How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. The world design is very much level-based in that you complete one major section after the next, though there are some meaningful collectables to backtrack for
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~10 hours
Review Info: 8Doors: Arum's Afterlife was played on Windows PC using the Steam version.
Buy 8Doors: Arum's Afterlife Adventure if you like…
- Korean Culture
- A variety of weapons
- Collectables you can talk to
- A balance between exploration and combat
- Multiple endings
▼ Review continues below ▼
There are few subjects that are more relatable than death and the feelings of loss that can come from it. This is what makes basing a game on an interpretation of the Korean afterlife a fantastic idea. There’s an opportunity here to share a culture with the player that they may be new to, and that adds to the other-worldly feelings that might come from getting lost in that world. Thanks its stylistic graphics and perfectly matched music, 8Doors: Arum’s Afterlife Adventure gets a lot of points for atmosphere right off the bat. As the struggles of the souls of the dead are conveyed to you, it’s really easy to reflect on losses you’ve had in your own life. Matching this intriguing premise of spiritualism and mystery, 8Doors appropriately has a great focus on exploration and discovering hidden secrets. It also has a plethora of boss fights to face off with, with a skill tree designed to affect how those fights play out. These bosses make combat the primary challenge of the game, at least if you’re playing on normal, and unfortunately this is where 8Doors finds its greatest design struggles. Combat isn’t as tight as it could be, with an incoherent focus on having too many weapons rather than a having few solid mechanics that would work with no skill tree at all. As a result 8Doors falls just a bit short of greatness as a whole package. Certainly if you’re able to look past some of its frustrations though, there’s a lot to love here, particularly given its rather unique theming.
The game starts off with a still-image cutscene depicting a girl dealing with the sudden loss of her father, followed by her journey into the ocean where she can apparently access the purgatory for the dead without dying herself. You awake on a dock on the outskirts of this purgatory where a helpful agent of death greets you and gives you a scythe that you can use to defend yourself. As you progress you’ll meet up with a frog who rides on your head and acts as your voice so you can maintain that silent protagonist persona. Eventually you’ll start to meet all sorts of colorful characters and start to learn about the rules of the afterlife. No one in this world seems inclined to outright stop you from going basically wherever you want to go. In fact they pretty much hire you as a police officer and reward you for collecting souls that escape from the afterlife’s strict infrastructure. Apparently since you’re a living being you don’t face the same risks from wandering around that actual dead people face. Actual dead people who stray away from the normal process of the afterlife can become specters, which are basically monstrous spirits. Along your journey you’ll be reaping – and rescuing – fugitive souls, and also fighting already-gone specters as regular enemies and larger bosses.
The scythe you start out with feels relatively good to use, although there are some caveats from the get go. With a lot of these action platformers aerial attacks are either superior or at least super useful, usually because they do the same damage as ground attacks but the recovery animation is auto-canceled from landing or isn’t as harsh in the air. In 8Doors it seems there was a concerted effort to make ground attacks more appealing, since while your aerial attacks are fast and easy to rapidly fire off, they only do small amounts of damage. Even your first ground swing is superior to a regular air attack, and every weapon has a two or three hit combo with the last hit doing double or even triple the damage. Ideally you will want to pull off as many of these three hit combos as you can, so enemies must be designed with this in mind. Thus most regular enemies can be stunlocked after a single hit, which can be accomplished by a single air attack followed into a ground combo. As long as you don’t run straight into ranged attacks, single enemies are no challenge at all, which is why you’ll usually find them in groups of two or more. Some enemies are an exception to the stunlock rule, where they can’t be stunlocked from any of your attacks. This is normally conveyed by their size. These kinds of enemies have long periods where they don’t attack so you can get at least three hits in. Every boss falls into this category, where you’re encouraged to stay as close to the boss as possible and use the i-frames from your dodge roll to avoid any attacks they make.
Encouraging or outright forcing the player to be so close to a boss’ threat range requires that the boss must telegraph their attacks perfectly if the design was meant to be anything other than trial and error – and sadly this is where 8Doors‘ combat falls short. Everything is telegraphed, but it’s often difficult if not impossible to discern exactly what the boss is going to do the first time you fight them. Once in a while too, there are attacks where the telegraph really just isn’t that clear, and it takes quite a few failed attempts to figure out the nuance through pure muscle memory and rhythm. Sometimes a boss will also for some reason not let you dodge through their body, making it seem like the rules are suddenly changed or that hit detection is inconsistent. If the animations conveyed this information more clearly, all of these issues could have been avoided. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with a trial and error style boss, but the other mechanics of the game have to compliment the design, which 8Doors doesn’t always do. The later you get in the game, the further apart the checkpoints become. Most of the game’s required bosses do have a checkpoint right next to them, but notably the final encounters are exceptions to this. Additionally, almost all of the optional bosses are pretty separated from the nearest save shrine, which adds a walk back to the fight making the trial and error that much more frustrating. All this said, I’m probably making this out to seem much worse than it actually is. The fights can be a lot of fun once you get the hang of them, but they definitely don’t always feel like it’s your fault when you die – at least not the first time.
Even when you do memorize a boss’ pattern, there’s a lot that can feel a bit off about the combat. As I mentioned earlier, normally when a weapon has a high number of recovery frames when used on the ground, that “lag” can be subverted by abusing the jump mechanics. Since in 8Doors jump attacks are clearly inferior, there’s no way to avoid the problems with ground animations while doing optimal damage, and the result is that combat feels a bit “sticky.” You can cancel your attack animations by dodging, but you can’t jump or move out of a lot of them until the animation is finished. The dodge roll then essentially becomes your one and only tool for avoiding damage, subtracting the usual management of spacing and distance from the equation where that’s often the main draw of other similar 2D action games. This makes a lot of the fights a matter of getting in the enemy’s face and just pushing the “take no damage” button occasionally when the enemy prompts you to, and for veteran players this is probably going to make most fights in 8Doors feel a bit boring. Some bosses have patterns that force you to change that strategy, but with as many bosses as there are in this game, there are going to be a lot of duds thanks in part to these core mechanics.
Part of 8Doors’ combat issues, I think, stem from the number of weapons that are given to you. You get seven weapons over the course of the game usually with some Metroidvania style gating use attached to them. For the purposes of combat however, everything but the scythe feels unfinished in some way. It’s hard to judge how much damage each weapon does because bosses don’t show their health bar unless you hit them with a special attack. This makes the weightier weapons feel worse than maybe they actually are, especially since bosses can’t usually be stunned. In speaking of special attacks, between the high “mana” cost and the slow animation for the wind-up, they’re almost never worth using until you upgrade them fully via the skill tree. One of the weapons is a bow that uses the same mana pool as your special attacks, and since it’s one of the few ways to reliably deal a lot of damage from a range I found I preferred using that for my mana instead. Switching to the bow to take advantage of this can be a bit awkward though, since you either have to pause the game using the right control stick’s selection wheel, or cycle through your expanding list of weapons in real time. It would have been neat if the bow was its own button instead, letting you shift between close range combos and hitting the enemy from afar when the strategy suits the situation. In fact, I’d argue that the game could have improved a lot by cutting the list of weapons down to only a few and really focusing in on making those few weapons feel great. Opening up the shoulder buttons – which are currently used for cycling weapons – to make room for a “fire bow” button might have gone a long way in making the combat feel more dynamic.
On the subject of freeing up buttons for other uses, there’s one other niggle about the combat that isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s at least a bit of a confusing choice. You have a potion that you can use three times , and it replenishes its number of uses when you pray at checkpoints – similar to a lot of other popular action games today. However, the way this potion is implemented is almost no different than it just being an extension to your health bar. You can heal instantly with the tap of a button – it doesn’t slow you down or inturrupt what you’re doing in any way – and the game doesn’t give you any real strategic reason not to just use this any time you get hurt. In other games that have had a similar instant use mechanic, your potions will heal you a substantial amount, and to get the most out of them you must weigh the risks of waiting until you take just a bit more damage vs the chance a boss could knock out the rest of your HP in a single hit. In 8Doors the potion barely heals more than one or two hits worth of damage even when upgraded to the max, so you can almost never waste a potion to over healing. There is one perk on the skill tree that makes you do more damage when you’re low on health, so you could wait until you’ve gotten a few hits in before pulling yourself out of that critical range, but that benefit is almost always too minor to take the risk. The potion button thus becomes just another wasted button on the controller, where all of its related benefits could have just been allocated to a longer health bar instead.
Besides just in the combat, saving a few extra buttons could have helped a lot in other parts of the game too. As mentioned most of the game’s weapons have a secondary use that let you explore the world a little more. When it comes to this secondary application, one weapon shines above the rest, since there are so many platforming challenges that use its special feature. The umbrella makes you fall more slowly and protects you from any waterfalls that would otherwise block your path. Any time the game wants you to use this ability though you have to switch off of whatever weapon you were using and use the umbrella instead. The actual weapon function of the umbrella isn’t too bad, but at one part of the game in particular having to switch between your lamp and back to the umbrella gets particularly cumbersome. I don’t know if there was some part of the afterlife folklore that gives significance to the seven weapons you find that could explain their inclusion, but it would have been nice if things like the light source or ability to reflect bullets was just added to your scythe, and the ability to float with the umbrella was given its own button. The platforming is otherwise fairly well executed with a lot of great verticality and a variety of challenges to overcome. Other movement mechanics like switching places with your frog companion or air dashing are executed quite nicely.
Exploring the variety of 8Doors’ world is really where the game’s design excels. In spite of all my complaints about the game’s combat, upgrading the skill tree felt very rewarding, and it made hunting down hidden areas especially addictive. Sometimes secrets will give you perk points outright, and other times you’ll find fugitive souls which are effectively half a perk point each. Once you find four fugitive souls you’re given two perk points and some money to spend, which you can use to upgrade your health, mana, or how much your potions heal.
A lot of secrets are tucked away in walls that you can just pass through, but an eagle eyed player could usually spot these passable walls easily enough. To make finding these secrets easier, another reward for exploration is the ability to upgrade your map so that it provides more detail. Initially the map shows only block representations of the areas you are in with no specific indication of exactly where you are. After you find the zone’s cartographer, the map becomes a very zoomed out version of the exact terrain, and skimming around this map you might spot suspicious blank areas where you might find more hidden treasures, or one of the optional bosses.
The fugitive souls are a fantastic collectable, and not just because they feed directly into your character’s power level. Something about collecting lost individuals triggered the completionist in me more than if the collectable was some ancient artifact instead. Many of the fugitive souls can be spoken to once collected, and while they only rarely give you helpful information, there’s something extra satisfying about being thanked by the secrets you find. The game also forces you to return to the tavern often to turn in these souls since the maximum you can carry are four souls at once. Since there’s no reason not to go check up on the characters you’ve rescued once you get there, you get to watch the rooms in the tavern fill up the more you find. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling, making this possibly the best executed mechanic in the game.
Even though the atmosphere and lore of the game is basically perfect, I still can’t help but feel that more could have been done with the game’s story. There are a bunch of characters who sort of follow you around, but their presence is more like a cameo rather than a memorable encounter. This could be another instance like with the weapons where less is more. Or, maybe you could have spent more of the game doing quests for these NPCs and gathering warm interactions like with the fugitive souls, instead of just having them show up to spout exposition and then disappear back to the tavern. The main plot is also pretty predictable, so the characters really needed to pull their weight a little more. The result is a couple of endings that feel just a little hollow, except as it relates to the concepts of death and loss that I mentioned in this review’s intro. Relationships are teased but are never fleshed out in a satisfying enough way. Because of this, I think the game’s ending is ironically at its best when you watch the game’s bad ending first and conclude later with a better outcome. It gives you an extra perspective of what the stakes are, which the game’s story doesn’t otherwise give to you. If you’re like me where you like to do everything possible before beating the final boss, you may miss that extra nuance. Unfortunately however, the final boss is a bit long and drawn out, and doing that fight to watch each ending on your own as opposed to just looking it up on YouTube might end up being a little tedious. Even if you just jump straight to the best ending though, it’s beautiful in its own way even without the high stakes, as it includes music and imagery that could bring a tear to your eye with no context at all.
Going back and forth between everything 8Doors: Arum’s Afterlife Adventure has to offer and all of its weaknesses I’m really left on the fence for exactly how I should feel about it. There were times when I was playing that I wanted to give this my heartiest recommendation, and other times that made putting 8Doors on the same level as other games a very difficult thing to do indeed. There is a framework for a great game here. The level design is really well done, and collecting all of the game’s secrets really is a treat. On the other hand, many boss patterns could use more testing and tweaking, but more importantly the game’s core mechanics could use an overhaul, with its superfluous tassels removed and its remaining weapons more finely tuned. The story which could have saved the entire experience could use a little more focus on character to really bring home those emotional vibes. There are still emotional vibes to be found however, and I suspect that a lot of players will connect with 8Door’s deeper themes. There is a lot of good to be found here, which may still make embarking on this afterlife adventure worthwhile for you.
Some weapon animations are a bit sticky, and a lot of boss attacks are poorly telegraphed, which in combination can make fights frustrating for the wrong reasons. Once you've started to memorize patterns though the bosses can still be satisfying to take down
Collision with the corners of walls feels a bit off, but there are a lot of good platforming sections nevertheless - even if they never reach a level of challenge that they could be called ''great''
Even though the critical path is a fairly linear progression, each area has a ton of fugitive souls to collect and secrets to discover, making exploration one of the biggest highlights of the game
There aren't really any strict puzzles in this game, mostly switch flipping which doesn't take any additional thought to accomplish
Narratively speaking 8doors is a step above a lot of other games, but doesn't quite hit that magical point of greatness with the way it develops its characters
The backgrounds and overall aesthetic are fantastic, however a lot of the animations leave a lot to be desired.
The music is overall very ambient for the afterlife setting, with a few standout tracks that truly could take you to another world
There are two difficulty modes, and a few really challenging achievements you can acquire you're probably not going to get on a single playthrough. The talent tree can also add some variety, but not a lot.
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