Developer: Aurogon Shanghai
Release Date: April 25, 2023
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Modus Games
Genre: Action Metroidvania
It’s rare that a game’s narrative doesn’t make sense to me. In all honestly, I usually find a way to understand at least the opening lore dump to get a feel of the game’s world and various plot beats. However, every once in a while, there’s an outlier. A damper on my ego as a game critic to understand and deliver a comprehensive summary of a game. This leads us to this moment as I play through the Aurogon Shanghai-developed Afterimage. Despite the gorgeous visuals and highly customizable combat system, the reasons as to “why” any of this is happening is beyond me.
Afterimage takes place in a world called Engardin, which no longer houses the benevolent goddess that gave it meaning. While life is now in an age of peace following an event known as The Razing, the absence of the goddess has left the world and its inhabitants in what appears to be metaphorical silence.
I should also mention the Stream that contains the souls of those who have perished is currently not functioning properly, with some souls vanishing. Our protagonist Renee, alongside her companion Ifree, are the ones who oversee the contents of what enters the Stream. However, on their way home after a patrol, a veiled assailant appears to trigger a locked-away memory of Renee, who must now confront truths she was left previously unaware of.
For full transparency, this took me a while to grasp, and the narrative only becomes more convoluted as more elements are introduced. The dialogue and text come across as vague generalities, which made it difficult to follow along. Even in the premises, there appears to be some common ground with what the narrator states, yet it all appears disconnected and awkward.
In fact, a decent chunk of what I said about the plot in the intro was me taking a few liberties with what I believe was going on; I’m not confidently certain about any of it. It was a truly strange experience when entering the later parts of the game, and I felt like I was thrown into the middle of a larger story with no context.
Thankfully, Afterimage’s combat system is far more gripping. Playing like a typical action RPG, you gain levels in a traditional manner, though you can customize Renee to fit your playstyle. For instance, you can have two weapons equipped at a time alongside magic and several pieces of defensive gear with unique properties. Further, there’s a skill tree with countless upgrades, yet it’s rather restrictive since most nodes have prerequisites for their unlocks aside from currency, such as needing to be at a certain level and such. Still, there are plenty of systems to dive into, rewarding those who don’t blindly rush forward.
Another thing I should mention is that Afterimage is also a metroidvania, as you can obtain movement upgrades that open up previously inaccessible paths. It presents a satisfying gameplay loop, but it’s hindered by a limited map UI. Unlike most games of its genre, Afterimage requires you to place markers to keep track of treasures or notable landmarks worth returning to down the line. Ordinarily, this design choice would be acceptable since it can make players interact with their environments. Unfortunately, the markers are too large, and the zoom-in doesn’t go as close as it should. The map details are not clear enough for this feature to function properly. At best, you can maybe grasp the ballpark of an area your older self found crucial, but that’s it.
It’s unfortunate because when it comes to gameplay, Afterimage feels great. The movement is quick and smooth, and the weapons are all distinct, with different activation speeds and ranges, providing a wildly diverse toolkit. Additionally, the enemies and bosses act as skill checks for the player. Well… sort of. While this may be patched in an early update, there were a few times when I fought an enemy, including bosses, and they just stopped moving entirely as I spammed one of my weapons. Even in situations where I lacked knowledge of a boss’ moveset or came ill-prepared equipment-wise, I could often walk in front of them, spam square, and be good to go. It was incredibly bizarre, but I still cheesed my way through.
Now, if there’s one aspect of Afterimage that I can unquestionably praise, it’s the presentation. The character portraits, setting, and items are so whimsical and vibrant. Admittedly, those aspects were my primary motivator for progression since a few of the outdoor locations took my breath away for a few moments. Moreover, there’s surprisingly an English dub option here that’s pretty decent. The oddities of the text still carry over, but the voices fit the cast well.
Afterimage is the sum of many parts. Its story has me stumped, with confusing plot beats and haphazard character interactions that will have you scratching your head from beginning to end. Still, its presentation and design will likely be what initially got you interested, and it will be what keeps you playing. The combat also provides some depth to the adventure, but it becomes a bit messy due to the strange enemy behavior and lack of challenge. Regardless, I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of this beautiful world.
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