I’m done with AoA after 15 lovely hours, and let me tell you: I love this game more than I ever thought I would — or could. See, it’s all about unmet expectations and getting more than I bargained for — in the most delightful and delicious way.
Upon reading reviews, and knowing Compile Heart’s record, I braced myself for a minor game with cute aesthetics; something in the vein of Stella Glow, with tiny environments, anime-ish storytelling and an endearing budget quality. What I got instead was a wonderfully evocative and breathtakingly atmospheric journey of discovery and wonderment that felt challenging and comforting, epic and homely at once. AoA’s scope is much wider than I expected at first, and its production values much, much better. It feels like no other game I’ve played, and yet it sports plenty of familiar elements from games past. But the bottom line is that AoA took me faraway, away from my Switch and my daily routine, and offered me an experience of escapism and reverie that only videogames can provide.
Although AoA sports a fair bit of hack-and-slashy goodness, it’s really, at its core, a game about exploration. It nearly qualifies as a running simulator of sorts, in which racing through open areas while drinking in your surroundings is part and parcel of the experience. The map, which auto-fills as you progress à la Xenoblade, only enhances the desire to explore — heck, I have to confess that I didn’t leave a single corner unrevealed, and that it felt mightily satisfying. Soaking in the atmosphere is also a must, all the more so as the progression in that department is epically sweet. From the warm softness of the golden sands to the aching melancholy of the star-studded desert night, from the sweet loneliness of the green-bathed plateaus to the haunting emptiness of the deserted complex, you’re in for a stunning journey through landscapes & feels.
For the record, I played with the default party of Quinn, Axel and Micah until the end. They rocked together, so I didn’t feel the need to change anything; but I’ll gladly experiment with other combinations when I replay the game. I developed my base a reasonable amount — enough, at any rate, to get my paws on the lethal Juggernaut weapons and the gorgeous Elite uniforms. Last but certainly not least, I really dug the story’s twists and turns (SPOILERS!), from Gareth’s untimely death to the plot-twisty reveal that the crew are children of the Moon, all the way until Quinn’s meaningful sacrifice and days of loneliness, before a heart-warming reunion years later (True Ending all the way!). (END OF SPOILERS)
When all is said and done, I honestly cannot fathom how AoA got such a low aggregate score. 36 should be given to a game that’s completely broken and/or a total offense to gaming, which AoA is certainly not. I know I won’t single-handedly turn the tides for that most maligned Compile Heart offering; but if I can at least deliver a positive, tried-and-tested view on it, then I’ll consider my job done. I’ll see you soon with fresh gaming goodness, dear fellow gamers; until then, keep gaming and take care!