Fresh on the heels of the Blizzard’s latest Rise of the Necromancer expansion for Diablo III, it would make sense for the PlayStation’s budding isometric RPG stable to get the hell out of the way. But what fun would that be? Last week, the newly released AereA stared down the crosshairs of one of the most storied franchises in the genre and refused to blink. Can its decidedly more adorable presentation lead to success simply through counterprogramming, or is this a case of the wrong place at the wrong time? String up your cello, because this arpeggio is about to play an interesting tune.
A New Tune
“Music Makes the World Go ‘Round” isn’t just a song by the Hamilton Brothers. It turns out that it’s the entire focus of AereA, on a fundamental level. Everything in the world itself has an orchestral bent in some way, shape or form, and it’s up to the player to help restore harmony to humanity. So how does one battle against the forces of dissonance, you ask? Apparently the game’s forefathers pioneered a way to weaponize musical instruments, resulting in protagonists that are armed with either a cello, harp, lute or trumpet. Yep, I was just as skeptical as you probably are right now, but oddly enough, it actually works really well.
Each of the individual instruments represent a typical class that might be found in a standard action RPG. The cello is actually the player’s shield, utilizing the bow as a sword of sorts. Firearm enthusiasts will want to lean more towards the trumpet, which uses the brass ball-buster to launch more mid-ranged melodious bullets. Additionally, as you might expect, the harp represents the archer and the lute stands on its own as a mage-type character. All of the classes seem to be fairly balanced and prove to be complimentary in battle, while also competent enough to stand strong during solo play.
To say that this AereA is a Diablo clone, at least gameplay-wise, isn’t necessarily a fair comparison. A more apt analog would be the Gauntlet franchise. The primary reason to make this distinction is that AereA lacks the loot-driven motivation to slay enemies. In fact, there’s very little that can be done to weapons, aside from occasionally powering/leveling them up. If the game is actually targeting a younger demographic, this could prove to be a smart move. It makes character advancement both approachable and straight-forward. That said, it also tends to rob the moment-to-moment combat of virtually any incentive. Unless a quest needs to be completed, there’s really no reason to fight at all.
A Character Study
As far as character progression is concerned, each player-controlled combatant has their own individual level advancement. These increases impact various aspects of the player’s abilities. Core abilities can also be augmented by leveling up the pieces of weaponry in the arsenal. This powering-up process takes the form of cashing in collectables like musical notes, for example, in order to enhance these key pieces of gear. Along with the increases in stats come additional powers or attacks. My personal favorite skill that can be unlocked through progression was a cello shield blast. This sudden burst of energy could injure an enemy, even if they were in a defensive position. Talents such as these become more crucial, the further into the campaign that the player progresses and only grow in effectiveness over time.
The core goal of AereA is to help gather all of the missing legendary instruments, all the while dispatching any resistance that gets in the way. The world itself is somewhat generic as far as gaming tropes are concerned. Jungle world? Check. Sewer stage? Present! Random lava battleground? Of course! There’s going to be very little to shock players, at least from an originality standpoint. The same also goes for the level structure, which consists primarily of winding and intertwined corridors, skinned to match the stage’s theme. Lastly, the adversaries are also themed to the type of level being played. Further emphasizing the predictability, you will find gigantic rats, lava monsters and swarms of bugs in their respective environments.
Variations on a Theme
Combat itself also feels like something we’ve played before, though in this case it is likely to be totally intentional. Though familiar, the heavy bent towards the melodic arsenal proves to be the one new element that is brought to the table. Unfortunately, this same creative thinking wasn’t applied to how combat scenarios play out. Spawn in a stage. Whip some ass. Capture the object needed for the assigned questline. Repeat as necessary until all goals have been accomplished. Essentially this is all the game offers throughout the campaign, which is disappointing given the premise offers so much room for experimentation.
There are also side objectives that the residents of the hub world will randomly assign during conversation. At least from my experience, these quests usually tied to the specific missions that are next in the primary mission questline. While this hurts replayability somewhat, ultimately I was thankful to not have to replay another mission on the same stage again. However, someone on the main campaign team never received this memo. This results in having to replay stages several times, with very little (if any) variation. This is where AereA will begin to test the attention span of the player, which is never a good thing for a genre that hinges upon replayability.
Make no mistake, AereA is an interesting take on dungeon crawlers that has an interesting conceit. With the game’s theme centered around orchestras is something that I have genuinely never seen before. Unfortunately, this is where the innovation ends. The final product is a reskin of a paint-by-the-numbers dungeon crawler that is devoid of motivation, originality, or replayability. If you are looking for an action RPG to steal hours of your life, you may be better off taking a look at a certain other release from last week. The only thing that the two games share is a hellish undertone. Being boring as hell counts, right?
Review code for AereA provided by the publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.