It may have taken a bit longer than anyone expected, but AeternoBlade has finally ventured beyond Japan and to reach both North American and European markets. The game was nearing completion back in June of last year, but developer Corecell Technology didn’t have the necessary funding to move along with the localization process, leaving it to rely on a crowdfunding campaign to raise the needed cash. Now that this action platformer has arrived on the 3DS eShop, we’ve done the usual slice and dice to decide whether or not it was worth the wait.
In a shake-up of sorts, the story begins with the main character, Freyja, dying at the hands of Beladim, a powerful devil-like immortal. Harnessing the ability of the mysterious AeternoBlade, Freyja is sent back in time seven days for a second chance to slay her killer. The game then takes place in stages, equal to the days leading up to the opening events. Offering up intrigue in small doses, the plot does keep things moving forward, though it's most certainly not what we'd consider a selling point.
Structurally and visually, one might compare AeternoBlade to Castlevania: Mirror of Fate, but with a dash of JRPG-style to round things out. Like any 'Metroidvania' experience, you’re going to battle through a network of corridors and tunnels until you find what you’re looking for – this could be relics that enhance character attributes or a boss obstructing the path between you and progression; acquiring new abilities (double jump, time travel, etc.) will allow Freyja to access areas she couldn’t previously go. This doesn’t play as major a role as it would in, say, a Metroid title; instead the focus is shifted more towards combat.
Upon starting out, Freyja’s repertoire of moves is extremely limited, deceptively leading you to believe you’re in for some mundane hack-and-slash swordplay. While things are quite stagnant for the first couple stages, once you’ve begun collecting yellow orbs you can upgrade and learn new skills, spicing things up substantially. Unfortunately you’ll likely be about halfway through the game before this depth becomes apparent. At that point the swift, combo-driven combat begins to shine, made all the more satisfying by a fluid framerate.
When the unique powers of the AeternoBlade come into the fray, time can be manipulated as long as there’s juice in your power meter. This mechanic is at times integral to progression: it's needed to move platforms, open doors, and even reverse enemy attacks. Many of the environmental puzzles were a little awkward and clumsy to platform through, but there were quality exceptions. Finding ways to capitalize on the time reverse function in unscripted scenarios, instead of areas specifically designed around it, was when we found it the most rewarding and enticing.
A good Metroidvania offers locales ripe for exploration, begging to be traversed to the utmost, but AeternoBlade isn’t quite decorated enough for this. Most environments are bland and generic in appearance, lacking enough memorable scenery to keep you from regularly referring to the map for direction. If upgrades and items aren’t on the agenda, constantly heading to the right usually places you where you need to be; that's in the grips of the boss standing between you and the next stage. Thankfully, these mostly large, pattern-based monsters can be a nice reward for enduring any monotonous exploration before it.
There are other annoyances that will intermittently surface throughout the adventure. For instance, the game likes to take control of the camera to provide a preview of the tricky platforming ahead. This is, of course, beneficial, but these sequences can't be sped up or skipped and the camera moves so sluggishly, spelling things out for you as if you're not capable of figuring them out on your own. Other moments are devoid of music or sound effects, which diminishes the impact of the dialogue or encounter, while frequent load times also work towards interfering with immersion. These occurrences would be very minor on their own, but in tandem they can be enough to noticeably degrade your level of enjoyment.
When the momentum was consistent and we were busy slashing away at enemies, AeternoBlade made for a fairly pleasurable experience. Even dabbling with the skill tree and upgrades between each stage was engrossing, allowing us to focus on complimenting our personal style of play. At times we wondered whether this would've worked better as a straightforward hack-and-slash affair — doing away with the platforming altogether — or if things just needed another dose of balancing. What we do feel is that this is a blade that's not as sharp as it could've been.
AeternoBlade isn't a bad game, it's just bland and occasionally frustrating. The combat and RPG elements are undoubtedly a highlight, giving you something to look forward to on the other side of any uninteresting moments, but they aren't quite redeeming enough to make this an easy recommendation. We have no doubt that there's an audience of die-hard Metroidvania fans that wouldn't mind spending a weekend dicing up demons and monsters with Freyja, though we feel the shortcomings and missteps present keep this one from the greater things it eludes to. Wait for a sale or price cut if you're on the fence about making the purchase.