AER: Memories of Old (Xbox One) Review

By Nikola Suprak 21.01.2019

Review for AER: Memories of Old on Xbox One

Exploration and discovery are some of the key motivators throughout human history. Curiosity and the desire to uncover the unknown has lead people to map the world, cure disease, and push technology forward in ways few could anticipate. AER: Memories of Old taps into this primal instinct of exploration, and throws you into an uncharted world full of new places to discover. It also asks a very important question: what if you go exploring and there's nothing worth discovering? After a look at the PC version, here's one more, this time on the Xbox One.

AER tells the story of Auk, a young woman on a pilgrimage through a broken land. Something very bad happened to the land here some time ago. So bad, in fact, that the land isn't even really land any more. Instead, the world here is a series of loosely connected floating islands, with chunks of rock and grass just sort of hanging around. Auk can shift into a bird for reasons that aren't entirely clear, and is visiting some important destinations in something that is either a very important pilgrimage, or a fairly boring vacation. While Auk is on her journey, she will slowly uncover the history of the word, and try to find out if there's anything she can do to save it.

The story here is right on the cusp of being something interesting. There is this exciting, non-linear approach to storytelling, where part of the fun is travelling from island to island, and finding scrolls or ghostly apparitions that provide more context to the history of the land. It is a nice way to beef up the plot, which is a good idea because the storyline here is fairly predictable. The game tells this fairly bland story of gods and how the world almost fell to darkness, but it is hard to get too invested in the plot when there really aren't any actual characters. The extra bits of plot hidden away would be a nice way to supplement the main story, but the main story is predictable and linear enough that it doesn't always feel worth it to track down more information about it. It feels like the spent a decent amount of time building up the lore and history of the world, but then forgot to put a story here that builds around that. It always feels like all the interesting stuff happened ages ago, and the player is just sort of stuck ready a history book's best attempt at retelling it.

Screenshot for AER: Memories of Old on Xbox One

It makes sense that so much of the lore is spread all over the world because this is primarily about exploration. Unfortunately, there just isn't all that much here to see. The majority of the islands are completely empty, and if you're really lucky you might run into a ghostly memory giving a single line of dialogue. The key for exploration-based games is giving the player something worth exploring, which this simply doesn't do. It's all the fun of exploring an abandoned grocery store, and the main draw of this title appears to be going out and finding all the nothing that's out there. There are entire island chains where the most interesting thing to see is a tree, and at times it feels like Auk is on the world's most boring sightseeing tour. Exploration is fantastic, and a great thing to build a game around, but AER fails at the execution here, because there is nothing to do or see when the destination is reached. It is exploring for exploring's sake, without any reward or reason for doing so.

It also doesn't help that travelling from place to place is a boring chore. Auk can turn into a bird and fly from place to place, which is fine, but there is lot of space from one island chain to the next and flying from one edge of the map to the next can take several minutes. The game doesn't give a fast-travel option, so once an island is discovered, the only one to return is to fly all the way back. This discourages any sort of return visits, which is fine since there really wasn't anything worth seeing on the first trip. Still, for something revolving around exploring and seeing what's out there, this doesn't do a good job of giving players the tools to get from one place to the next quickly. A ton of this quest is just empty sky, with absolutely nothing to see, and it isn't like flying itself is a particularly rewarding experience.

Screenshot for AER: Memories of Old on Xbox One

Outside of flying around and documenting clouds and trees, there are a total of three "dungeons" to explore and solve "puzzles" in. There are actually five, but the ones at the beginning and end barely count, because as long as the player has mastered the concept of using the d-pad to move, they'll have no trouble getting through them. The main dungeons aren't much better though, and labelling anything in there a puzzle is really stretching the definition of what a puzzle is. The action mostly involves moving around and interacting with small floating cubes that activate mechanisms or open doors. The majority of puzzles here aren't really puzzles - they're just wandering around and touching the one possible thing that can be touched.

It isn't much of a surprise that the gameplay here is underwhelming. Inside the dungeons there is a jump and an interaction button, and that's it. It isn't really possible to put together anything too complex with such a simple set up, but this game is disappointing even by those low standards. There is a single puzzle in the entire thing that is somewhat clever, and it involves pushing these bells in the correct order. But the only reason this was somewhat clever is because the rest of the game is so painfully basic that it will come as a surprise the one time they actually try to do something remotely puzzle-y. Worse yet, this even manages to mess up these extremely simple controls. The jump mechanic, which is essentially the one thing you can do, is floaty and imprecise. Luckily, the jumps are all so simple that it doesn't matter, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to think they could've done a better job with the one main input they put in the game.

Screenshot for AER: Memories of Old on Xbox One

This is sort of the underlying flaw with the entire adventure, in that there are a lot of great ideas here but this botches the execution at every conceivable opportunity. An exploration heavy video game with a non-traditional story and puzzle-heavy dungeons sounds fantastic, but that isn't really what this is. This isn't exploration-heavy because there is nothing to explore; these aren't puzzle-heavy dungeons because they forgot to put in the puzzles; finally, the only thing non-traditional about the story is how boring it all is. There are some really great ideas here. It is just a shame they didn't manage to pull any of them off.

On top of all of this, the visuals don't even really look finished. Some people tend to praise this visual art style for its uniqueness, which is technically true, but one could draw everything with his or her feet and it would've looked unique as well. The visuals seem to be reminiscent of very early 3D computer graphics, with weird blocky polygons comprising the characters and the backgrounds. It looks like a game that isn't quite out of beta, and things just don't look quite finished. Being generous, you could say this is intentionally stylised to be retro, but cynically it is also possible the visuals look so bad because it was easier the throw together visuals from twenty years ago than anything from modern day.

Screenshot for AER: Memories of Old on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

4/10
Rated 4 out of 10

Subpar

AER: Memories of Old is a game for people that liked the sailing in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, but didn't like the actual gameplay part of it. The exploration aspect is interesting, but the title never really gives the player anything worth exploring. Wandering from island to island to look at things that aren't important appears to be the core feature of the gameplay here. Actually, trying not to fall asleep at the controller is most likely the true main feature of the gameplay, and this will serve you better as a sedative than it will as an actual game. It seems like it is right up on the cusp of some really good ideas, but it never quite gets there. It feels like it should almost be a great adventure, but, sadly, because of how it fails to execute on its basic premise, it isn't even a good one.

Developer

Forgotten Key

Publisher

Daedalic

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  4/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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