How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. Aeternoblade is comprised of 7 levels, and while there is most certainly some metroidvania style exploration to be had the gauntlet nature of the design puts the focus squarely on combat over exploration
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~15 hours
Review Info: AeternoBlade was played on Windows PC using the Steam version
Buy Aeternoblade if you like…
- Time Travel Mechanics and Stories
- Combo-based combat
- Secret Endings
- Leveling Systems
- Slower Pacing
▼ Review continues below ▼
Time travel, metroidvania worlds, and psychological character exploration are all ambitious ideas when taken individually, but combining them all together is a monumental task. Each takes meticulous planning and execution to avoid enormous plot holes or excessive padding. With that in mind, the fact that AeternoBlade even attempts to do what it does makes it a laudable effort. So many of its elements are at worst intriguing, and at their best they could teach a thing or two to other games that attempt the same things. Juggling so many elements though, AeternoBlade was bound to drop at least a few. Where AeternoBlade falls the shortest is that it’s just way too repetitious, making it easy to put a microscope over its core design and expose all of its little fractures. A few cuts here and a slight design change there would have made this a fairly easy recommendation, but as it stands it sits on the borderline of what I would call a good game.
AeternoBlade is a game about paradoxes, in more ways than one. It starts out as generic as it gets. A girl has her village destroyed by a grumpy demon who’s only motivation is to destroy things, and she seeks revenge while seething with an anger of her own. Eventually she comes across a boy who is obviously there to add romantic tension to the story, and he cautions her about how her vengeful anger is gonna consume her if she doesn’t stop it. It’s almost as if they were reading the script straight out of TV Tropes. Unless you’ve made a commitment to see this game through to the end, based on the story alone I wouldn’t blame anyone for stopping pretty early on. The gameplay did keep me interested enough that I could give the story a pass, but then the twists start coming in. About halfway through, AeternoBlade really starts utilizing its time travel theming in its narrative, which is exactly the point where the gameplay starts getting very, very old. It’s an ironic trade-off; you want to see how it all ends but I couldn’t stop myself from rolling my eyes when yet another path-blocking plant monster appeared to stop me in my tracks. But I digress, I should probably talk about the positives of the gameplay first.
The main gimmick in AetneroBlade is the titular blade, which allows you to reverse time and grants you some other cool abilities as the game progresses. The most interesting way the Aeterno Blade is used is with puzzle platforming. Platforms can be “rewound” to return to more advantageous positions unless the platform is immune to your powers, in which case it becomes another factor in the puzzle. Anyone who has played Braid or another game that has a similar time-reversal gimmick should be familiar with how this idea plays out. AeternoBlade provides some great permutations of the mechanic, especially as it adds more twists. Later on you gain the ability to set teleportation nodes you can instantly travel to, which ups the complexity of the puzzles to a high degree. The puzzle rooms are generally well-designed and at least as far as my imagination can take me, AeternoBlade realizes its potentials in a satisfying way. Compared to more dedicated puzzle-platformers, if AeternoBlade was only time reversal puzzles, the only complaint I would have is the physics are slightly loose and the game’s camera doesn’t always capture the action well. Otherwise I think the puzzle parts of AeternoBlade are great.
One aspect of the time reversal mechanic that might feel a little “off” to players coming from other time travel games is that you can’t use your powers to correct minor mistakes. Take Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or even Vision Soft Reset as an example; in both those games if you take damage you can use your time powers to reverse the hit as if it never happened. In AeternoBlade, you can’t ever reverse any of the damage you take unless you actually die from the attack. Lose all your health and you can reverse the last 10 seconds and try again, but you’ll remain that inch from death unless you find another way to heal yourself. Your inability to reverse your mistakes applies to mistimed jumps as well; reversing time affects everything else but you. The game is actually designed around this crucial difference quite well, but again if you’ve experienced time travel mechanics before then AeternoBlade might feel “wrong” to you.
Perhaps in service of the time-reversal ability, combat is heavily combo focused. Even at the end of the game after pumping all of my resources into raising my attack power, even the most basic enemies in equal level areas were taking at least four hits to kill. For small enemies, one single hit could potentially stunlock them into a death combo, so the greater danger comes from groups. Large enemies don’t care about any of your attacks so you have to pay more attention to their telegraphs in order to layer in the damage. This is where the time-reversal becomes useful. Tapping the time reversal button rapidly almost works like a time-stop ability, letting you continue your combo with impunity – assuming you don’t foolishly reverse and repeat one of their attacks over and over instead. Since your power meter can’t just reverse mistakes like in other games, using it to manipulate and exploit enemy openings is its best application. No matter how much you reverse time, the enemy’s HP bar is never reversed, so even if you turn back time after “dying” it will never set you back in your progress to defeat your foe. Especially in the early game as you’re leveling up quickly, being able to play around with your enemies has an addictive quality to it, even if the combat is otherwise as slow as molasses. It takes a decent amount of time before the combat reaches anything resembling a challenge, so the challenge in the meantime is figuring out how to go through the content as fast as possible. This is encouraged by a character action game style scoring system given to you at the end of each level which includes time stat.
Of course a major factor in how quickly you kill things is based on how you level up your character, and AeternoBlade gives you a lot of things you can level up. You can buy new combo finishers which are actually one of your most important damage dealing tools, you can raise your stats like your max HP or attack power, and you have several relics you can level up with power attachments. As fun as it is to just get stronger, the most interesting customization tool is the relic system. You can equip up to three relics, and on each of those relics you can equip power relics that amplify their benefits. For instance, a basic relic that raises your attack power will give you more of that damage increasing stat depending on how many power relics you pump into them. You have a limited number of power relics so until you find enough to max everything you have to choose which abilities take priority – but you can always tweak and adjust the values at any save point.
Relics have the potential of completely changing your playstyle. One relic makes you do substantially more damage when you attack during a time reversal, another makes you makes you heal during that same reverse time. Equip both and you can make your reverse time into invincible warrior mode – which gives you extra reason to raise your MP stat as high as possible. Other relics might make you jump higher, or able to dodge more often, and careful analysis of the related mechanics could lead to strategies that go beyond just boosting your attack power stat as high as possible.
Even though AeternoBlade can be strategically diverse, doing more damage still takes the highest precedent, because enemies just have way too much HP in this game. Clearing any given room is going to take at least a minute, perhaps a few, and room after room this time adds up dramatically. Doing the most damage in the fastest time possible was a matter of me trying to stay sane rather than trying to show off my abilities or express myself. Bosses provide the most diverse challenges in this game but they’re no exception to the too much HP rule. Like in many other games their patterns get more complex as the fight goes on, and repeating the slow early phases of the fight over again turns anything interesting about the fight into a frustrating endeavor.
The worst offender in the game’s repetitiveness are the forced combat rooms. A majority of the rooms you enter will lock the doors and require you to kill all of the enemies inside before you’re allowed to leave. Dying and then having to restart the slow and arduous process of traveling through a gauntlet of these kinds of rooms is likely going to be enough to make many people just put the game down permanently. The game is easy enough that dying can be a rare case – outside of bosses of course – but mental attrition can lead to making mistakes more than the enemy’s attack patterns.
Forced combat rooms wouldn’t be so bad if each room could be “cleared” permanently. There’s no contact damage in this game, and with the exception of a few larger enemies, you can just walk through most of them. Once you’ve cleared a room you’re able to walk through them quickly just by ignoring any enemy respawns. If these rooms stayed clear, the metroidvania map would actually be pretty good. Finding optional pathways and more of the game’s excellent puzzle rooms would break up the pace of the combat and give AeternoBlade a memorable sense of adventure. But the game forgets quickly which rooms you’ve already been in. The map is divided up into 7 different levels, and if you ever leave a level or reload your game then all of the forced combat rooms become reset, which is just annoying. It exacerbates how there are already too many of these rooms in the first place, or that there are too many reskinned enemies moving into the latter half of the game to support what ultimately feels like padding. Exploration is thus somewhat ruined by the wretched pacing of the combat.
However, by the time the gameplay’s pacing gets extremely old the story might already have its hooks dug deep into your mouth. Grumpy demon stays grumpy demon, but the nature and personality of virtually every other character presented changes significantly as the story progresses. I’m not going to say that as far as time travel plots go it forges some grand new direction that can’t be seen anywhere else, but AeternoBlade uses its theming in intriguing ways. The writing or localization could be a lot better, but I felt myself connected to the characters nevertheless. There’s substance here, and it may hit home for you. I can easily see this being a niche game in spite of all of its problems, especially for people who are interested in great ideas even if they’re not necessarily executed in a great way.
AeternoBlade has a framework that could be polished into something great, but unpolished is what it is. Samey combat encounters bookended by long and potentially tedious boss fights is likely what you will remember the most, even if there’s a pretty good story and a bunch of great puzzles mixed into the formula. Most of AeternoBlade’s worst problems could be fixed pretty easily I think. Enemy HP values could be reduced, forced combat rooms could be made permanently unlocked after the first time, and maybe a bunch of encounters could be cut entirely with experience point gains adjusted accordingly. Looking at the game in its commercial state, I think that there’s a lot of fun to be had still, but you’re probably going to be bored with it at times. If you can pick it up on the 3DS or a system where you can play it for short periods of time and put the game into sleep mode, then its slower nature may actually be a benefit (you could use it as a sleep aid for instance.) AeternoBlade is interesting enough that I wouldn’t toss it completely to the side, but it definitely doesn’t belong in the upper tiers of quality.
The combat is especially slow and deliberate, with animations that lock you down unless you cancel them with a cooldown. This isn't necessarily bad but it's implemented with an excessive amount of repetition
Platforming really isn't heavily tested in this game and therefore can't be either positive or negative to the experience
The game's map is actually quite robust with tons of meaningful rewards and story-based secrets to find. The issue comes from how slow the combat is and all of the forced combat rooms you may have to repeat
The time-based puzzles are actually very clever and are a definite highlight of the game. Unfortunately they're wrapped up in all of the issues surrounding the combat
AeternoBlade has an intriguing framework for a great story, but it's held back by its writing quality
The aesthetic itself isn't terrible - quite good for what was originally a 3DS game actually - but the animations are wonky and awkward
There are a few catchy tracks but overall it's pretty generic and forgettable
While it's probably best to just stack all of your level-ups into Attack, there is some high potential for build variety that may give multiple playthroughs some fun things to play with.
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