AeternoBlade is a game about rewinding time. That’s ironic, because the game itself is almost an anachronism. It feels, looks, and plays like a game out of the PSX era. While that didn’t have to be a bad thing necessarily, it ended up being so.
As far as plots go, AeternoBlade does the standard thing. In a fantasy world, a young female warrior named Freyja witnesses an evil demonic lord destroy her village. She wants revenge. The catch is that she is gifted a legendary blade that has the power to reverse time. Sadly, the game doesn’t do too much with this plot device. Instead, the tale is straightforward; bad guys are in your way, you take them down. There is a bit of a twist where it turns out you needed to find an item before you’re allowed to beat the final boss, but it isn’t even mentioned in the script. You just go back.
It still could have been fun though, if not for the lazy dialogue. While the translation has been improved upon for the game’s port to the Vita, the writing is still bad. No attempt is made to give any depth to the characters, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything resembling a personality in any of them. The frequent stops for dialogue scenes end up being a nuisance at best.
Visually, you can tell this was a port from the 3DS. The character models are a little blocky and animate oddly. Most of the level design revolves around bland looking backdrops and a some big blocks that are used for platforms. The art design has a few strong moments during some nifty boss fights, but the overall look is generic and uninteresting. The visual highlights of the game are the cut-scenes, mostly because they strongly resemble the FMV scenes in classic PSX games. That’s sad, but at least the nostalgic centers in our brains will be tickled.
Playing this game without the sound is recommended. Between the tinny sound effects and laughable synthesizer music, it grates on the ears. Still, even if you wanted to listen to the game, you can’t always do so. The music drops out frequently, often not coming back until you leave the area. It’s especially noticeable in prolonged boss fights, where the silence becomes distracting. It’s like the game realizes that it would be better muted.
If you’ve played any Metroidvania games before, you know what to expect from this. This is a 2D side scroller where you run around a level finding secrets, fighting enemies, and checking out different paths until you take down a boss and move onto the next area. It’s a solid formula that has created a number of great games.
AeternoBlade, however, manages to screw up this simple concept. Firstly, the action is stilted. Freyja locks in place when attacking, which makes fighting awkward. The hit detection is also spotty, so you might not even do damage if you see your sword hit home. Jumping feels floaty, enemies are too dumb, and the level design is usually too straightforward to be interesting.
The game relies on a combo system. You launch into combos by pressing the attack button repeatedly. As you unlock new combos, you can switch things up by moving the left stick in various directions. The trick is that you can’t get out of a combo unless you’ve unlocked a special dash move. Even then, said dash is on a cool down after you use it. This makes it far too easy to get stuck in a long combo animation when you need to quickly dodge an attack or land on a platform.
Upgrading your character is done in two ways. Killing enemies often gives you yellow orbs that can be spent to upgrade basic stats or combos. You can increase your health, mana, and other stats. You can even reduce the cool down of that ever so important dash move. Your max upgrades are capped until you move on in the game though, so you can never overpower yourself by level grinding. You can also find various relics that you can equip that perform a number of different functions. You can buff your stats, gain health from certain moves, increase drop rates, and so on. You can make multiple relic setups that can be changed on the fly as well, which is nice. So if you wanted to quickly change into your highest damage output setup for when you have a chance to attack, you can do so.
The game’s big hook is its time reversal mechanic. This actually comes in three different forms. The less interesting form is that you can reverse time a bit when you die. Provided you have enough mana, you can rotate the right stick in order to go back a few seconds. This can help you out if you failed a jump, but more than likely what will happen is you’ll get to hold onto a sliver of life against a boss.
More interesting is your ability to move around while everything else rewinds. Once you have this ability, you can drain your mana in order to have enemies and objects on rewind while you’re free to do whatever. You can make a platform reappear, lower or raise a elevator, or simply lock an enemy into place so you can bash him unimpeded. Sadly, there are several things are immune to this power. Such objects and enemies are highlighted green. It looks ugly, and it’s especially annoying that interesting looking bosses are constantly glowing green.
Finally, you can create a portal that you teleport back to at any point. This ability becomes essential for some of the trickier platforming bits as well as moving quickly on the field for time sensitive fights. One particularly nasty boss can regenerate health if you don’t do enough damage to him quickly enough. Throwing up a portal next to him can save you time if you get knocked back or had to run away to dodge an attack.
Sadly, the game’s level design rarely makes use of these powers. Sure, there are some simple puzzles and hazards to take care of, but mostly you’ll just get stuck in locked rooms with one or two basic enemies. This tactic is overused by the game, and feels cheap every time. The game actually gets less interesting as you go as well, creating long hallways instead of a devilish labyrinth.
If you get into the game, you can probably get ten or so hours out of it. Chances are you’ll want to explore each of the seven stages to their fullest, as well as upgrade you character as far as you can. This isn’t half bad value really. There’s also going to be DLC added at some point, although part of it is just dressing up Freyja in a bikini for some reason.
Lastly, let’s talk about the game’s difficulty. It’s simply unbalanced. Basic enemies are worthless drones that can soak up hits but never launch a counterattack. Bosses, on the other hand, use cheap tactics to drain your health while having massive life bars of their own. If they kill you four times in a row, you can opt to have the difficulty lowered, which is usually needed to avoid frustration. Some of the levels are simply cruel to boot. If you don’t know that you need to use a power at the beginning of an area, you can get stuck and forced to off yourself to try again. There are also switches that appear to do nothing, as well as plenty of dead ends. It often feels like you’re doing a lot of work for little gain.
Short Attention Span Summary
This game had plenty of potential. If the mechanics were a bit more fleshed out, the combat tweaked, and if the level design took proper advantage of the time powers, this could easily be an instant classic. Instead, AeternoBlade ends up being a bitter disappointment and a black mark on the genre.