I love Action RPG dungeon crawlers. I was hooked the first time I defeated the Butcher in the original Diablo. I have since played numerous ARPG over the last 20 years and almost always enjoy “the crawl,” spending hours farming for loot and whatever passes for money in that particular game. When I first saw the whimsical and musical based world of AereA I was instantly drawn to it. Developer Triangle Studios’ design for AereA seemed to meld the gameplay we have all come to know with a kid friendly world and story. The question was, could this mash up work? Would lovers of the genre enjoy a simple and cute game as opposed to the scary monsters and bloody battles we usually saw in our ARPGs?
AereA starts out with the usual character selection. Players can pick from four different character classes. A melee based “sword and board” warrior with a cello body for a shield and a bow as a sword. No, not an arrow-shooting bow, but an instrument bow. The other three are ranged based, an archer with a harp, a magic user with a shamisen-like lute, and a dual shooting trumpet player. All of them are disciples of the Great Maestro Guido, basically the king in this musical-centric world. Instead of a castle, our heroes’ base of operations is an ornate opera house. Our heroes are tasked with the quest of finding and returning the nine primordial instruments. Each area that players explore will end with a boss reflective of that instrument, literally taking on the shape of the item in many ways. I was very impressed for the first hour or so. Then things went downhill fast.
Out of the gate, I was enjoying the simplicity of AereA. It was cute, the levels are colorful and graphically beautiful. Combat is simple; a primary attack, and a secondary defensive move. Eventually characters will acquire skills, but only three in total. These can be selected and used with “RP” points. Essentially the usual blue “mana bar.” I don’t mind simple gameplay, as long as it’s enjoyable. Unfortunately, after a couple hours, the gameplay itself got boring. It did not help that the map can only be viewed via the corner of your screen, with no way to see the entire level. This became one of many frustrating choices of design that AereA suffers from. As I said, levels are pretty, but they are also very maze-like, this made the map failure even harder to understand. AereA developers also did not include any sort of teleport or ability to return to your base. After hours of backtracking areas I was not a happy gamer.
AereA can be multiplayer with friends locally, and that’s great and all, but in this day and age I cannot fathom why no online play was included. I also felt forced to smash everything, even if out of my way, just to acquire the limited resources. Everything felt like a forced mechanic to stretch playtime. All that these design choices ended up doing was creating a tedious game. Even the leveling system, both for your character and your weapon, felt out of place and overly complicated compared to other aspects of AereA. Quests are unimaginative and repetitive. Most of AereA was like that, a repetitive drudge.
Not all of AereA is bad. The bosses are fun, with the bagpipe spider being my favorite. The story and music-themed world Triangle Studios created is fantastic. The music itself is amazing and my favorite aspect of the whole game. Orchestrated symphonic anthems are not near enough to save AereA.
I really wanted to like AereA, but with no real challenge, no online play, and so many horrible design choices, it was a huge letdown. I can only recommend AereA if you have younger kids and are wanting to introduce them to the ARPG genre. Diablo clones are usually made for adults with a mature rating. So AereA does fill a small niche. Unfortunately another huge issue I have is the MSRP of $39.99. This seems extremely overpriced considering the lack of content and the fact there are so many other, much better, ARPG on consoles, that will cost the same if not less. In all honesty, even if it was priced lower, I would still have a hard time recommending AereA.
AereA is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on PS4 copy provided for that purpose.
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