Monday, September 5, 2016

Aurion: The Legacy of Kori-Odan game review


Aurion: The Legacy of Kori-Odan is an absolute gem of a video game. I first checked it out with passing interest, something worthy of looking at certainly, but it far surpassed my expectations. A little history for this game, since it is breaking new ground, this is actually the very first video game produced in Africa, specifically Cameroon. It was successfully kickstarted this year and put up on the hub of all games, Steam.

I confess, hearing that it was made in Africa really caught my attention. The lore in this game is inspired from African mythology which is very cool. Although I would loosely classify this game as a fantasy, you wouldn't think that based on the unrelenting over-saturation of the game market with things based on Northern European mythology and Tolkien. I love Tolkien, certainly, but good grief you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a game without elves, dwarves and magic. So the idea of a game with a completely different inspiration really made it stand out to me.

In fact, I would almost say it has a Avatar: The Last Airbender vibe and freshness to it. It's a completely new experience that I hadn't gotten from American, European and Japanese games. Although clearly not a big budget game, every single cent goes to polishing and perfecting the absolute essentials. There is no flab or gimmicky garbage to distract you from the solid core. It's efficiency and focus like this that makes me appreciate low-budget games over million dollar sloths with little substance that have become more prevalent in the gaming world.

The setting is rich and deep, with a wonderfully fleshed out world with unique characters, cultures, visual style and combat. It lacks the insane complexity of most modern games, functioning more like a 90's side scroller RPG which I admit feels very fresh and has a nostalgic charm. We start off in the kingdom of Zama where we meet our character, Enzo, who is preparing for his coronation to King of Zama. He's got cold feet so we're allowed to stroll around the place and get immersed in the setting. We get a nice scene of Enzo ascending to his father's throne and also marrying the loooovely Erine! No sooner is this accomplished that we learn that the little kingdom of Zama is under attack by an unknown enemy. Starscream can relate to what's about to happen. Coordinated warriors storm the city and we learn that they are led by Erine's brother, and after some combat our two heroes are exiled from the country, evading death only through the help of another major character, Enzo's mentor Namode.

It's pretty evident that Enzo is currently incapable of taking his brother in law in combat, and to retake his kingdom he has to travel the world trying to unlock and hone the latent power within him, the Aurion, which I will discuss more later. He and Erine are thrust into countries and cultures that are completely alien to them, and even as they try to do good and gain allies, problems mount and fill them with a sense if nihilism that threatens to keep them from moving forward. The real meat of the story is the existential conversations and philosophy which resonate very strongly in our modern world.

So how does the game look?

When I first booted this game up I was instantly smitten with just how drop dead gorgeous this game is! Now, the graphics aren't cutting edge like most, but its simplicity allows for focus and it is very smooth. You can't possibly go into this game and not see the backgrounds and buildings. I honestly spent the first half hour of this game just walking around and soaking up the atmosphere of Zama. I truly felt as if I had been transported to another world, walking around living people with a very real culture. The art direction is simply fantastic. Every building, every character, every single item laying around on the ground seems to convey a sense of beauty and reality. The colors are as vibrant as a school of tropical fish that pop from the screen. I want my wallpaper to be like this art direction! Even if the gameplay doesn't interest you, this deserves an award for its visual style.

The music is excellent too. It uses African instruments and their musical style, making it contrast sharply with the usual orchestral scores we hear in the US. While we don't have a ton of variety in the soundtracks, the ones they have are solid and don't get tedious. Some are good for combat, others are relaxing and atmospheric.

We have no voice acting here, which I actually don't mind. We get floating heads and text bubbles. The writing is actually very good. For a game that wasn't originally made for English speakers, it is translated wonderfully and never leaves you feeling confused or adrift. There are typos here and there, but nothing big enough to actually cause a problem. I also adore the expressions they have for the speech bubbles. The faces that are used can show all of the emotions and thoughts the characters are feeling, conveying everything even without the speech. I found this to be extremely charming and a welcome change from most modern games.

The journey of Enzo and Erine also feels very real. The two do have chemistry and their interactions are a delight. These can range from them bickering, confessing their worries and fears, helping prop each other up during times of weakness to even highly amusing shenanigans. The comedic moments are actually very well placed in this story, helping to alleviate some of the grave situations that can really weigh down on you. I should also say that the character interactions all feel very natural. There are really no one note characters. All of the main characters have depth and range, with history to back their behaviors up. So if you've gotten jaded by Hollywood generic writing this will be a breath of fresh air.

But the real fun of this game is the combat. Mixing Street Fighter and Dragon Ball Z we have a combat style unlike almost any other I've ever seen. There are all sorts of combos and combat styles that you can utilize, switching up your tactics and strategy on the fly to deliver devastating attacks that feel like they can tear entire armies asunder. It's very difficult to convey with mere speech, but the combat is exceptionally satisfying. Not once did I swear at my computer screen for some arsery pulled by an enemy. Whether I'm dashing forward and delivering an epic kick that sends a minion flying, executing an apocalyptic power move that rends the earth in twain or powering up DBZ style and unlocking an ability far beyond the ken of my foes, everything in combat is fun.

This system is so versatile that you can easily come up with your own unique style to tear your enemies apart. The hits feel like they frigging hurt, and your moves feel epic. Even if you don't care about the extremely deep and intriguing themes present in the story, which if is the case with you then how frigging dare you, you can easily find this game's worth in the combat.

Oh, and a word of advice, buy an X-Box 360 controller. The game was intended to be played with such. But when I first got it I was being a cheapskate and thought I could surely handle it with the keyboard. Boy was I wrong! The easy fights at the beginning kicked my scrawny arse up and down the curb. There is no way to sufficiently describe the agony I experienced trying to play this with just a keyboard. I consider myself a reasonably skilled and seasoned gamer, but wow this was one challenge I simply couldn't overcome. So yeah, I invested in the controller. Trust me, the experience is infinitely more enjoyable if you spare your digits the masochistic torture that is keyboard combat.

For me the highlight aside from the combat was the world, mythology and existential philosophy. The intricacies and depth of this stuff is so vast and comprehensive that I can only give a very basic run down here and hope that you can pick up the rest if you play the game. In this world there is no magic per se, rather a blend of natural energy not unlike what you see in animistic belief systems and ancestor worship. There are people here known as Auronics, able to utilize this universal energy known as the Aurion. There are the four basic pillars of one's Aurion, which are element based, as in Fire, Water, Wind and Earth. However, this is a very deceptive oversimplification. Water for example is Adaption, the ability to change one's abilities and tactics in order to survive a current situation. This is just a very simple example of how these powers work, but it is far more fascinating than that once you get into it.

These are also much more than simple energies for combat. The entire game is centered around awakening these latent powers through soul searching and understanding one's complete self. Emotions, mindset, beliefs, all of these can either hold an Auronic back or empower them, for good or ill. The Aurion is an amoral thing, being neither inherently good or evil, but rather reflecting the user. It is through this that we are greeted to some absolutely amazing villains. Although evil, you understand their motives entirely and see how they have reached their current ideals. They represent everything from greed, vengeance and revolution. It's this variety of ideals and concepts that also really gives one the impression that there are almost an infinite number of Aurionic abilities that can be awakened for different individuals.

In fact, one's Aurion can be assisted in times of extraordinary need or emotional duress by a deceased ancestor, hence the ancestor worship. Elders and wise men who have long since passed can help guide our heroes from beyond The Veil where all the dead go, and give a sense of connectivity that one rarely sees in most games. Nor is it simply talking to ghosts like a seance with a crystal ball or some crap. It's much deeper and instinctive than that, something you could almost imagine actually happening.

Again, I'm only scratching the surface here, but if you've seen Avatar: The Last Airbender then you can get some idea of the kind of depth and complexity I'm talking about here.

The story is irrecoverably entwined with these ideas, taking us over the entire breadth and scope of the planet. The political problems our characters deal with are very real and don't shy away from the brutal realities. Many of the issues have no clear right or wrong answer. You can only find the best solution you can and hope for the best. The RPG aspects really shine here and I loved every minute of it. You deal with class warfare, revolution, rebellion, corruption, vengeance, sins of the past, poverty, and other problems we face in societies around the world. What's magnificent is how different leaders try to deal with these problems.

Very few games have ever made my brain itch like this one. You feel the weight and gravity of the concepts and situations presented. You watch as some of the top leaders pull dirty stunts to achieve the greater good and think of how they can truly solve the world's ills. The idealism of achieving moral and political victory without any strife or foul deeds of some variety are pretty brutally killed off in this game. Nor is it out of malice that some of these tricks are done. Rather it's out of raw necessity, where all attempts at peaceful diplomacy fail, leaving some people no other choice.

This is one of the very few games that threw me for a loop. I honestly didn't know where it was going to take me and the surprises that came up hit me like a brick. The emotional impact was very real. Honestly, this is some of the best writing I've seen in any game, movie or book. I have seen plenty of things flirt with this concept of existential truth, this underlying reality that is so essential and basic as to be almost beyond comprehension, but fail and look stupid. This is one of those extraordinary few that actually succeed. In fact, many times I had to reread stuff multiple times, because the subjects being discussed were so alien and yet ground breaking that it was difficult to wrap my head around. After playing this game my mind felt expanded, like I had reached a new plane of thinking. I can count the number of media outlets that have done that on one hand.

This game went from being an amusing curiosity to becoming one of my all time favorite games. For me it vaulted up to my favorites like Fallout, Bioshock Infinite and Mass Effect. It is so fun, beautiful, smart and thought provoking that I actually felt guilty for having purchased it when it was on sale. I want to go back and pay for this game at full price because it is just that good and deserves my money! I want a sequel from this company. Heck, I want five sequels! I'll pay double full price for each of them.

Sorry if this seems like a shameless love letter, but I can't say enough good things about this game. If you want a legitimately good buy with fun gameplay and an unbelievably good story, I HIGHLY recommend purchasing and playing this game. Please support these fantastic creators so that they can continue making more great games like this.

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