AereA is an isometric dungeon crawler with a particular theme: music. The game has been developed by Triangle Studios and is being published by Soedesco, who have kindly provided us with a review copy for this game. As we have yet to finish this game, we have abstained from giving the game a score at this time and are considering this review to be in progress.
About the game
The theme of the game is music and nearly everything in this game is designed around music or musical instruments. Playing this game gives you a choice of one of 4 characters, Wolff the Harp-Archer, Jacques the Cello-Knight, Jules the Lute-Mage and Claude the Trumpet-Gunner. The game also features local coop with up two 4 players, who are able to jump in and out of the game at will.
Getting into the game, it seems to look quite similar to games like Magicka or even Diablo. Exploring dungeons from an isometric view point while fighting waves of enemies does have an appeal to many players worldwide.
The game takes place in the world of Aezir, a place where the right application of music unlocks some very interesting magical powers. With great power comes great responsibility and careless use of this musical power has shattered Aezir into multiple floating islands. The Great Maestro Guido now uses most of his time and power to keep the world from further dissipating. As one of his disciples, you are are to find all the nine primordial instruments to finally restore the balance and peace to the world.
AereA has a unique cell-shaded artstyle that includes hand drawn assets. The animations look very solid and overall the game is very visually appealing. The menus and loading screen also look very impressive and it is clear to us that a lot of polish and care has been put into the aesthaetics of the game. Especially the music in the game is absolutely fantastic and the raw technical performance of the game seems to be where it should be.
However, the gameplay comes with many issues, which we will avoid sugarcoating here. When playing through the tutorial level, the tutorial messages seem to be mismatched. The content of the messages always seemed to be relevant only after the following message has been displayed. For example, the message describing your way of transport was shown to us a quite some time before we were given the possibility of transport.
Another thing to mention would be the items in this game. While there are a lot of items to choose from, the most important ones would be the health potions. Yet, in the boxes you find scattered throughout the map, health potions are rarely ever found. It is also quite tough to distinguish and know what the items do, since the only way to look it up is through the potion shop in the concert hall. Then you have to remember exactly what they do, which is quite tricky with the amount of items that are there. A simple tooltip that shows when switching items in one of your slots or when you see them lying on the floor would have been enough here.
Then comes the walking, of which you have to do a lot in this game and at such a slow pace too. In most games with similar character structure and viewpoint, you always have an ability to enhance your movement. In World to the West, another game published by Soedesco that features four characters played from an isometric perspective, each character has a unique movement ability. This made the movement itself fun and the game really should have implemented something like that for every character. Give the knight a charge, the mage a blink, the bowman a tumble and the gunner a sprint or anything else one could come up with.
We found ourselves backtracking a lot and movement through the concert hall, the main hub of the game, was always so slow and boring. This is especially amplified by most quests being marked as complete once the objective has been completed, rather than when it’s handed in. If you forgot who the questgiver was, you might just have to run throughout the entire hall back and forth to further progress the game.
The game features an individual progression system for each character. Each character has two different experience bars, one for their instrument and one for the character himself. Just like in other games, the character will become stronger when he levels up. The instrument level is still quite unclear to us as it levels up the same way the character does, by simply killing enemies. You gain instrument levels at around half the speed of character levels though. Whenever the instrument levels up, you are able to upgrade one of your attributes (health, defense, attack, etc.).
This system seems rather pointless to us, as each character only uses one set of weapons (instruments) and could have in this case just been merged with the character experience level, with the upgrade points being available as a kind of talent system. This would make sense, if the character level would be shared between all four characters, or if each one had multiple instruments available to them.
It is possible though that you do unlock more instruments later in the game. We were unfortunately unable to finish this game, due to a boss being very buggy. We were unable to damage the fourth boss in the game properly and it even hit us with invisible attacks with very little indication on what it exactly did. The boss also managed to knock us outside of the map. We have uploaded a video to YouTube that shows the footage of the boss. The boss uses poison attacks and the poison damage stayed even after we died and respawned on the checkpoint! Getting back to the boss afterwards also requires a long walk back to them, which just further padded out the game with unnecessary repetition.
Another thing that slows down the game are the levers (styled as metronomes), which are used to open gates. Each time you activated one of them, the camera panned to the gate, waited for it to open and then panned back to you without giving you the ability to skip this sequence. This is especially annoying if you need to repeat a section multiple times due to the issues mentioned above.
Some points to the game are alright though, which is demonstrated by the combat. The slow pace of the game makes you be careful with your actions and will require you to observe the enemy attack patternsIf you wish to succeed, you need to watch your surroundings and attack at the right moment. It is disappointing though that all three ranged characters (harp-archer, lute-mage, trumpet-gunner) feel fairly indistinguishable from another. All their attacks have a similar range and their pattern of play is practically identical. It always results in getting some distance from the enemy, then getting one or two hits in and then repeating the process. This on itself would be fine, but if there are multiple characters available to play, their playstyles should really have something to make them distinct from one another.
The game has a very beautiful art direction, which shows great polish in this regard. It is clear that the developers have put in a lot of effort to nail the theme of music, resulting in an enjoyable and interesting atmosphere. However, the theme of music could have given rise to a unique gameplay mechanic and its absence makes the music feel more like a skin rather than a thematic.
As we have been unable to finish the game so far or even try out the co-op mode, we will refrain from giving it a specific review score or value at this time. Looking at all the issues present in this game, especially the ones concerning its slow pace and the repetitive filler-content, we are unable to see how the game could fulfill the value proposition is implies with its $29.99 pricetag on Steam and especially its $39.99 asking price on consoles.
(out of 100)
While the game has a gorgeous artstyle and follows music and instruments thematically, it has many issues. The game is slow and a lot of its playtime seems to be made up of backtracking and repetitive content. Unless you are looking for something slow and simple to play couch-coop with, you might want to skip the game at its current form this time.
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