Arietta of Spirits Review – Arietta’s Awakening DX
Title: Arietta of Spirits
Developer: Third Spirit Games
Release Date: August 20, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Red Art Games
In a gaming landscape with no shortage of Zelda clones, Arietta of Spirits manages to do enough to stand out. It certainly takes after the Gameboy Zelda titles like Link’s Awakening DX, and it almost feels like it could have been an unreleased Game Boy Advance project. However, even with these inspirations, it adds plenty of its own charm in the midst of some nagging flaws that flounder the overall execution.
The game starts with our protagonist, Arietta, on a not-so-happy road trip with her parents as they’re on their way to visit a cabin that once belonged to her deceased grandmother. The trip is mostly to get certain belongings and affairs in order, so the setup feels both harrowing and quite close to home. Still, the family tries to make it a special bonding trip, as they decide to make the most of the visit and reflect on happier memories.
As the game gets progresses, Arietta makes use of a humble wooden sword to fight off unusually large bugs on a simple yet surprisingly dangerous task of collecting apples for her mom’s crumble recipe (it better be the best damn apple crumble for that kind of effort!).
During that same evening, Arietta finds herself experiencing what initially seems like a dream but instead turns out to be a fulfillment of her unique destiny as a Bound, basically someone who can walk the fine line between the living and spiritual realms. In the process, she befriends Arco, her guardian spirit of sorts. Turns out, there is great unrest between realms, as evil forces slowly lurk about and restless spirits need help to move on.
There is a significant amount of world-building here, as the game highlights certain key terms that help flesh out the story’s context. Events initiate gradually and humbly, focusing more on character development before fleshing out the overarching narrative. The writing is engaging, with thoughtful dialogue and plenty of emotional beats in the story delivery.
Arietta of Spirits almost feels like a mix between a Studio Ghibli and Disney fantasy, and the material could honestly work strongly as a Disney Plus serialization. Point is, the story and setting are endearing, and Arietta’s character does well in her empathetic interactions with those around her.
The dilemma, though, is that the narrative interrupts the flow of gameplay too frequently. The early sections are quite dialogue intensive, where it feels like every few steps trigger an interaction or cutscene. Arietta’s spirit sidekick Arco, in particular, loves to talk just a little too much. Given the style of action-adventure, the frequency of story segments does hurt the flow and pacing of the game design.
As noted earlier, Arietta of Spirits plays similarly to the Game Boy Zelda games, and it’s such a joyous experience, especially when played on Switch in handheld mode. The setting is a large interconnected world, and while there is a sense of progression in the design and themes, for the most part, repetition becomes steadily apparent, such as when several areas begin to look near-identical, and some of the environmental challenges start to repeat. However, this isn’t a massive drawback as it doesn’t spoil what is otherwise an engaging adventure.
There are environmental puzzles and side quests, but Arietta of Spirits tends to be quite combat-heavy, and the core combat system can take getting used to with its timed attacks and touchy hit detection. Although the title takes pride in its advertised “no-filler gameplay,” there’s actually a fair bit of filler present in the adventure. Some of the combative encounters can get monotonous and congested, and there’s also a good deal of backtracking involved during the adventure.
Despite some of these nagging flaws, though, they end up feeling minor in the grand scheme of events, as Arietta of Spirits feels greater than the sum of its parts. There’s an enjoyable sense of progression, quality of life features such as difficulty settings, and the game automatically saving each time you enter a new area. These design decisions all unite in creating a game you can pick up and play at your leisure.
There’s a sense of growth, too, as Arietta can upgrade her health and spirit and learn new abilities such as a handy spirit block/parry early on. As you pick up new skills and abilities, the combat becomes more interesting, and this is especially pronounced during the various boss encounters, each providing a fun pattern-based challenge. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, Arietta of Spirits is no pushover, and so regardless of how you plan your first playthrough, you can expect a moderate yet satisfying challenge.
The Game Boy comparisons are also apparent in the visual and graphical presentation. The sprites and color density definitely give off a Game Boy Advance vibe. While some of the environments feel like they have too much clutter in terms of background art, the character sprites are charming and animate quite smoothly, particularly the large boss sprites. Further, every aspect of the art style and sound design come together nicely thanks to the melding of soft pastel colors and suitable background music.
Arietta of Spirits is a Zelda-style adventure that may feel derivative and has a few nagging flaws in its overall design and pacing. Still, as a whole, the sum of its parts comes together snugly into an adventure that is both distinct and endearing.
The story is filled with emotional and meaningful moments, even if they interrupt the pace a fair bit. While the combat and world design can get repetitive, there are plenty of cool moments in terms of boss encounters and learning new abilities. So if you’re after a comfortably paced and unique Zelda-style adventure, then Arietta of Spirits certainly won’t disappoint.
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