There’s certainly something unique about action RPG AereA that’s obvious from the get go, with the focus on implementing music and musical instruments so directly into a tried-and-tested gameplay formula certainly making it stand out amongst all of the releases in an already crowded genre. Whilst it’s unique in design though, the core gameplay mechanics could feel a little average with the whole experience growing tiresome after a short while.
As a student of Maestro Guido in a musical school, you’re sent on a quest to recover nine missing Primordial Instruments in order to ensure a constant harmony is kept in the world. It’s got a little bit more of a build-up than that, but that’s the basic premise in a nutshell. Sounds a bit familiar though, right? Whilst AereA’s premise is unique, the story itself isn’t really full of originality outside of the musical twist. It does enough to keep you invested into your adventure though; even it doesn’t do anything too out of the ordinary.
Unfortunately, the gameplay won’t do much to thrill you. It’s your traditional action RPG formula, with varied classes on offer that each play differently. The ‘Cello Knight’ is your typical melee-based warrior, the ‘Harp Archer’ a bow and arrow wielding ranged attacker, the ‘Lute Mage’ a magic focused character, and the ‘Trumpet Gunner’ another ranged warrior that’s a lot more acrobatic. Whilst each uses musical instruments in their fighting style in a unique and charming way, the way they actually play in-game will feel distinctly familiar to just about anyone who has played a dungeon-crawling action RPG before. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially for fans of the genre, but I’d have hoped that it might’ve used the unique premise in more of a functional way as opposed to just an aesthetic one.
The basis of the game is a little dull too, with the whole thing feeling like one giant fetch quest. You might be out to recover the Primordial Instruments, but you’ll be uncovering a whole lot extra for other folk along the way too. If there was something else that added a bit more variety to the experience it’d be something; after all, fetch quests and killing monsters is typically the bread and butter of the action RPG genre, but at least other releases typically add a little extra to make you feel more engaged in the game. There’s just nothing extra in AereA that adds any excitement to proceedings. It all just feels incredibly average and dull, with the potential of the charming premise wasted on a somewhat outdated gameplay formula.
There’s also the fact that re-treading visited areas forces you to take on all the same enemies and unlock all of the same doors all over again. There’s no sense of satisfaction from clearing out an area; you know enemies are going to respawn or you’re going to have to solve the same simple puzzles all over again if you re-visit the location, meaning it’s often easier to simple evade anything that comes your way. This might feel like a petty complaint, especially since it adds to the game’s longevity, but seriously, it just took away from my overall enjoyment. I used to enjoy going back through a dungeon I’ve cleared out in a dungeon-crawler and seeing the destructive remains I’ve left behind, but AereA’s insistence on offering respawning enemies and having levels reset themselves each time you go through them left me unmotivated to stray too far from the main quest line.
Combat could be a bit of a mixed bag too. Like many things about AereA, it all feels very basic and doesn’t offer anything gamers wouldn’t have already seen before in the genre. The extra skills you unlock as you level up can add a bit more variety, but it still just boils down to simply using the same attacks over and over again. The game is actually incredibly easy to play through too, with most enemies easily vanquished with a few hits – especially once you’ve strengthened up your character. It definitely won’t pose too much of a challenge on the player.
The boss battles deserve a shout out though – despite following a pretty predictable formula and being fairly easy to take down, the way they were designed around each of the Primordial Instruments added a bit more excitement to the game. The music that accompanies their battle is even based around their instrument too, which is very neat touch that makes each encounter feel a lot more unique.
It’s definitely worth mentioning that the game has co-operative multiplayer options too, with up to three extra players able to join in on the action. Whilst the game isn’t all that exciting when playing on your own, playing through with a few friends was a lot of fun. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no real dependence on each other and the game doesn’t really feel like it adds more challenge to accommodate the extra players, but it’s a fun addition and is certainly worth checking out if you have a few friends with you.
AereA’s stand out feature is its phenomenal soundtrack. Given the game’s music orientated focus you’d expect it to have a top notch soundtrack, and it really delivers; each piece of music is fantastic and fits in perfectly with the game’s tone, no matter what situation you find yourself in. I’ve even found myself listening to the soundtrack outside of playing the game, which just goes to show how high of a quality it is. It really is splendid.
The overall aesthetic is incredibly charming too, albeit a little simple in design. The world is full to the brim with colour and personality and it really is pretty on the eyes, but the actual design itself doesn’t feel too imaginative. Still, it gives AereA a bit more character and helps it stand out in what is otherwise often a dreary looking genre.
AereA does have its positives thanks to its unique premise, its stunning soundtrack, and enjoyable multiplayer modes, but the package as a whole feels a little underwhelming. It just felt a little dull to play, with the gameplay mechanics never straying far from the norm within the genre – the only real changes it does make are negative ones, with the game’s insistence on offering respawning enemies and having you replay through sections of a dungeon proving to be more of a hindrance than a benefit to your overall experience.
It’s not a terrible game and it does have its entertaining moments (especially in multiplayer), but there are simply too many better dungeon-crawling action RPGs out there to really recommend giving AereA a purchase.
Developer: Triangle Studios
Release Date: 30/06/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC