STAFF REVIEW of AER: Memories of Old (Xbox One)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018.
by Royce Dean

AER: Memories of Old Box art One of the more common things us mortals tend to dream about is flying, and maybe is is because we can’t do it ourselves. Maybe it is because flying is really super cool, and the animals that can fly are just as cool to match. This is all conjecture, and I wouldn’t trust the things I “conject” about being that the last dream I can vividly remember happening was when I was about seven years old. A cursory Google search of completely factual dream meanings tells us that flying in a dream means we feel in control of things. It means seeing things from a new perspective, it means freedom, and it means escape.

I personally don’t believe any of that bologna, but, if I had a dream where I got to fly around as a bird, that would be super rad. I’d travel from one island floating in the sky to the next one in search of spirit animals to guide me on my quest. I’d meet the denizens of the islands and the ghosts of the past to understand their struggles. I’d enter holy temples dedicated to the deities of the land and receive their blessings to thwart the hungering void that seeks to consume all of creation. I’d solve puzzles and riddles and see all to see. I’d wake up and realize that I should probably stop going to McDonalds before bed because that’s some crazy stuff I just dreamt. Then I’d get my buddies together, convince them I wasn’t drugged, and make a game out of it. I’d call it AER: Memories of Old.

In AER: Memories of Old you play as Auk, a mysterious young girl thrust into a vast sky-bound world on her pilgrimage to follow in the footsteps of her ancestors. Auk’s natural magical abilities allow her to transform at will into a bird and take to the skies; a skill that is most crucial for her to successfully complete her adventure across a torn and sundered land she calls home. Along the way you’ll meet and learn about various spirit animals that tried, and failed, to protect the world that now lays broken across the skies. You’ll see visions, ghosts of the past, forever frozen in time during their last moments before the world came to an end. You’ll travel far and wide to find your place in all this while uncovering dark and festering evils below the surface of reality. And, you’ll do all of this without landing a single blow. AER is a strictly non-combat game, instead focusing on puzzles, exploration, and the fantasy of the world around you.

Non-combat games aren’t new, but they always feel surprising, and in some ways jarring, in a world where most other games require an abundance of “input action” to succeed. AER follows in those footsteps and, as it is difficult to “put a twist” on a lack of combat, the game doubles down on the world in which you are adventuring in. The game takes place entirely in the sky on a series of floating islands which are explored by shifting back and forth between human and bird forms. Each cluster of islands has distinct environmental atmospheres to them with the southernmost islands having warmer climates and the northern islands taking on colder and colder weather.

The world feels big, but not enormous. It’s big enough to elicit a sense of adventure. Yet, with the lack of combat, or much of anything else to do while flying, the novelty of flight quickly fades into a necessity of traveling from point A to point B. While flying you’ll come across streams of quick flowing air that can be used to speed up travel, but they usually end up feeling redundant as most of these drafts are found around land masses, when in reality they would be more useful for traveling between islands.

First impressions in most cases boil down to what things look like, which is why dressing well is important. You wear suits or dresses to weddings or funerals, and its mandatory attire to wear sweatpants when grocery shopping at midnight. AER’s simple but striking art style speaks a thousand words about the game that it is. Bright and bold colors make up the entire pallet. There are no wimpy shades here. The geometry is sharp and jagged in a Dr.Seuss kind of way. The entire game gives off a very strong, family friendly, story book vibe. The caveat however, to all of this, is that characters models are done in a way that each polygon displays sharp edges. Despite being colored, this style leaves you feeling like you’re looking at unfinished models that react weirdly to lighting effects. It’s not a particularly troublesome point, but is noticeable if you’re looking for it.

Ambiance plays an equal roll in your journey through AER. There are some points while flying that the music picks up a few beats to get your toes tapping, but most of the game features softer tones. While it wouldn’t be fair to say that AER does music as well as the all-time greats, what is presented does a good job of what it needs to. The mysterious music feels mysterious. When you are up in the cold mountains the music somehow conveys that it is indeed cold, and times of silence are acceptably quiet. It’s easy to see the types of tone they wanted to put forward while adventuring in AER, but in many cases I actually found myself wanting more out of the music; something to hum along with while hunting for caves, seeking out statues, and reading stone-carved tablets.

AER is a deceptively short game, taking just shy of three hours to play through, and that was taking the scenic route. While I mentioned earlier that the game world is large enough, that only begins to feel true if you actively explore it. Moving from objective to objective quickly reduces the amount of time you’ll be spending with this game, a trait which is exacerbated by the lack of combat and relatively simple puzzles. On the extreme end, I could see enthusiastic folk that are interested in clean speed runs clearing through AER in less than an hour. Relatedly, achievements come easy for those who seek to ace each game they play. Large 50 point achievements are locked behind story objectives and flying over (near) points of note in the world such as land marks and structures.

The greatest failing that AER has to offer is in its player movement. It’s very possible that the way this title controls is intentional, but it feels too floaty. Turning is loose, and there is an input delay on jumps. Like with the blocky character models, this lack of tightened movement is pretty minor, and perhaps an unnoticeable point to a vast populace of gamerdom, but, to those that spend their every waking hour and have a good grasp on a wide array of video entertainment, this will be a turn off. AER focuses on a good measure of platforming in its puzzles, and these “ever so slightly off” controls led to a number of blunders and mistimed jumps on my end.

Easily the best part of AER is its lore. The world it builds and the story it tells feels informative while managing to be vague enough to always keep you feeling a little bit in the dark. It is the most compelling element of the game, and the thing that kept me driving forward was my effort to try and piece together just what was happening. Each character, each stone tablet, and each scroll only tells you so much. Many such tablets and scrolls are well hidden in temples and caves, with achievements being the reward for finding these relics. They tell you a story from various and different perspectives about their creator god, lesser gods, spirit animals, a sealed away evil, the broken world, why it was broken, an ancient savior, and why you are on this journey in the first place.

If I was to categorize each and every game made by some metric or another, AER: Memories of Old would land firmly into the folder labeled “Hot cup of tea emoji”. This game is damned relaxing, and right up there in quality to comparable titles like Journey. It is a brightly colored, beautifully styled, combat free adventure that’s perfect for a Sunday morning gaming day. When your sole purpose is to look around, explore, and try to piece together a story by reading, you can lay back and let the stress of the world go in a way that other more traditionally demanding games just don’t allow for. It’s a simple game with simple demands and is quite simply fun. A breath of fresh AER.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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