Aer: Memories of Old

Start screen of AER: Memories of Old.
I double-dog dare you to jump it.

Aer: Memories of Old on Steam

From the Forgotten Key Studios site:

The gods of old are forgotten, lost in the events that shattered the world, leaving only fragments of islands in the sky. This mystic world of endless skies, colorful islands and ancient ruins is in danger of falling into darkness. As one of the last few shapeshifters, you are sent on a pilgrimage to the Land of Gods. Uncover the secrets that will help save reality itself.

It's a world where ancient gods have literally broken the earth, and all that is left is an endless scattering of broken, floating islands in the sky.

Luckily for our hero Auk, she is a shape-shifter who can become a bird as she wishes. She's been sent (and she is not the first) on a pilgrimage to find the ancient temples from before the ground was shattered, and set things right again.

In the opening scenes, she is given a lantern empowered by an ancient spirit that allows her to see fading memories still held by the land. Much of the lore of the game comes through the insight given to Auk by her lantern.

Auk illuminates a memory.
You should get some sun, friend. You're looking a tad pale.

Art and Style

The art style for this game is fairly lo-fi compared to some of the mega-budget 3D games being released these days. I don't consider that to be a negative thing, though, by any stretch. This game isn't about wowing you with the excruciating detail of the models (Auk doesn't even have eyes rendered on her face); it's about the story and the exploration of a world. After a few minutes of getting used to the landscape, it just felt right to me.

I'm a pretty casual gamer, and I don't have a monster gaming rig. The fairly new MacBook Pro I played this game on dropped some frames in places, as is expected for 3D games on an integrated video card (Fortnite, by contrast, barely runs at all), but the game played pretty smoothly overall.

The style is just... nice. While the premise of the game threatens ruin and danger for the world its characters live in, this doesn't manifest itself much in the gameplay. The game itself is atmospheric–Auk's world is almost entirely peaceful. The textures and the symbols are minimal, the colors are vivid, and the mission is mercifully simple.

Auk navigates a temple.
Anybody seen my cellphone? I swear I just had it.

Gameplay and Mechanics

The gameplay is a bit different from any game I've played recently, and it's something I could see being jarring for some if you don't understand what you're getting into. This is not a game of force and struggle (in fact, there is almost no violence at all).

You spend a good bit of this game exploring and searching. Auk is tasked with finding the temples of the ancient gods, who have lain dormant within them for centuries. Each of them gives her something she will need to complete her pilgrimage.

The only issue I had with the gameplay was with the flight mechanics–they took some getting used to. The 'W' key that pushes you forward is also the key that pitches Auk downward when she transforms. I ended up careening into the depths three or four times before I got this straight–run, jump, transform, pull back, flap wings... like flight is complicated or something.

Once you get off the ground, though, the world opens. The map is huge, with countless islands that are entirely yours to explore. There is a settlement with a few characters who give you some guidance on where to go next, but you certainly don't have to follow that script. I spent a good while just flying, enjoying the scenery and looking around to see what was out there.

The temples are well-designed. Each is a series of puzzles (sometimes puzzles within puzzles) that give you no hints whatsoever, but are fairly intuitive once you figure them out. Puzzles are hard to design well, and this game strikes a good balance with them–they aren't frustrating, but they're also not just busy-work to keep you from getting the easy win.

Auk in her bird form.
🎶I believe I can fly...🎶

Lore

I like games with story... mythology is fun. The lore in this game goes back to the very creation of the world. It's a bit poetic in places, and fits right in with the atmosphere set by the art.

The game took nearly seven hours for me to complete, but I feel like I could have finished it in three or four if I'd focused on that. The joy of this game isn't in completions and checking off the box to get to the next step, though.

There is a creation story of a god who created a world from a dream, and tore a Void from its heart that was placed there by human nightmares. There are gods sleeping within the land, weakened by a lack of faith from the very humans they were there to commune with. There is a cruel king who fancies himself a god and sets off to conquer what's left of the world, now that the gods are sleeping.

The story can start out a bit disjointed, but it pieces itself together as you explore the world, and the memories that it holds for you to discover. As much of it as I saw, I only unlocked six of twenty achievements during my playthrough.

Auk looks into the abyss.
I was going to make a "pull my finger" joke here, but I thought that would be too obvious.

Overall

I read just enough about Aer: Memories of Old beforehand to learn that it was something I felt like I would enjoy, and on the whole, I enjoyed this game more than I expected to. There is a lot packed into this game, it played smoothly, and I saw almost no obvious quirks or bugs.

It's a short game, and for casual gamers like me who have a short attention span, that's actually totally okay. I think the price (~15USD) is probably about right for the length of time I spent playing. It's fairly replayable, too, and I will likely run it through again after a bit to see how many of the achievements I can rack up.

I really enjoyed the exploration aspect of it. It's almost an active meditation flying from island to island and just learning the world. The gameplay is relaxing–there's nothing scary about it, no efforts to ramp up the anxiety, no twitch reflexes necessary to ward off a constant impending doom.

Sometimes, I've had a rough day and just want to check into a game and blow the hell out of something. Sometimes, I just want to do something peaceful and semi-methodical. This game fills that niche for me.


Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this game free of charge for the purposes of review.

Aer: Memories of Old was developed by Forgotten Key Studios. At the time of this writing, it is currently available on Steam for Windows, SteamOS(Linux), and MacOS at the price of 14.99USD.