Just like television, movies or fashion…video games can easily fall victim to popular trends. The current flavor of the month seems to be battle royal shooting; but one trend that transcends generations will always be beauty. Regardless of style, resolution or theme, a beautiful game will always impress. AER: Memories of Old is one of those games. It immediately grabs your attention with its vivid colors and lighting before a fluid transition into flight gameplay knocks your socks off. There are more words that accurately describe AER: relaxing, non-linear, open, and peaceful come to mind…as does short. In the end, there’s just one question to ask: is AER: Memories of Old all beauty and no substance?
The story in AER: Memories of Old is complex and somewhat hard to follow, but I’ll give the gist of it. You play as Auk, one of the last remaining shapeshifters, and you set on a journey to prevent darkness from taking over your world. This world consists of floating islands in the sky that Auk can reach through flight. Your lantern is used in many areas to interact with doors or puzzles, in addition to providing some incredible lighting and shadows. The journey inevitably leads Auk into cavernous areas and temples in search of keys or relic pieces that must be united to stop the darkness. Auk doesn’t speak (she hardly even has a face), so all information is learned by interacting with NPCs, scriptures and stone carvings scattered across the world. Developer Forgotten Key put a lot of thought into the game’s lore, but much of it went over my head. I was more concerned with exploring and finding the next temple than analyzing the history of the Great Divide.
When you start out there are no waypoints or markers telling you where you should go. All hints are given through NPC interactions, and even those can be easily overlooked. Your map is almost completely empty, but exploring leads to new discoveries and your map will quickly fill itself in. Islands vary from large to extremely small, and sometimes there are animals, spirits or scriptures to interact with. The feeling of freedom is on full display, but it can feel a bit empty as there usually isn’t anything to do on smaller islands. I decided to explore the entire map before making much progress. Eventually I reached the proper destination, as indicated by a glowing diamond area that my lantern interacted with. Much of the game, both outdoors and indoors, revolves around finding these diamond “switches” that will open doors and reveal new areas. There is no combat or fall damage and you can’t even die…which lends itself to the relaxing tone. No matter how ambiguous things seemed, I eventually found the right destination without much trouble.
What makes the visuals of AER: Memories of Old so unique is a combination of flat textures with detailed geometry and use of vivid colors and shadows. While AER looks nice in screenshots, seeing it in motion is far more impressive. As Auk transitions from walking to flying, a new set of controls takes over, yet everything feels seamless. Ascending and descending, as well as controlling your speed work great. It does take practice to successfully land on an island, as Auk carries incredible momentum while airborne. There isn’t much more to remember aside from jumping and equipping your lantern. There are no wind mechanics that affect your flight but you will find yourself soaring through clouds from time to time. There are occasional loading times when entering new areas, but nothing that detracted from the experience.
I want to emphasize how refreshing AER: Memories of Old felt compared to most games in the genre. There is no HUD or waypoints, just a map and your instincts. Not being able to die means you can take risks without restriction and the simple controls keep the gameplay from getting overly complicated. It’s the type of game you can just relax and play at your own pace, which might be a good idea given the relatively short time from beginning to end game. The cherry on top is the fabulous art style that never fails to impress. Despite its length, the journey in AER: Memories of Old is highly enjoyable and easy to recommend to all fans of adventure games. Kudos to publisher Daedalic Entertainment for releasing another gorgeous game that joins Silence and Pillars of the Earth on my hidden gems list.