Vernal Edge Review – Sweet, Sweet Revenge

    Title: Vernal Edge
    Developer: Hello Penguin Team LLC
    Release Date: March 14, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: PID Games
    Genre: Retro Action

The Metroidvania genre has blown up in popularity over the last few years, and I love it. But even when standing next to games like Ori and the Blind Forest, Ender Lilies, and Hollow Knight, Hello Penguin’s Vernal Edge finds a way to be different. There may be lost ruins, tricky puzzles, and platforming sections that make you want to pull your hair out. Yet there’s also something special about the way Vernal Edge was designed.

Upon starting a new game, you meet your protagonist, Vernal. In the opening scene, you find yourself on an airship being threatened by armed guards. But just as they’re about to execute you, a lightning bolt hits the vessel, and you’re thrown overboard. You then wake up in a forest next to a dummy (because every forest needs a tutorial dummy) and are quickly introduced to the game’s platforming. Of course, in classic Metroidvania style, you’ll immediately notice areas that you can’t quite reach. That didn’t stop me from trying, though.

After I spent longer than I’d like to admit in the intro area, I came across what looked like a robot claiming he had amnesia. His name is Chervil, and as it turns out, he’d be joining me for the rest of my playthrough. It’s at this point you learn what’s really going on. Vernal has some major daddy issues and wants nothing more than to kill her father, Asphodel. She’s not the only one feeling betrayed by him, either. Despite most of Chervil’s memories being gone, he does remember two things: that he, too, was betrayed by Asphodel and that Vernal’s father is planning something terrible.

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Those issues clearly negatively impacted Vernal’s outlook, but, hey, she’s out for revenge, and being nice isn’t her strong suit. So I don’t blame her. And because of her snarky, spiky personality, many conversations were pretty funny. Talking to Chervil did get a little tiring at times, but a shopkeeper telling me I looked like someone who’d be gullible enough to buy something never got old.

The tutorial stage didn’t last long, and before I knew it, I found myself piloting an airship in a 3D world. You’re free to explore the area around you, though the upper part of the map is covered in a dark fog for most of the game. Additionally, a conversation bubble in the bottom right of the screen sometimes lights up to give new information on the story. Still, generally speaking, knowing where to go is more of a guessing game than anything.

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Each island you visit shows a threat level represented by 1 to 5 diamonds. I first avoided some of the higher danger areas, yet once I got the hang of combat, island difficulty didn’t matter. If anything, higher threat islands just meant I probably didn’t have the right skill to progress in that stage. That’s pretty standard for Metroidvanias, though giving players a little more direction would’ve saved me from backtracking. I don’t know how often I’d go to an island and run around for a while, only to realize I probably don’t have the skill to go further. Admittedly, this wasn’t a massive deal, but having to walk all the way back to my ship felt a bit unnecessary.

Although one gripe I had with exploration was the lack of maps; sure, each island has a map waiting to be found. Yet until you reach that point, your minimap isn’t much more than a box with the words “No Map” in the center. And finding a map after I’d already explored most of an area was pointless.

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Like other games in this genre, there’s no shortage of platforming in Vernal Edge. However, aside from a few optional end-game zones, most of it wasn’t too difficult. And when scenarios were challenging, the game’s mechanics did a great job of making me try just one more time. For instance, in most cases, where you fall off an edge or hit an environmental hazard, you’re brought right back to the place you jumped from. That saved a lot of time, and there were only a few instances where I wished for some sort of checkpoint.

That brings us to something I’ll miss when returning to other Metroidvanias. In Vernal Edge, traps and falling can’t kill you. You’ll take damage, of course. Though once you hit a certain percentage of your health bar, you’re free to keep trying without worrying about being sent back to your last save. This made the platforming sections challenging without enhancing difficulty just for the sake of it.

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Speaking of difficulty, I played on normal, and while combat wasn’t exactly challenging, I had a lot of fun with it. There were enough variations between abilities (which are called spells and memories) that let me fight the way I wanted to. Further, I messed around with the parry system and tried every ability I found but ultimately settled on a combination of timed bombs and one particularly strong memory.

In hindsight, something I think Hello Penguin could have handled better is the variety of enemies you encounter throughout your journey. I gave Vernal Edge the benefit of the doubt for a while. Still, seeing the same few types of enemies again and again took away a bit of my overall enjoyment. Sure, adding a level to an enemy’s poise bar made those fights last longer, but that’s all it did.

Music in Vernal Edge wasn’t anything special. In fact, I found myself tuning it out in most cases. Sound effects and voices, on the other hand, were great. Combat actions had weight, and the audio from unreality portals really made me feel like I was going to different places.

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Vernal Edge balances the feel of old-school Metroidvanias while adding quality-of-life features you’ll miss when playing other games in the genre. Platforming has the right amount of difficulty, and there’s enough variety in combat to keep you coming back for more – even if that means fighting nearly identical enemies. The story won’t blow you away, though it’s passable and doesn’t take away from the action. And while you might get lost on Mossy Island or spend 20 minutes trying to remember where you saw that flower vendor, Vernal Edge will keep you coming back for more.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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