The central problem with AeternoBlade II is that it tries too hard to fit too many elements into its gameplay and, in doing so, ensures that pretty much nothing it attempts works as well as it should. Just like its 2014 predecessor, this is a title that squeezes in time manipulation puzzles, side-scrolling hack-and-slash action, Metroidvania-style backtracking, platforming, light RPG elements, an epic story and endless reams of time-based skills and combos. This sequel then adds the ability to play as three different characters and some really ill-advised 3D combat sections that lead to a game which feels as though it’s falling apart at the seams and, if anything, is worse than its very average progenitor.

In many ways, it’s hard not to feel for Thai developers Corecell. This is a title that’s been in development since 2015; originally scheduled for a 2017 console release, it’s obviously been a long, hard road that's taken its toll on the end product and you can sense the amount of work that’s been involved in even getting it to this point. There’s an enormous amount of game here with some good ideas in the mix, but they’re scuppered at almost every turn by a serious lack of polish and refinement, myriad systems colliding with one another into a mess that’s more of a headache to play than it is fun or engaging.

Over the course of our time with AeternoBlade II, we encountered numerous hard crashes resulting in the need to replay entire boss battles, infinite loading screens, input lag, weird graphical anomalies and some show-stopping framerate problems. There are also loading screens and random black pauses between simple screen transitions, making the straightforward act of getting anywhere feel like a cumbersome trial. There are PS2-era character models, terrible writing, messy subtitle translations and some the worst voice-acting we've possibly ever heard in a video game. We’re not sure how Aeternoblade II performs on other consoles but on Switch, this is a game that needs some heavy-duty patching to bring it up to a standard where it could really be considered properly playable.

And it’s a shame, because underneath all the technical problems and janky mishmash of systems at play, there’s a decent game; a properly solid action RPG trying to get out. There are times, albeit brief, where things come together and you catch a tiny glimpse of what might have been. Alas, it seems perhaps beyond the scope of post-release patching to fix the level of problems at hand here and raise the best of this title from its self-made mire.

Picking up after the events of the first game, AeternoBlade II throws you straight into some heavy-duty action, switching between main protagonists Freyja, Bernard and Felix. If you haven’t played the first game, and we’re guessing many haven’t, you’re going to be totally at a loss as to what’s going on. There’s zero attempt to gently ease you into proceedings and you’re immediately thrown into the mix against a torrent of enemies; the game is in a rush to get to the action and, almost immediately, lays bare the fact it’s got some fundamental problems.

The core hack-and-slash combat here is solid in theory; each character has a bunch of combos to choose from and can perform a dash move that enables them to pass through enemies and their attacks. Time-based skills are added constantly throughout the opening hours and, on paper, you’ve got a massive arsenal of moves at your disposal to take on your foes. However, in practice, all of these things feel like a giant mess of ideas that are a painful struggle to pull off. Combat animations take too long to play out, there’s a consistent level of input lag which means you never feel comfortable or in control of what you’re doing and enemies fail to respond or behave in a way which gives the combat any sort of feedback or rhythm. Even simple things like the dash and parry abilities have janky timings so, after more than twenty hours with the game, we still weren’t able to pull them off reliably.

There's also no discernible way of knowing how much damage it takes to kill your enemies. You’ll find yourself whaling on a basic bad guy, the smallest one you can find, taking twenty or thirty hits to see them off, before fighting the exact same type seconds later and killing them with a couple of light attacks. As you move through areas the screen is constantly gated off and filled with a random selection of enemies you must defeat in order to move on, but they’re just thrown in there with zero thought given to finesse or the flow of combat. Every encounter feels extremely messy and it's made all the more so by the fact you’re struggling against pixelated graphics (especially in handheld where things are pretty unclear), input lag and a framerate that very often just cannot keep up.

There are also those 3D sections we mentioned to contend with. One early boss fight – against a tree, in case you were wondering – switches to a locked 3D view and immediately highlights the awkwardness with which this idea has been executed. Pressing the L stick down locks to your target, but it’s not a reliable lock and you’ll find yourself fighting the camera in order to keep what you’re doing in plain view. These problems are then exacerbated massively in fully three-dimensional battles where you’re free to run around and have full control over your view. Enemies pile in and the camera loses its mind, leaving you hacking away blindly, trying your best until finally, usually by luck, you make your way to the next part of the game.

There’s a promising sequence a few hours in where you need to hide from a large green-eyed serpent, cowering behind rocks until it looks away and then moving carefully to the next outcrop to proceed. It’s a great idea, and a hint at that solid game exists beneath the surface. It could have been an excellent build-up to a boss fight, but you constantly find yourself being inexplicably spotted by the beast; that aforementioned jankiness creeping in again and ruining things. It winds up being an absolute trial where you die repeatedly as you try and try again to see it through.

There are countless examples of this type of scenario on display here; good ideas ruined by shoddy execution. That's AeternoBlade II in a nutshell. There are a ton of time-based skills which you can use to fight battles or to solve Enigmata puzzle areas to score yourself a relic – one of the game’s upgrade systems – but there are just far too many of them; they overlap and are obnoxiously fussy to pull off. Even when you're four-to-five hours in, time-based elements are still being introduced and repeated – it's bewildering.

As mentioned, there’s a relic system where you collect various trinkets which can be attached in sets to your character in order to give various stats a boost. There’s also a point-based upgrade system for your core attributes and combos which is shared between the three main characters, but none of this stuff is really explained; it’s left for you to wade into the fussy menus before the game even acknowledges most of it exists. There’s also a rotating 3D map which is harder to get your head around and control than some puzzles in the game.

Positives. There are some positives amidst all this messiness. The Enigmata puzzle areas are generally fun enough distractions and some of the platforming sections occasionally get a bit of momentum going. There are periods where you'll get a few rooms full of enemies that aren't so chaotically laid out, followed by some time manipulation-based platform sections and a puzzle or two and it feels, momentarily, like everything might pull itself together, but it never lasts for long before you find yourself frustrated once again.

AeternoBlade II does, eventually, settle down into a bit more of a rhythm once its three main characters get together; a little hub area is introduced, the story is made clearer and you get some actual objectives and missions given to you, but the core problems remain. Every fight – and this thing is full of fighting – is a struggle. Overall, it’s a game that feels like it’s barely holding itself together. For every beautiful 2.5D sweep of the camera as you traverse some castle wall or bridge, there’s a twenty-minute boss battle with a single-digit framerate and unreadable, unavoidable enemy attacks to deal with. Every time you feel like you’re getting somewhere with this game, it crashes to the home screen, bombards you with annoying mixes of enemies or throws an instadeath QTE in your face in the middle of a boss battle.

Conclusion

AeternoBlade II is a mess of overly-complex mechanics and ill-fitting systems that struggles at all times to keep up with itself. Its core combat is solid but it's marred by input lag, slow animations, messy enemy placement and a struggling framerate. The time-based mechanics are far too numerous, confusing and tedious, while its long and winding storyline – delivered by some of the worst voice-acting we’ve ever heard – is almost totally nonsensical. Somewhere under all of the technical problems and confusion here there’s a solid game, but there’s just far too much jank for players to be expected to wade through to get there and it's impossible to recommend that you commit yourself to trying.