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December 2023

Aeterna Noctis

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Aeternum Game Studios
Developer: Aeternum Game Studios
Release Date: Dec. 15, 2021


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PC Review - 'Aeterna Noctis'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Dec. 14, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Aeterna Noctis is a 2D-metroidvania game that tells the story of the King of Darkness and the Queen of Light.

Aeterna Noctis is set in a world of eternal war. The creator god, Chaos, demanded loyalty from his creations, but the creations — led by the warring factions of the King of Darkness and the Queen of Light — began to ignore his demands. The two were cursed to war with one another forever, as they constantly vied for the crown that gave them leadership over the world. This assured a "natural" cycle of Light and Darkness. Our story begins with the King of Darkness suffering his most recent loss, falling to Earth, and forcing himself to set out to defeat the Queen of Light once again. This time, however, there's something unusual about the cycle.

The easiest point of comparison is Hollow Knight because many of the core mechanics are similar. Your basic attack is a simple, short-range sword slash that can be used to harm enemies or bounce off their heads. The core movement, level design, and some mechanics feel like they owe a lot to Team Cherry's epic game. The core controls feel solid, and it was easy to pick up and play with minimal tutorials.

However, the control scheme is needlessly bloated. Rather than having different weapons that you can equip, every weapon has a distinct button on the controller. This seems neat, but it makes things feel really busy. It was difficult to find comfortable places for everything that I regularly used. I enjoy the core idea behind various weapons and items being instantly accessible, but this was handled better in other games.

The main gameplay loop in Aeterna will feel familiar to genre fans. You begin helpless and powerless and are tasked with finding magical items of power that are guarded by deadly bosses. As you explore, you gain new mobility or combat options that unlock more of the world. It's a Metroidvania title, and it doesn't do too much to break the mold. It's undeniably fun to get all sorts of new moves, and there's an immense satisfaction in going from barely capable to a teleporting, laser-shooting demigod of destruction.

There is unfortunately one serious "flaw" in the game, and it is one that may drag down the game for a lot of people. Games like Hollow Knight or Guacamelee! start off light and eventually add in more complex platforming, with the eventual endgame involving complex and dangerous jumping puzzles where death is an inch away. On the other hand, Aeterna Noctis basically begins at that level. The game has more insta-death areas than not, and most platforming areas task you with threading the needle. It's as if Hollow Knight started at the White Palace and then kept going. It's not always that rough, but it is more often than I'd expect.

The result is that the game gets kind of exhausting to navigate, especially in later areas. Once you get some precision upgrades like the teleport-arrow, you'll perform long chains of pinpoint teleports, bounces, jumps and more. It's fun, but when it is an omnipresent part of exploration, it can wear you down, and it feels like a chore to venture back to collect items that you'd missed. This dragged down some of the fun of a Metroidvania title because I didn't want to go through a series of jumping puzzles again, even when I had a new power that made it a touch easier.

I don't think this is a flaw because Aeterna Noctis is doing what it had set out to do, but it makes it less appealing to someone who's looking for a Metroidvania game. It all but demands the mindset of a game like Celeste or Super Meat Boy, rather than the more obvious inspirations. It even has a checkpoint system that's more similar to those games, where you get a new checkpoint every few inches and the challenge is getting to it without your lives intact.

The game has a lot of aspects that I think work against this style. For example, you can only change your perks or gem selection at one of the Thrones, which serve as a combination fast-travel and healing point. However, these are few and far between, and that can drag things down because if you want to change up your build, you'll have to venture back through areas that you've already completed. Thankfully, you can unlock shortcuts in a lot of areas, but even then, it feels like a waste of time. Better placement of Thrones would've gone a long way, especially since the placement is inconsistent.

Additionally, the game's handling of health resources feels lacking. You have multiple health resources. One functions like Hollow Knight, where you beat up enemies to collect their blood, which you can then spend on special attacks or self-healing. The other are healing potions; you can hold a small number of them, but they are exclusively for healing and function instantly. It feels like it overcomplicates some very simple systems. In Hollow Knight, you receive Soul by hitting enemies, while Aeterna has two distinct weapons: the sword (functions like HK's Nail) and the Scythe, a slower weapon that always causes blood drops. Rather than feeling like give-or-take, it feels awkward to swap between the two, as the scythe felt like busywork rather than a natural part of the toolkit. It's not the end of the world, but having strong and weak attacks that combined would've felt a lot better.

What I find more annoying are health potions, which effectively function as an additional bar of health that you can cash in at any time. So far so good! However, health potions can only be received from random drops or by trekking back to a shopkeeper, and they don't respawn on death. If you die on a boss, you're either stuck grinding RNG for potion drops or returning to a save point and then going all the way back to the boss. You don't technically need the "extra" health, but considering how valuable it is, you feel hamstrung without it. I don't mind the idea of temporary health, but it would function much better if it refilled upon death rather than punishing a player with grinding time because they misjudged when they could use a potion.

For the most part, Aeterna Noctis is a good-looking game. The backgrounds are gorgeous, and the majority of the sprite work looks excellent. It's not quite up to the level of an Ender Lilies, but it's a darn good-looking game. Ironically, the parts I like the least involve the main character, who feels awkwardly designed compared to those around him. I'm also not fond of the "animated" cut scenes, which look low-budget and detract from the otherwise nice visuals. The soundtrack is largely solid and atmospheric, and it does its job well and emphasizes the desolation of the locales.

A lot of what I write sounds negative, and that's the difficult part of discussing Aeterna Noctis. It does a lot of things that I genuinely like: It has excellent boss fights, some creative levels, an absurdly huge amount of content, and the platforming mostly works well. That level of heartfelt dedication makes it all the more frustrating when you get caught up on the areas where it still needs polish. I enjoyed a lot of the game, but I remember the annoyances more than the enjoyment. If you're willing to work past that, there's a lot to play in Aeterna Noctis, but it's easy to imagine someone reaching a particularly annoying bit of platforming and moving on to something else, especially because the game's long length can make it feel more exhausting than exhilarating. Metroidvania fans should absolutely give it a shot, but don't expect something as easy to pick-up-and-play as some of the genre greats.

Score: 7.0/10

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