll also have the power to send enemies or objects back in time separately, opening up a few puzzle opportunities. At one point the "Time Guardians" come into play, which punish people (including you) who manipulate the universe -- these enemies will only appear in certain areas when you're using your powers, and help keep you on your toes.
There are also a few light RPG elements, like the ability to power up Freyja at a hub-like home base, and unlock new powers as well as upgrade old ones. The most interesting feature is the choice to switch between two "relic" setups by way of the bottom touch screen, which you can customize to your liking with by equipping various accessories. In other words, you can build an attack-heavy and defensive setup at will, and switch them on the fly to suit different situations.
It's all part of an effort to make the battle system more interesting, but I found that the map design generally wasn't as well crafted. AeternoBlade features a standard Metroidvania setup with segmented levels you can return to. So the standard "get double-jump, come back to this old area" principle very much applies. It follows a level-based system that always ends in a boss fight, but the map is interconnected by way of load times, allowing you to freely roam or use waypoints at your leisure.
The problem is the maps just aren't all that exciting or varied. Although the boss fights are generally well done and interesting (despite the fact that some are awkwardly re-used as minibosses), getting there can be a bit of a bore sometimes, with simplistic ledge puzzles and concepts that don't really push the "time" mechanic enough. While the visuals are fine on their own, it doesn't help that some of the same assets are re-used to the point where you can't help but think "Have I been here before?"
All in all the story should last you somewhere around five hours, and there's tons of secrets and upgrades to find should you want more. There's also a lore tome filled with all of the game's creatures and story bits, as well as a few pieces of DLC -- namely a costume and a wave-based challenge arena. It's not a cavalcade of content, but it's more than the average eShop release.
AeternoBlade may not move the genre forward in any way, but it's a fun little game for action enthusiasts. It has a deep combat system, just the right amount of RPG elements, and an engaging enough narrative to keep things moving. But it also could have been so much more, and for that reason, I wouldn't put it in the "must have" pantheon of Metroidvanias.
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