Title: AER: Memories of Old
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Forgotten Key (ported by Daedalic Entertainment)
Publisher: Daedalic GmbH
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Official Site: https://www.daedalic.com/aer
Release Date: August 28, 2019
Where to Buy: Nintendo Switch eShop
I’ve always been fascinated by the ongoing discussion over the artistic merits of video games. Having grown up in a climate where the general consensus was “those damn things will rot your brain,” eventually I got sort of fed-up with that take and went on a little personal quests to find games that resonated with me as genuine works of art beyond “shoot the thing, go to the place, clear the level,” so that I could prove to those around me that the experiences I was having were more than mindless entertainment. AER: Memories of Old is one of those games, proving through every moment of quiet lore building, beautiful visuals and set pieces, and mesmerizing flight experiences, that video games can be far more than explosions and beefy dudes with chainsaw guns; and now, with its release on the Nintendo Switch, we get to experience it on the go.
What’s It About?
AER: Memories of Old’s storyline is interesting in that it presents itself to you as clearly or as subtly as you’d like. You play as Auk, a shape-shifting “sky person” with the ability to transform into a bird at will. Auk’s journey begins at the start of an ancient and holy pilgrimage, taking her through the caverns of a temple dedicated to a mysterious figure named Karlah. It’s here that she discovers and is given “Karlah’s Light,” a strange lantern that unveils ghosts and remnants of a time long since passed. Upon continuing her pilgrimage through ancient temples and ruins, Auk starts to uncover a dark threat lurking in the shattered floating isles she resides upon and goes on a journey to rediscover forgotten gods and prevent the spread of a mysterious corruption.
At least, that’s what the game presents to you unprompted. Scattered among AER’s floating islands are ghosts that can be revealed with the power of Auk’s lantern, giving glimpses into conversations about strange past events that brought the world to the beautiful but desolate state it’s in. AER: Memories of Old doesn’t force its lore on you, but instead allows you the freedom of exploration to uncover more about its world, should you choose to do so. Even the game’s ending doesn’t conclusively explain itself; AER would rather the player find their own meaning in the pieces presented to them than have it explained and thus stripped of what makes it special.
That being said, the game is incredibly short, with a story that clocks in at roughly 2 hours or so if you just cruise right through it and don’t stop to gawk at the rest of the world as I did. Extra hidden ruins and content can net you another hour or two depending on how quickly you uncover everything, but in the end, I still felt like I wanted more.
How’s the Gameplay?
AER: Memories of Old isn’t looking to stress you out with combat or complex game mechanics. In fact, for the most part, you’ll be either jumping or lighting/putting out your lantern for most of the game’s dungeon sections, solving relatively simple puzzles and exploring the game’s scenery and lore more often than not. Where the game really shines, though, is in its open overworld; with the press of a button, Auk can transform into a bird to explore the world from the air, performing all kinds of acrobatics and going into and out of free-falls by transforming back and forth at any time. This flight mechanic is overwhelmingly responsive, with a camera that pulls back as you speed up allowing you more reaction time when large obstacles present themselves and allowing you to go from big, sweeping turns to sharp, responsive dodges to avoid obstacles when flying low that you have to wonder how it’s developers, Forgotten Key, could get it so right when a triple-a studio like Bioware could get it so wrong in something like Anthem. Flying was so satisfying, in fact, that after I finished the game I found myself diving back in just to fly around, diving through clouds to unveil the gorgeous islands and ruins beyond them.
The game also does a phenomenal job of ensuring the player has as much freedom as possible. The three main temples you’ll explore are all available from the very start, and the game really doesn’t hold your hand on how to get to them. Sure, there are some NPCs that will give you vague directions if you need them, but if you’d like you are entirely free to explore on your own, and tackle challenges when you decide it’s time.
How Does It Look?
AER: Memories of Old employs a gorgeous low-poly cel-shaded graphical style. Think something along the lines of Tequila Works’ Rime, if everything was just a little more blocky. The game’s colors are incredibly vibrant, from the bright overworld to the shadowy temples below. The game’s use of ambient color is astounding, managing to go from giving me feelings of freedom and joy in the sky to a genuine sense of dread in some dungeons, an impressive feat considering the game’s lack of combat or real danger.
How Does It Sound?
The OST in AER is one of the absolute high points for me, but interestingly a lot of its other sound design choices were strange to me. The music was phenomenal; each temple, ruin, and area of the world had its own theme, and when you flew above an area that theme grew more complex and fantastic. At one point I was in the ruins of an old temple filled with ancient machinery giving off an eerie purple glow; the music complimented the room perfectly with a persistent, almost frightening tone that sounded like something out of the OST of Annihilation. The music really is an unsung hero of what makes this game so great; it’s unfortunate, then, that the other sound design brings it down. Jacob Christensen, better known by his YouTube handle NakeyJakey, has a phenomenal video on video game sound effects and the relationship they help build between a player and a game. Important, memorable, and well-made effects are paramount to reaffirming a player’s actions or immersing them in the game they’re playing, which is why it was such a disappointment when poorly made or implemented sounds would come up in this game.
The experience that stands out the most in this respect is an area of the game world that takes place in a snowy environment. I was excited to take on what would be my final temple in the game when Auk stepped onto a snowdrift and was met with a strange, dry noise that was way more of a “whack” noise than I was anticipating. This was an overwhelming disappointment for me especially, as part of what I always love in a game’s snow biome is that soft, wet “whump” sound when moving through the snow. I was so jarred by it, in fact, that I stopped and ran around on the same drift for a while, then tried to avoid stepping on snow when I could, effectively taking me out of the immersion of the game. This is a cardinal sin in my book; if your game has an element that can remove me from the experience I’m having in its entirety, it’s a problem. Thankfully, my general love for this game’s music trumps this disappointment, but it’s still noteworthy.
How Does It Run?
AER: Memories of Old is coming up on its two year anniversary since first being released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, so it’s not really at the top of the list when considering hardware demand, and certainly nowhere near the likes of games like Doom, which runs beautifully for what it is on the Nintendo Switch’s lesser hardware. That’s why I found it so strange when I almost immediately was encountering framerate issues, with the game dropping frames in even less intensive environments. This didn’t really cripple the gameplay in any way, but it was still disappointing to see a game as visually beautiful as this one have issues that made it harder to appreciate. There weren’t too many issues beyond this, though; I think I encountered a graphical bug at the end of a temple where a skybox didn’t load correctly, and an object in the distance didn’t react to fog and snow filters in front of it once making it a little wonky looking for a minute, but these are patchable issues that didn’t really take away from the experience too much.
So What’s the Verdict?
AER: Memories of Old definitely benefits from a Switch release. It’s right at home among other artsy titles on the console like Gris, Rime, and the upcoming Ori and the Blind Forest, and is a great game to pick up and play for a few minutes at a time without being too demanding of your attention. Honestly, I found myself thinking while I was playing that this would make a fantastic plane game; it’s short, sweet, and relaxing, so it can be easily completed in one sitting. That being said, if you’re not one to play your Switch on the go and have the means to play this on a more powerful console or a PC, I’d probably suggest going that route. It’s a beautiful game with flying mechanics like nothing before has been able to pull off, but it would for sure be made better by a reliable 60 fps. Otherwise, it’s a great little experience wrapped up in a $20 bow, so it’s definitely worth the play if the Switch is your console of choice.
- Gorgeous and unique art style
- Brilliant flying mechanics
- Plenty of exploration and world-building
- Performance issues on Switch hardware
- Iffy sound design, despite a great OST
Cole is a 22-year old boy-man living in Austin, Texas. He lives for Epic Gamer™ moments, and dreams of one day living in a world with an official western release of Mother 3.
Also he likes movies and music and anime or whatever, MOTHER 3!!!