It’s becoming a common practice in games now to replicate the Metroidvania gameplay concept that is rapidly growing in popularity. Each tries to incorporate its own unique spin on things to keep the idea fresh and invigorating. Some, however, fail to capture the true essence of what creates that addictive gameplay hook, sucking in players to their world. AeternoBlade II is another attempt at crafting its own name into the pantheon of Metroidvania classics. Ultimately, it builds up to nothing more than a poor imitation of the genre, plagued by boring combat, level design drier than the Sahara Desert and an onslaught of technical issues. Where most games succeed in making a name for themselves, AeternoBlade II is the definition of a bad replica.
Following the events of the original AeternoBlade, the sequel sets about continuing on from its predecessor. At least, that’s what I’m told. The original incarnation never released on an Xbox system, so new players will have no recollection of the events of the first game, and frankly AeternoBlade II doesn’t care. From the information the game provided though, what I can say is that it’s generic fantasy storytelling at its finest – with a Japanese flair. The situations that unfold are neither interesting nor concise. You’re rapidly introduced to characters and constantly switch between them all, disallowing you any sense of flow to the narrative.
Accompanied by this is perhaps the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard – seriously. Each character plays like a member of the general public who’s been kidnapped and forced to read their lines. Most likely they were told to read them or play this game repeatedly – I’d take the lines too.
As a Metroidvania type game, your role is to follow a linear path with rooms to explore off the beaten track. Hidden passageways will lead to unexpected secrets and other areas will be inaccessible until certain items are gifted to you.
The worlds that you’re invited to explore in AeternoBlade II are beyond excruciatingly dull. Castles possess no character with a grey, uninspired colour palette and no desirable qualities, and forests are never-ending descents into emptiness. No life or soul is poured into any of these environments, making none of them stand out or encouraging to explore. The main hook of any Metroidvania game is to go off the beaten path and see what treasures await in the nooks and crannies; to have a game that repels you from wanting to go any further out is the opposite of what you want to achieve.
Everything about AeternoBlade II screams of a game from a bygone era. The graphics feel like an HD remaster of an Original Xbox title but without the charm. From a technical standpoint, AeternoBlade II can be a bit of a mess. The game crashed on numerous occasions throughout my time with it, and its unforgiving save system, which must be done manually, becomes infuriating. Also, the screen would often flash black repeatedly, damaging my vision in the process. This would not be rectified until the whole game was restarted. It feels as though there is too much ambition for the project, but not enough resources to correctly manufacture the ideas.
In AeternoBlade II’s defence, none of the gameplay elements are broken. They’re just crafted in the blandest way imaginable. Exploration is handled fairly okay, with each character being responsive and agile enough to make platforming feel tight and precise. You’re given additional tools to navigate the world such as a hookshot which can enable you to arrive at out of reach areas at the press of a button.
What you are burdened with between any of these sections is the combat, which takes up the primary part of the game. Each character has different weapons, but ultimately all play out the same. Combos can be strung together, attacks can be dodged and hit-streaks can be made. Every encounter can be easily rectified by simply spamming the attack buttons. Combos are unresponsive and lack any major sort of increased damage to make them worthwhile putting the effort in. As a result, each battle is a repetition of button mashing until you’re cleared to move onto the next area – which can take a while.
Combo encounters go on for far too long as enemies are the definition of ‘bullet sponges’. Having to deal with this for the majority of the game can make you lose interest very quickly. As each battle goes on and your thumbs become increasingly more sore, you’ll beg the question of what are you really gaining from this, other than blisters. Nothing about the combat feels engaging or rewarding. It’s a constant attrition of attacks until your fingers can’t take any more.
The camera isn’t much help either. AeternoBlade II often switches up its playstyle from a 2D side-scroller to an open 3D playing field. While in the 2D mode, the game handles fairly okay, with a locked camera position. When AeternoBlade II attempts to use 3D environments, the game falls apart. The camera swings around you like a swarm of bees looking for its target. It’s disorientating, nauseating and causes you to plead with the game to switch back. The sentiment is there to attempt to mix things up, but the original elements need to be right before incorporating more.
AeternoBlade II attempts to differentiate itself from other games of the genre by adding in time powers. You’re rapidly given new abilities to bend time to either use in combat or solve puzzles. Why you would want to slow down battles that have already gone on for long enough is beyond me, but hey, each to their own. Slowing down time allows you to safety navigate fast moving hazards or attack hard to hit enemies. Other abilities also include the power to record a version of yourself, allowing you to inflict double damage on enemies with your copy, or use it to your advantage to solve puzzles. These mechanics are never utilised in any interesting ways and most of the combat encounters never call for the need to use them. Puzzles never evolve beyond basic block pushing or lever switching when it feels like the tools are there to really create an expansive set of challenges.
The bottom line is, AeternoBlade II on Xbox One just isn’t fun. Perhaps there’s an audience out there – players who embraced the first game and cried out for a second one. From an outside perspective, everything about AeternoBlade II feels like a recipe concocted with all the wrong ingredients. Every corner of its world is a slog, the combat becomes increasingly more boring and the story is inaccessible. While playable on a basic level, it is a fantasy world with a lack of magic, and I never want to visit it again.