It’s easy to get wrapped up in a story. I’ve often found myself yearning for more once a game I really enjoyed finishes its final act and news a sequel is on the way is always a thrilling moment for me. Not every game warrants a sequel, of course, and sometimes the goodwill generated by an original property can overstay its welcome with a glut of mediocre follow ups. But any chance to dive back into a universe I love is alluring. Alternatively, sometimes jumping into an established property mid-story can be thrilling as well.
AeternoBlade II is a sequel that doesn’t care if you’ve played the original, which is probably for the best. The game tosses you right into the thick of things without much setup or anything to help bring players up to speed on the series’ complicated story. A case could be made this is a forward-thinking way to press overarching stories in gaming, rather than just endless reboots, but in reality AeternoBlade’s story is trite yet still manages to be confusing, especially to those tossed into the fray.
The game takes place some time after the events from the first game. Choose from a trio of heroes, Freyja, Felix and Bernard, as they undertake a journey to prevent a catastrophic disaster. There’s more meat on the bones, but it’s such a hodgepodge of pseudo-fantasy tropes handled in such a sloppy manner that it never finds its footing to make something coherent or engaging. Not helping are the wooden doll character designs and questionable voice “acting” that had me tuning out and not caring about their plight. Seriously, this is some of the worst voice acting I’ve heard in a long while. Bless them for trying but no one seems like they want to be involved and it shows. At the end of the day, the bits of story wore thin and felt mundane.
Which is a shame because the combat and the game that’s inside the story is actually pretty decent – with some hefty caveats. AeternoBlade II feels very similar to PlatinumGames’ Nier: Automata, only considerably underproduced. There’s something about the way the controls and moves recall Nier, but also in how the game shifts perspectives between side-scrolling and then semi-third person view. These shifts change the flow of action, but there are issues with depth perception and landing hits whenever the vantage point adjusts between them.
The huge draw is the AeternoBlade itself, a clever addition that gives each character different abilities and forms, each distorting time itself in special ways. From stopping, reversing or recording time, all these help benefit their respective character in combat and puzzle solving. I found the recording to be most interesting as you record yourself chopping away and then once stopped, you jump back in time just to do it all over again with the added help of a version of you from moments prior (or… after?). The time mechanics are legitimately impressive when used to their full potentials. I used the record ability a ton throughout my playthrough and still got a kick out of it each time.
Despite how uneven hits feel when swinging your sword or whipping your whips, but the way the combo system is baked into the experience does feel engaging and rewarding to wail on the bad guys a whole bunch, even if it can start to feel repetitive.
When you’re not faced against regular enemies and giant bosses, there are puzzles that let you use your powers to pick up items like potions and such to help power through the campaign. A few are cleverly designed, though none ever feel as important or integrated into the larger game as they should have, almost like afterthoughts to keep things interesting. That said, the game felt most interesting when the focus was on exploration, the relative freedom of traversal ended up being more engaging than the routine combat and middling puzzles.
I wanted to enjoy AeternoBlade II more than I did, as the sloppy storytelling and repetitive gameplay never quite gelled with me. And yet, despite all its negatives, there’s still a part of me that wants to keep playing a little more. Perhaps it’s how all its individual components, its mix of genres and mechanics, are at least attempting something new that’s kept me coming back for more. I’m in love with the time-travel mechanics and would love to see a better-made sequel build on this potential. There’s not much here that makes me want to play the original game, but still just enough to make me curious about what’s next.