Aeterna Noctis Review: A Hand-Painted Metroidvania Adventure
Platform games have been going strong in recent years, from the award-winning Celeste to The Messenger. Metroidvania releases have led the way, inspiring a new generation of retro-styled gaming. Aeterna Noctis stands proudly among them as the latest offering, bringing a modern take to classic gameplay.
Chaos, the ruler of the world, pitted two ungrateful beings bent on destroying themselves against one another in an eternal war: The King of Darkness and The Queen of Light. They battle for who will sit on the throne of Aeterna. Players will search the world for seven fragments of their lost power, each unlocking a new skill, in order to ascend to the heavens once more. While the game is not heavy on story, there’s enough NPCs to make the world feel alive.
Explore at Your Own Risk
Players air dash, sprint, and glide to their destinations, unleashing a flurry of blows to opponents while avoiding spikes and other hazards. Combat is fluid as you strike with hammers, swords, scythes, and projectiles to fight wizards, goblins, and other monstrosities. As the game progresses, enemies will teleport, cast spells, use flamethrowers, fire bouncing bullets, and roll into a ball to attack. The greatest challenge is the environment, however.
The sixteen maps offer branching paths with many areas, including complicated jumping puzzles. Some of these provide optional rewards such as heart pieces to increase health, while others are mandatory to progress. These sections are reminiscent of Super Meat Boy and BloodRayne Betrayal, and the most difficult ones may need to be taken dozens of times. The frequency of these sections will delight hardcore gamers while alienating casual ones. There’s scarcely a jump that doesn’t require absolute precision, which usually involves canceling the air dash halfway through and timing one’s landing to avoid moving spikes.
The frustration of the environmental hazards is offset by the frequent and forgiving checkpoints, quick load times, and the openness in which the world can be explored. These sections push a keyboard and mouse combination to its limit and play best with a controller. Having never used a PS4 controller on PC before, the game still instantly recognized it for plug-and-play functionality.
A World Drenched in Melancholy
Quests involve gathering keys to investigate crypts, navigating to specific locations on the vast maps, talking to NPCs, and other RPG fare. Ascending the Tower of Light (pictured above) is a spectacular quest that adds new gameplay mechanics, including teleportation, bouncing platforms, and a giant cylindrical beam that emits a nuclear attack on the level every thirty seconds, forcing players to either side of the tower where invincible angels await their retreat.
Treasure is more monetary than exciting, but money can be used to buy potions, the occasional skill point, weapon pieces, and to unlock a more extensive fast travel system. Soul mirror fragments provide an additional rare find, and collecting ten promises your first reward.
Examplar Of A Timeless Genre
Players gather money and experience as they fight. Experience decreases upon death but may be regained by revisiting the place of death or killing the offending foe, similar to Dark Souls. As major skills are unlocked, new gameplay elements are introduced to keep it interesting. For instance, grabbing onto walls assists with reaching higher places, and with wall-kicking through difficult, spiked terrain.
Minor skills include the ability to draw enemy drops to your character automatically, extra attack damage, and more frequent critical hits. These are unlocked on a grid providing players with development options, with collectible gems, further customizing each build. Even given the different weapons available, the differences between builds are not as drastic as, say, Dead Cells, but this game is slower and leaves its best combat for the boss battles.
Bosses are challenging but fair. Even the first boss took ten tries to defeat, requiring that one masters its four attack patterns, each of which required a different balance of offense and defense. Its final form was a series of spiraling, ethereal eels that swarmed about it, requiring a unique dodging pattern. A greater number of these fights would have been appreciated given the rather generic normal enemies, and how great the boss fights were.
With sixteen areas to explore that allow for non-linear play, gamers will spend at least 20 hours on the main storyline, and up to 60 hours for full completion.
A Painting in Motion – A Brooding Backdrop
The hand-drawn graphics are delightful. Games must balance giving each area a unique appearance while maintaining a unified visual theme, something the artists have stated was quite difficult. The balance is perfect, with each map having a different color palette, glowing lights, and varying levels of background depth. Animations are smooth, with some having over a hundred hand-drawn frames, according to the designers, showing tremendous dedication in an area many studios would have skimped on when working by hand. Even when enemies are reused in another area, they’re reskinned to match its theme.
The soundtrack features forty, short songs that provide a dismal atmosphere. Though the main tracks loop extensively, the sorrowful piano notes were never unwelcome. The storm sound effects grip the player from the start, pulling them into the world, and these effects remain well done throughout the game. The voice acting is convincing when meeting NPCs and in the brief cut scenes.
The phrase Metroidvania should not be applied casually, for those two games expanded what was possible, tossing gamers down cryptic corridors instead of cute green pipes. Aeterna Noctis may not innovate much, but it’s a worthy addition to this sub-genre that any fan of Hollow Knight will be pleased to play, if they can overlook the redundancy of gameplay elements. The frequency of the jumping puzzles will push many casual gamers away, but those looking for a classic, hardcore challenge will find it welcomes you with its skeletal hands.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PS4, PS5, Switch, and Xbox Series; Publisher and Developer: Aeternum Game Studios; Players: 1; Released: December 15th.
Full Disclosure: This has been based on a PC review copy of Aeterna Noctis provided to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.