Being the best man at a wedding can bring on the sweats. There’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders, especially when the wedding in question is a Romeo and Juliet-esque affair destined to bring a precarious end to a war between rival nations. None have it quite as hard as Lucian, who finds himself unconscious on the ground, the bride-to-be kidnapped, and left the task of returning her to her not-quite-husband (and peace to the nations).
Echoes of Aetheria is brought to us by Dancing Dragon Games, creators of the highly popular Skyborn. It is a very old-fashioned top-down, 2D JRPG reminiscent of the pixelated Final Fantasy games we all know and love. Dancing Dragon Games strive to bring the classic back into modern gaming, which is a risky move. Thankfully, they’ve pulled it off - Echoes of Aetheria is a joy to play.
The seemingly simple premise of the narrative - save the girl - is deceptive. As the story unfolds, so do a myriad of political twists and turns to thicken and complicate the circumstances behind the kidnapping. The predictability disappears as numerous plot threads combine to form a mosaic storyline. Nobody is as they first appear, and the good/bad separation line begins to blur. The game is satisfyingly lengthy, lending itself to the convoluted developments. The dialogue is sharp and witty - despite its sombre plotline, Echoes of Aetheria is humourous. The characters are well-rounded and each have very distinctive “feels” to them, and are individual experiences to play. Their dialogues are distinct to their respective characters, and although it is at times unbearably cheesy, a real sense of personality shines through from each one. Their interactions within their dialogues seem natural, and clear relationships become apparent. It is easy to grow attached to them.
The map is rich with problem-solving obstacles and lootable objects. Puzzles such as locating keys or triggering switches are frequent, and can be frustratingly difficult at times. The heroes you play, which include Lucian and sassy engineer Ingrid, to name but two, come with various attacks and abilities which can be strategically used in conjunction to one another for greatest effect. Their weaponry and active abilities can be customised, allowing for a lot of freedom when it comes to arranging your team. Indeed, employing the right heroes, placement of each character on the field, equipping suitable weapons, and the correct use of points on attacks and buffs become an essential factor. There is a certain degree of tactical prowess required. The gradual addition of characters to your party eases you into the idea of utilising multiple heroes, and so it does not seem so overwhelming to figure out the best course of action. The enemies you face are varied, and scale in difficulty accordingly. They are each different, some requiring certain abilities to weaken them, forcing you to be relatively adaptable. There is little sense of mindless repetition.
There are no surprise combat scenarios in Echoes of Aetheria. Each of your enemies is visible, and will engage when approached. This means that your movements and actions can be carefully planned - some fights can be dodged altogether. You also heal between each encounter, minimising the need for healing potions and resting spots! The death of a character simply removes them from that particular combat scene. Dancing Dragon Games have gone easy on us, resulting in a beginner-friendly and approachable little game, without sacrificing on complexity and depth.
The crafting system is comprehensive and broad, and allows the creation of numerous items within the game. Mineable objects can be used to forge or upgrade character’s gear, or to apply particular special abilities. The options are vast, and can inordinately affect your gameplay and combat. Crafting doesn’t take centre stage, but will certainly occupy a sizeable chunk of your time spent in Aetheria.
Graphically, the game remains faithful to the classic, pixelated 2D roots that it pays homage to. It seems polished and bright, however, meaning it doesn’t lose out on a certain sense of modernism too. The soundtrack is varied and situational, and matches the pace wholly.
Echoes Of Aetheria (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Echoes of Aetheria is a surprisingly dense and engaging title, despite its visual simplicity. The throwback to old-style RPGs brings on a sense of nostalgia whilst remaining fresh and unique, with a deep storyline and thoroughly fleshed out characters to bring the game to life. Combat is varied and challenging, and crafting the right items can be a gamechanger. Dancing Dragon Games have succeeded in providing another charming and story-driven adventure to their repertoire.