From its opening cutscene, Afterimage conveys much of what's great about the game along with much of what's offputting. The first words uttered — "The Residence of God, where peace has returned. The War That Was Promised, lost to the ages." — are incomprehensible Proper Noun-filled jargon, but spoken over gorgeous and imaginative fantasy vistas. I may not know what any of this means, but I can appreciate the majesty of a flying whale, of a floating city in the sherbert sky.
This upcoming action-platformer from Aurogon Shanghai is an awful lot like Genshin Impact by way of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, but where that Xbox exclusive largely told its story, silently, Afterimage drowns you — like the flooded cities in that opening cutscene — in words. The demo I played was just a small chunk of the whole game (though a tough boss stretched my playtime hours longer than the estimate given by the game's PR), and hopefully the game's talkiness will grate less in the context of the full adventure. Even in this demo, there were long stretches of exploration when the glossary terms fell away and I could enjoy the world for its painterly environments and simple but satisfying combat.
The game begins in earnest by introducing us to Renee, our heroine, and Ifree, a fairy-like creature who follows her around everywhere. They're on a mission that I didn't understand, but I quickly put aside trying to figure any of that out and focused on exploring the world. Movement and combat are simple to start. At first, you can jump and slash, and that's it. Over the course of the demo, I gained access to a dash and, toward the end, the ability to dash while crouched, allowing access to small tunnels, a la Samus' morph ball.
Though it's easy to understand the basics, Afterimage throws you into the deep end with a battle that shows how tough the system is to master. Most of the enemies you'll encounter while exploring are quickly dispatched, but there's one boss fight in the demo that kicked my ass over and over again. There’s a pretty expansive skill tree so, if you get stuck, you can always go out and grind for talent points. But, I also found satisfaction in getting good and, eventually, overcoming the fight. Though the moveset is simple, the controls are tight. Though the boss kept me occupied for hours, it was because of its sheer amount of attacks, not because it was unfair or because the controls felt sloppy.
And once you pass that fight, it feels like the game properly begins. Before that skill check, I found just one health potion and no stores to buy more. On the other side, there's a village where you can start picking up side quests, merchants selling wares, and NPCs you can talk to. This is also where the map begins to sprawl in all directions with elevators to ride, nooks and crannies to seek out, and tougher enemies to tackle. If those enemies take you down, Afterimage has a dash of Dark Souls in its DNA, so you just need to find your way back to the spot where you died to recover your experience.
Afterimage, like all good Metroidvanias, provides the satisfaction of slowly gaining the tools you need to thoroughly explore a space. Toward the end of the demo, it was gratifying to unlock the morph ball equivalent and begin revisiting areas I had previously had to ignore. And, it was frustrating that the demo ended while there were still ledges too high for me to access without a double jump. That's an itch I can't wait for the full release to allow me to scratch.
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