AereA Review

By Kelly Packard,
There’s a difference between liking something and wanting to like something. Whether it be the questionable finale to our favorite television show or the newest Taco Bell creation that looked so good on the commercial, we often find ourselves wishing we liked something a lot more than we do. Even on its own, the concept of a musical RPG sounds enticing, and AereA, a music-themed RPG from developer Triangle Studios, has a beautiful soundtrack and crisp, colorful visuals. The character design and the world are charming. The story is one of magic and fantasy, a tale of a land protected by enchanted musical instruments. For all these reasons, I want to like AereA, but I don't. It's a textbook example of a promising idea that falls flat.


It starts off the way many RPGs do. Players can select from four different classes. They’re your typical RPG archetypes — a ranged mage, a tanky front-liner and so on. After a few cutscenes and a chat with a talking bird, you’ll be on your way out into the world of AereA. Things start off nice and slow with some simple rat enemies as well as the introduction of other mechanics like teleportation pads, traps and item boxes. The locations are large, but while they are pretty, the various rooms and areas don’t have much to differentiate them from the next. Most of the paths are locked behind doors from the start, and you must pull levers and move boxes into their correct positions of the coordinating color to access new areas. The game requires you to unlock each door in succession, so AereA must be played in a very specific way.

This is where the game begins to show its flaws. It would be much more interesting if there were thought-provoking puzzles as opposed to rousing rounds of "Find The Lever Without Getting Lost." While there is a mini map, it only shows your immediate location, and the map cannot be opened full-screen to explore, making it useless. There are sometimes waypoints, but they’ll only direct you in the general direction on the map. Then, you’ll pull a lever on one side of the map only to have to backtrack five minutes to get back to the door it opened. The camera pans in the general direction of the door the lever opened, but the mazelike structure of each area and the lack of a comprehensive mini map make it frustrating to find the door you need out of dozens. Expect to be frequently and hopelessly lost during much of your experience.

Even worse, doors do not stay unlocked once you complete an area. You will have to do four or five main quests and side quests in the same area, each time re-unlocking every door on the map. This is frustrating and repetitive since there are dozens of passageways, levers and doors branching out in multiple directions with which you must interact each time you revisit an area. This mechanic means most of your playtime ends up being consumed by backtracking and repeating the same mundane tasks. The later areas are particularly bad in this aspect.

Deceptively beautifulDeceptively beautiful

Another annoyance in the navigation system is the Airship, your mode of transport around AereA. The Airship will drop you into each area and pick you up, but it only parks at one location in each zone. You may quickly complete a quest, but then spend 10 or 20 minutes pulling levers and unlocking doors to navigate your way to the Airship. It would also make sense if the Airship stayed wherever it had dropped you off, but it doesn’t — you may have to traverse to the middle or the end of a zone to get to its location. You cannot just exit or your quest progress will be lost; you must find the Airship and leave on it.

The additional side quests are all fetch quests that don’t have any purpose besides wasting your time. You won’t need the experience or gold. The world is rather empty, and you don’t get to meet interesting NPCs or fill in some of the blanks of AereA's lore. Despite the setting being a school, there is only one student walking around. He'll give you quests, but they’re not fun since you’ll spend 30 seconds completing the quest and then waste the rest of your time pulling levers to open the locked doors, backtracking and finding the Airship. The only reason to bother with the side quests is if you’re going for the related achievement.

If the combat was interesting, it might make up for the painful maze layout of the areas and emphasis on pulling levers instead of meaningful gameplay, but it’s not. The game is shockingly easy. Even by completing only the given quests and making no attempts to grind additional levels on a character, you quickly become overpowered, one shotting every regular enemy and killing bosses in no more than 10 hits with regular attacks. The bosses are advertised as “unique,” but they'll usually be dropped before they get a chance to start going through their motions. Combat outside of boss fights is infrequent with the ratio of levers to enemies being in favor of levers.

Here we have the second-most confusing area in the game, the dreaded Snow MountainsHere we have the second-most confusing area in the game, the dreaded Snow Mountains

There is an arsenal of magic spells and consumable items that can also be used in combat, but they’re a waste of time and gold to level up and equip when they’re not needed. Before a lengthy cast time finishes on one of the spells, or you move in close to get the full benefits of an item, you could have already depleted its health bar with regular attacks, so why bother? In fact, it takes more hits to break open an item crate containing a worthless HP, mana or damage boosting potion than to kill a foe, so it’s not a stretch to say it’s a waste of time to open these. There are no difficulty options either, so what you see is what you get.

AereA's achievements are straightforward. Completing all the main and side quests, finding the collectible books and doing some miscellaneous objectives like holding a certain amount of money or using different items will earn you 930 gamerscore. It's the remaining 70 gamerscore that is a grind — buying all skills from all classes and upgrading all skills from all classes to level three. This will have you playing the game long past maintaining interest in it. Money doesn't transfer across characters, so you'll have to start a new playthrough on each one. The one gamer who has completed it so far has 32 hours of total playtime.

Summary

At its heart, AereA is a game about pulling levers, opening doors and being really lost, which is the opposite of what anyone wants out of their musical action RPG. You’ll most likely lose interest quickly and quit out without any desire to return to the world of AereA. The presentation is beautiful thanks to the colorful visuals and a delightful soundtrack, but it falls under the shadow of mundane and repetitive gameplay, a complete lack of challenge and a confusing navigation system that forces you to waste most of your time backtracking. It's an action RPG with no action, and it’s just not fun.
2 / 5
AereA
Positives
  • Beautiful music
  • Charming visuals
Negatives
  • Boring and repetitive gameplay that focuses on mundane tasks
  • Horrible, confusing navigation system and map design
  • Too much backtracking and aimless wandering
  • Combat is too easy
  • Not fun to play
Ethics
The reviewer spent 12 hours in the confusing world of AereA, one shotting enemies, locating levers and being really lost. 25 of 28 achievements were earned for 880 gamerscore. An Xbox One copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Kelly Packard
Written by Kelly Packard
In a few descriptors: college student, longtime gamer, writer and junk food enthusiast. I contribute to TrueAchievements as a news writer and reviewer. Usually, you can find me knee-deep in a multiplayer game while ignoring my growing backlog or on one forum or another discussing all things gaming.