AeternoBlade II Review
AeternoBlade II Review | Culture of Gaming
is a special kind of bad. I have played games that are so mechanically busted that they shouldn't even be sold. I have…
AeternoBlade II is a special kind of bad. I have played games that are so mechanically busted that they shouldn’t even be sold. I have also played games that are so cringe-inducing that they’re enjoyable, in a very niche, comedically appealing way. AeternoBlade II falls in the middle of this spectrum and is even more damning for it. It (for the most part) keeps itself together and gets you where you’re going, but the ride is absolutely miserable.
AeternoBlade II: A Dull Narrative
Having not played the original AeternoBlade, I can’t speak to how much this story connects to the first, but on its own, AeternoBlade II is cliched at best. You play as 3 different characters whose journeys intertwine in an attempt to stop the Abyss from swallowing the world. Freyja, Bernard and Felix all have different reasons for stopping the Abyss, but their shared goals help them fight together. The fantasy trope of darkness attempting to overcome the world has been told countless times in other (better) games, with more nuance and intrigue. To say the story of AeternoBlade II is bland is an understatement: it’s oatmeal with cold tap water. The lore is forgettable, the cutscenes are bad, and the voices… oh, the voices.
Any chance the narrative may have had to become captivating is immediately dashed by the unbelievably bad voice acting. Every single character sounds terrible — and I mean EVERY one. Felix, one of the main characters you control, may give the worst voice performance I’ve ever heard. I am taken aback every time he speaks. His nasally delivery and unnecessary over-pronunciation of every syllable is nauseating. The first time you hear him say the word “Chronosia” is just as painful as the last.
The music is a generic fantasy soundtrack, with no songs standing out, but it serves its purpose. Battle themes provide punch and bravado, while woodlands are more peaceful and serene — none come off as memorable. The art style is inoffensive enough, with some monster designs being pretty neat. I even enjoyed some of the 2.5D backdrops; the foreground swallowed by flame, littered with shattered war weaponry actually captures the intensity of a besieged castle quite well. But the ridiculous facial animations and lackluster enemy design (both visually and mechanically) only serve to further blast the game into obscurity.
All of those grievances hold nothing to the gameplay, however. The gameplay of AeternoBlade II is as monotonous as it is infuriating. The 3 characters technically have different weapons and thus different move sets, but they all feel the same. The game is stylish action, with combos strung together by mashing out various attack inputs mostly taking place on a 2D plane. But unlike other stylish action games, such as Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, the combat just feels limp.
Every strike is dull and every enemy is a damage sponge that rivals late game enemy health pools in other RPGs. From the very beginning of the the game, the most benign minions take dozens of hits to kill while providing very little in way of challenge. This makes every fight a chore and I was actively avoiding combat whenever possible. This is impossible, however, because the game constantly locks you into combat scenarios that you have to complete to progress. In a game with a good combat system, this would seem great! Other games, like those I mentioned, do the same thing but the act of fighting is so satisfying that you’re craving another battle. AeternoBlade II made me dread it.
The combat is expanded upon with the addition of the games’ namesake, the AeternoBlades. These devices allow the player to control time in various ways when fighting enemies or solving puzzles. One lets you create a clone of yourself that you summon, then run through a string of commands before releasing. Once released, time resets to before you summoned the clone and you act your new actions as Felix while the clone does what you told it to, ultimately allowing 2 characters to be fighting enemies at once. Bernard’s AeternoBlade simply lets you stop time altogether, while Freyja’s AeternoBlade sets time in reverse. This creates unique puzzle designs and boss encounters for each character, which is easily where the game shines brightest. You are often given tutorials to explain more complex mechanics before the puzzles begin stacking these systems on top of one another.
You may start by simply moving boxes, but eventually you will need to time jumps in reverse time to ascend to your exit, while also setting down instant warp portals to complete the challenge. I really did enjoy some of these puzzles: they felt thoughtful and provided a nice challenge. If AeternoBlade II completely cut out all combat sections and instead focused on the puzzles, it would be vastly improved. But as it turns out, the opposite is true. Puzzles are secondary to the combat and the game suffers tremendously for it.
3D Combat.. Because?
I want to highlight perhaps the most bizarre design decision of the game. Switching from 2D to 3D (sometimes) during combat. This happens at random (with no discernible reasons why ever provided, or any hint that it’s about to happen). It is also markedly worse than the already pitiful 2D gameplay. All attacks and abilities control similarly, meaning you can now perform the same tiresome, boring juggles and combos in 3D. There is also a rudimentary targeting system akin to Ocarina of Time or Dark Souls where you can lock on to a single enemy, in an attempt to make these fights managable.
But unlike those two games, you cannot switch between targets by flicking your camera stick. This still blows my mind. Enemies in this game don’t wait around for you to make a move and they often gang up on you. To select a new enemy, you have to unlock-on from that monster, adjust the camera to hopefully line the new enemy up, then click again and pray it chooses the right one. It didn’t take me long before I completely gave up on the lock-on system and just operated the free camera.
Combat provides little in way of protection, with a dash for dodging, but no blocking. I was constantly getting hit from behind in these 3D sections, or jumping around like a maniac to avoid taking damage. Exacerbating the issues is the camera, which often clips behind walls completely obfuscating the scene at hand. You’re stuck staring at the back of the wall, desperately attempting to regain composure (and sight), all the while trying not to die since the enemies do decent damage.
Quick Time Events… The Horror
Boss fights provide unique encounters that are much better than the regular enemy battles, but still fall flat due to design decisions and poor mechanics. Different phases of a boss fight may bounce between 2D and 3D sections with every boss changing tactics throughout. They usually gain new attacks and movement options once you chip them down to half their health bar. Some longer encounters have puzzle elements to learn, but some also have quick time events that result in instant death if you miss the button prompt, forcing you to restart the entire fight again. Yes, you read that correctly. Quick time events, in a game released in 2019, that will kill you instantly.
This also highlights something else AeternoBlade II struggles with: checkpoints. Save statues litter the world that will fully heal your character and allow you to save, while also setting an auto checkpoint. You can also manage your simple inventory of health and magic potions and other single use items here. The issue is these statues are often spread between a handful of lengthy fights or puzzles. As a result, after death you can be set back up to 10 minutes. And I mean fully set back. The game will act like you are experiencing everything for the first time as you trudge back to where you died, cutscenes and all. At one point I was begrudgingly playing a forced stealth section in this 2D stylish action game when I almost quit.
This section requires you to solve puzzles and fight enemies while avoiding a large monster that’s pursuing you. Occasionally the game will determine an auto checkpoint at the beginning of one of these puzzles, which is very welcome. These are separate from the same statues that you usually have checkpoints set. In this stealth sequence there are between 6–7 sections to complete, each a separate screen as you progress from left to right. I failed on screen 3, was punished with instant death and was relieved to see that I was right back at the beginning of that same puzzle. I hadn’t lost any progress.
For some horrible reason however, when I got to the final screen with the trickiest puzzle and failed, it reset me BEFORE every other checkpoint I had gotten at that point. I was sent back to the last statue I saved at, at least 10 minutes before. This happened twice in this same section as it requires quick precision and on both instances I was so unbelievably pissed off that I nearly gave up.
Of course, a bad game wouldn’t be complete without some more jarring technical hiccups. AeternoBlade II crashed at least twice during my time with it. One was a black screen that forced me to close the game, while the other simply hard locked my PS4 Pro, forcing me to reset the entire system. By the time these things happened I was so worn away by the game that it didn’t even phase me. It’s surprising it hadn’t happened before.
It brings me absolutely no joy to tear down the work someone so obviously invested themselves in. It seems the game endured a very tumultuous development cycle, suffering from years of set backs and delays to the art team completely leaving developer Corecell in the middle of development. These struggles very well may have been the cause for such an unpolished final product, and that’s very unfortunate. Regardless, this is a video game that is for sale and costs money and it should be criticized as such.
For every slightly redeeming feature AeternoBlade II showcases, such as the interesting boss and world design, the game does ten things terribly wrong that makes experiencing those interesting nuggets nigh impossible . At every turn I prayed something would stand out. I wanted to meet a new character I liked, fight a boss that really took me, or even hear a song that would move me. None of those things happened. Instead, I had the realization that I was playing a bad game that wasn’t going to get better. And sure enough, it never did.