Coming from Spanish studio Aeternum Game Studios, Aeterna Noctis first launched on PlayStation 5 last year, and has now made its way to Switch. Luckily — barring load times — the conversion to Nintendo’s hybrid wonder is solid, with a stable frame rate. Aeterna Noctis is a Metroidvania clearly inspired by the greats of the genre like Symphony of the Night and especially Hollow Knight, although it doesn't quite live up to those games that inspired it.
An entity known as Chaos created the world of Aeterna, and blessed the denizens of the land with free will. Eventually, factions formed between those who followed the light and the darkness, clashing to take control of Aeterna. Chaos, displeased with this, curses the leaders of each faction with immortality, destined to battle for the throne for all eternity to maintain equilibrium for Aeterna.
Fresh off of taking an L from the Queen of Light, you — the King of Darkness — wake up in a derelict town, realising you must ascend to the heavens once more to battle your nemesis. However, in order to get back to the heavens, he must first collect seven fragments of power belonging to the Shrine of the Kings. Not only that, you've lost the majority of your powers, (a shocking move for a Metroidvania, we know) and they are locked behind ten doors in the Temple of the Kings, the keys for which are scattered around the world. These doors offer platforming challenges, which upon completion give you power-ups, from game-changers like a dash or slightly more underwhelming ones like extra gem slots, although the majority of important power-ups — such as the double jump or the excellent teleport shot — are obtained from bosses.
Aeterna Noctis prides itself on being a difficult game. However, a fair bit of the game’s challenge comes from a place of tedium rather than excitement. The most prominent example of this tedium comes with each of the game’s 16 areas containing a form of enemy which shoots out a projectile upon death. These are not hard to dodge, but it just ends up with you walking off to the side and waiting until the projectile is gone. Tedium can sometimes bleed over to level design, too, such as scaling the massive Tower of Light with a massive screen-filling beam charging up intermittently. Again, not hard to dodge, but it’s another case of getting out of the way and twiddling your thumbs, wasting time until it’s safe to move again.
Other areas are better, though — the platforming challenges in particular. These feel like they would fit in any great hardcore platformer like Celeste with no issue. This isn't one of those games, of course, and the deaths can be far more frustrating when placed in the context of a Metroidvania with a health bar, but these platformer segments only continue to feel better and better as you gain more traversal powers over time, leading to some truly hardcore challenges that are satisfying to pull off.
As we alluded to earlier, Aeterna Noctis' inspirations are easy to spot. Right away you’ll be able to see the Hollow Knight influence, from the UI to the way your character moves. This reviewer has not played Hollow Knight past the first hour [The scandal! - Ed.], and even they were able to instantly see the influence. Things like defeating enemies to fill the circular icon on your UI which powers either your healing or other abilities, health icons rather than a bar, having to collect your soul from the enemy who last defeated you to get your full circle meter back, as well as an adaption of the charms system in the form of gems which you can equip on your suit to give you buffs like higher critical chance or the super useful auto-refill on your healing. Again, inspiration isn’t a bad thing, and these didn't all originate in Hollow Knight either; it does, however, leave the game open to unfavourable comparisons.
It does hold its own in the visuals department, though. It's a real looker from the get-go, opening with a gorgeous stained glass re-telling of the story of Aeterna — very reminiscent of the likes of The Wind Waker — you are then plunged into the game’s world where the hand-drawn art style really shines. While the initial environments are quite dark, later areas like the Infinite Bay and the Cosmos are absolutely stunning with their fantastic background art. The only real negative in the art department is that sometimes enemies across areas can look very similar.
On Switch, the game runs pretty much flawlessly, with the only issue being load times. Loading screens are very plentiful and when times can be anywhere from 7-15 seconds, it really starts to grate. Sometimes, death will send you back to another area if you are fresh into a new environment, meaning another load screen to add to the frustration of failure. We also encountered a fair few glitches throughout our time with the game. From multiple hard crashes, to some weird ones like not being able to move to the side unless jumping or being teleported out of a boss room as the fight continues. While not unplayable — and certainly patchable — it was frequent enough to become an annoyance.
Aeterna Noctis has a lot of potential; however, it feels like the developer got a bit too ambitious. A game that was shorter and had more focus has the potential to be something fantastic. but it ends up being a bit of a slog for a lot of its runtime due to its sometimes-tedious difficulty, despite some great platforming segments. Long loads and some frustrating design choices mean Aeterna Noctis is a derivative but sporadically satisfying game that some players may absolutely fall in love with. It has clearly had a lot of love put into it, but we didn't quite vibe with it.