Everything about Aeterna Noctis seems perfect on paper; from the aesthetically hand-drawn artwork, beautifully crafted soundtrack, and provocative narrative background to the challenging gameplay. All of this still holds somewhat true when it comes to the actual game, all except for the gameplay, which stumbles significantly and ultimately holds this title back from greatness. It’s a stylized package of all fluff and very frustrating substances with endless bloat and disappointing mechanics.
“Aeterna Noctis markets itself as a soulslike metroidvania platformer but doesn’t seem to execute well in any genre.”
The story of Aeterna Noctis pits you as the King of Darkness, who has been in an eternal struggle with the Queen of Light. Chaos, the world creator, curses both to a life of immortality with neither side crowned the victor. This endless cycle has caused the King of Darkness to be cast down to the land of the living, stripped of his powers, and is where the game begins. As you journey out into the lands, you slowly get your abilities and powers back, which works quite nicely with the whole Metroidvania aspect of the game.
Aeterna Noctis markets itself as a soulslike metroidvania platformer but doesn’t seem to execute well in any genre. The categorization is also extremely misleading as I would say this game is predominantly a precision action platformer. It doesn’t help that the controls are extremely sluggish and unresponsive for a game that requires precise and delicate timing. The jump button has an insane input delay that sometimes doesn’t even register, making the one-hit death platforming portions tedious and unenjoyable. It’s totally fine to have the difficulty of the game be attributed to the platforming sections, but not even supporting the correct controls to enhance the artificial difficulty is unacceptable. The game features most, if not all, insta-death platforming sections that send you back to square one if you mess up a single time.
“The only soulslike element of this game is the fact that you drop your experience, or souls when you die.”
Scattered throughout the world are thrones, which is somewhat fitting considering you are a king. At these thrones, you can save, heal, upgrade your skill tree, and teleport to other thrones. Resting at these thrones spawn previously defeated enemies and act as a “bonfire” like in Dark Souls. However, they are very sparsely placed and I often had to backtrack for countless minutes just to be able to fast travel. Lamp posts are also placed throughout and are much more common, but they only act as a checkpoint to spawn if you die and serve no other purpose.
The only soulslike element of this game is the fact that you drop your experience or souls when you die. Therefore, you need to trudge back to your place of death to retrieve it. Dropping your souls also blocks you from using any of your abilities or gaining any more experience points. However, it doesn’t disappear should you die again, so it’ll stay at the same place until you retrieve it. Although this did come with some complications.
Due to this game being a precision platformer, a lot of the time you die in spots that are either very hard to reach or the soul location you leave behind has fallen to a spot that isn’t on a platform. Having to attempt to collect your experience again is a nuisance and entirely unnecessary to include as a gameplay element. If you can’t reach it, then you have to return to town and buy it back from a merchant, which is even more of a burden considering you need to find a throne to teleport.
“Characters have non-English voice actors.”
Though the visuals of Aeterna Noctis are beautiful, it serves as an extra hindrance to the already chore-like gameplay. Background elements are mixed with the foreground, making it almost impossible to discern what is a platform and what is in the background. This is especially true in the fiery and dark regions of the game that feature countless portions of extreme platforming. Oftentimes I found myself guessing and checking if I was jumping onto a platform or not and it became a trial and error process.
Characters have non-English voice actors, so I often found myself referring to the subtitles rather than enjoying the voiceovers. On the other hand, The soundtrack is atmospheric and fits with the tones and themes of the game.
“The boss encounters in Aeterna Noctis are amazing.”
Combat is arguably the weakest aspect, considering it barely scrapes by as a secondary mechanic following the platforming. You gain access to more weapons and abilities as your progress in the game, which makes sense considering it is a Metroidvania, but most weapons and abilities seem quite bland and vanilla. Combat consists of jumping and spamming the attack button over and over. The upgrades are generic and generally result in something like 5% extra damage or 10% higher critical damage chance. It doesn’t help that fighting is also inconsistent, with some enemies hitting you faster than you can dodge, especially when there are no I-frames when you dash or dodge.
Fortunately, there are a great variety of enemy types and the boss encounters in Aeterna Noctis are amazing. They are unique, challenging, and require you to learn their attack patterns. These boss fights also take place in beautiful arenas paired with an awesome audio theme. Defeating enemies grants you experience points and money that can be used to unlock skills and purchase items from merchants in towns.
“The game has its moments where it shines.”
There’s nothing technically wrong with Aeterna Noctis, it just isn’t a fun game. The game serves to cause more frustration than enjoyment with its poor attempt to be a jack of all trades. Don’t get me wrong, the game has moments where it shines and is definitely a bulky and meaty game in terms of length considering the price tag. But that doesn’t make up for the poor mechanics and design choices. There’s a free demo for those who want to take a jab at it, but don’t expect anything like Hollow Knight or Ender Lillies.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PS5, code was provided by the Publisher.