January 25, 2016

Echoes of Aetheria - Review

Echoes of Aetheria is a top-down, two-dimensional RPG with a big heart. The beginning is typical, even cliche: a wedding interrupted, a bride kidnapped, and a head-strong - if somewhat witless - protagonist charges off to rescue her. Thankfully, he’s assisted along the way by a plucky quick-talking rogue/possible love interest and it’s quickly discovered that the kidnapped bride may be many things, but ‘helpless’ is certainly not one of them.

I like this game. I do. The art is nice, the combat animations clean and neat, the developers have implemented a nifty crafting system that doesn’t stick out like a last minute addition. It’s the type of game that requires you to utilize all its different features in order to make any meaningful progress - if you forget to craft a better weapon or armour for one of your characters, then prepare to be about as effective as a wet towel in combat. There’s also a slotting/runestone mechanic to augment existing weapons and armour, which again should be used to its utmost so you can defeat the game’s myriad of different enemies. The music is also top-notch and doesn’t feel repetitive, and the combat itself allows you to combo different status effects for greater damage. For example, a chilled enemy will take more damage from ice attacks, and so forth.

But there are lots of things I didn’t like about the game. The user interface is clunky and redundant, and oftentimes it’s unclear on what I need to actually click in order to upgrade skills, or equip/unequip weapons. The core issue with this, I believe, is that there is no clear ‘master’ interface. There’s no clear linear progression down a menu chain - for example, if I want to replace an existing ability with a new one that I just learned, I should be able to go to my skills menu, click the skill I just learned and click where I want to slot it in. Perhaps a helpful arrow or two pointing to where I should click next would be nice the first time I do it, so I don’t get lost. Instead, for about five minutes I was scratching my head in the skills menu, clicking frantically trying to figure out what I’d done wrong and if the game had just frozen on me.

Maybe I’m just slow, maybe I just don’t have enough experience with these kinds of games and their accompanying UI to provide an informed opinion, but a certain level of noob-friendliness surely isn’t too much to ask? Another gripe, though admittedly somewhat minor, is the fact that the game isn’t alt-tabbable (at least, not on my PC it wasn’t). Also, during particularly difficult combat which required me to combo certain moves and abilities on specific enemies, oftentimes I would make a mistake and mis-click, or just forget the order I was going for. That’s fine, my mistake and all, but I would have appreciated the ability to ESC out of the combat and retry, rather than have it play it out to its predictable conclusion before being able to retry the battle. Perhaps that’s my impatience showing, but if a game allows you to retry the battle you just lost a seemingly limitless number of times, then I don’t see the problem in allowing players to reset the battle if they mess up a combo.

Ultimately, this is an enjoyable little game with numerous non-deal-breaking gripes and flaws, an engaging storyline and great music.

Thanks to Degica for supplying the game for review

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