Although looks aren’t everything, there are video games that have gotten my attention based on visuals alone. Most of the time this isn’t an issue, and I end up playing an absolute belter like one of the Ori games or Final Fantasy VII Remake. It can happen though where a game is more about style than substance, and I think that’s where I’m landing on Afterimage.
After a cataclysmic event called the Razing, humanity was almost completely wiped out. Now years later, our hero Renee is trying to help keep the peace in the world. After her village is ruthlessly attacked and her master killed, Renee sets off on a big ole fantasy adventure. There’s a whole lot of nonsense words to deal with and plenty of waffling about the afterlife and the goddess, but once everyone has cut the chatter you’ll be unleashed on the world.
Afterimage is a fairly straightforward game from the get go. Renee starts with a sword and the ability to do a backwards dash to avoid damage, and the name of the game is kill things before they kill you. It doesn’t take long to start gathering more offensive weapons though from a variety of classes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The great sword is slow but hugely powerful, the dual blades are the opposite, and the whip has great range and deals a whole lot of hits in a short period of time. Renee can equip two weapons at a time to two different buttons, which means you’ll be able to mix and match your favourites and call upon them when they’re needed.
Outside of combat you’ll get access to plenty of new tools as you progress too. Afterimage is as traditional a Metroidvania as they come, with plenty of upgrades to unlock and plenty of loot to go back and collect from prior areas. The upgrades aren’t especially mind-blowing (abilities like an air dash, a slide and a double jump) but they do the job of helping you access new places and making Renee feel like a whole new protagonist.
Although less exciting than the new movement abilities, you’ll also spend a lot of time upgrading Renee by killing enemies, gathering experience and leveling up. With each level up you’ll gain a talent point, which can be spent in the talent tree to boost your stats or unlock new weapon abilities. What’s really weird about this skill tree though is how much of it is blocked off until you reach a higher level. Multiple times (especially at the start of the game) you’ll unlock everything you can for the level you’re at and have points to spare. It doesn’t really feel important to choose what you upgrade wisely when you’ll just end up with all of them.
This is just one of the many weird aspects of Afterimage. Another is how the map works. When walking around the world your map doesn’t automatically fill in, and you’ll need to get to one of the save point trees to have the areas you’ve wandered through reveal themselves. It’s an interesting idea, but ultimately just makes the game a little more frustrating that it needs to be when you wander too far off the grid.
The exploring is still great though, despite the map issues. There are a ton of late game areas accessible early on, and any time you enter a new themed location you’ll be told the recommended level to survive there. This means that if you’re feeling really daring you can just wander about in an area meant for Renee at level 82 almost immediately, and there’s nothing quite like sneaking your way to an overpowered weapon or item and using it forever. I imagine speed runners could really have a good time breaking Afterimage.
With the good comes the bad though, and one of the first moments I rolled my eyes while playing was when the game punished me for dying by making Renee drop all her experience in the spot she was slain. There wasn’t a single part of me that thought this gorgeous game with the gentlest soundtrack needed to borrow mechanics from FromSoft, and it just feels so out of place here.
Outside some of the peculiar design decisions, I think the main issue with Afterimage is that it’s just rather familiar. The power ups and weapons aren’t particularly inventive, and there wasn’t a single moment I was taken by surprise. Afterimage is very much a Metroidvania-by-numbers; it’s fun enough to play but it feels very safe.
The main hook of Afterimage is absolutely the visuals. The 2d art is undeniably gorgeous, reminiscent of its genre peer Ori but a little more vibrant. It did sometimes feel like the environments were designed more with visual appeal in mind than for actually playing the game, and there were multiple times during my playthrough where I tried to jump on objects that were apparently just set dressing that ended badly.
Afterimage is a gorgeous looking Metroidvania, but it’s a little lacking in creativity. Beating up fantasy creatures with weapons and exploring the world is enjoyable enough, but the different power ups and upgrades are very familiar. It also has some odd design choices that don’t really land, like losing your experience on death and the map not filling in automatically. Afterimage isn’t a bad game, but with so many great Metroidvanias releasing every month it is a hard one to recommend.
Lots of impactful weapons and upgrades
Exploration is really rewarding
Not a lot of new ideas
The map not filling in automatically is annoying
The story is just plain bad
Dropping your XP when you die is overly punishing