Soaring between the clouds and fragmented floating islands of AER Memories of Old is a serene experience, not far from hitting the meditative heights of the likes of Flower and Journey. Certainly, it’s a game that will be compared and contrasted to thatgamecompany’s gorgeous experiences, albeit with a more overt story to tell as you alternately fly and explore this shattered world on foot.
It’s exploring on foot that you experience first in this game, as Auk investigates the underground temple to Karah, her floating jump seeing you run and bound through the caves with light and accessible platforming, even as the cave then starts to collapse around you. It’s nothing compared to when you emerge into the light and discover that Auk can transform into a bird.
It’s a sudden rush to be able to jump and then fly away as an eagle, flapping her wings to get higher, swooping down and enjoying a thrill as the camera pulls back and you travel ever faster, challenging yourself to pass between the scenery or catch the airstreams. The solid white clouds that provide solid looking obstructions to your flight, you’ll soon discover allow you to fly through them, closing yourself off to the world until you break back out into the light.
It’s all assisted by a wonderful soundtrack, that scales back to mere atmospheric sound as you explore a temple on foot, but can almost seamlessly pick up with mellow but upbeat tones of acoustic banjo, drums and flute or pan pipes. Where there’s a mystery and foreboding feel as you’re underground, it helps to emphasise the uplifting and joyous feeling of flight.
You’re given little to no overt direction as to where you should go, and are free to explore the Land of Gods as you see fit from the very start. Instead, the game tells you of three temples that you need to visit on your pilgrimage, with a handful of people gathered together at the base of a lighthouse ready to point you in a vague compass direction and certain landmarks to look out for. The only real concession to this is a diffuse shaft of light emanating from the specific point you need to visit, but it’s a rather hands off approach to assisting you in an open world.
In some ways, those directions are a layer to the environmental puzzles that seek to engage you with the world, but as big and inviting as the world of floating islands actually is to fly through, I found little real motivation to stop on each island you come to and explore. As easy as it is to switch back and forth between human and bird forms, running around an island is distinctly less appealing than soaring above it, and the enticement for doing so is relatively minimal. There are secrets to find, from a handful of scrolls and monuments dotted around the environment that flesh out certain parts of the world’s story of collapse, flight and founding new homes, to the ghostly visages of people long passed away, but the scale of the game hindered my desire to explore them.
Certainly, as you race past it’s harder to spot where these secrets could be, but you are prodded in the direction of exploring further by the characters you can return and talk to at the Lighthouse. It could be to hunt down their daughter who’s run off exploring, a suggestion that you search for and investigate a series of caves in a particular region, or some other advice.
As soon as you step foot inside one of the three temples, your ability to fly is stripped away from you and you’re restricted to the simple, bounding platforming in the game and some light environmental puzzles. There’s some strong contrast between these temples, from more natural rock formations and glowing mushrooms to grand man-made structures that disrupt the otherwise naturalist feel of the game.
Though there are some finer details to be found, the game as a whole bares its plainly coloured polygons to you. It’s a style that works really well, with bright colours in certain areas, the vast openness of the sky and the gradually changing environments as you fly from one side of the world to another. The greenery and sunlight of the west contrasts with the eastern ruins of a grand city and the snowy, mountainous islands in the north.
The story that leads you to the far reaches of this fractured world is a fascinating one, as it deals with humanity’s flaws and the rise and fall of gods and beliefs. Auk’s pilgrimage and the spark of light that she ignites threatens to either save or end this world, with the Void that tore it asunder rising in power once more. There’s no combat of any kind here, just exploration and puzzle solving, but there’s still a satisfying conclusion to the few hours you’ll spend with this game – more, if you do wish to explore and soak in the scenery of your own volition.
Transforming into a bird and soaring through skies and between the floating islands of AER Memories of Old is simply fantastic, and you’ll be easily drawn in by its vibrant yet minimalist art style. It doesn’t quite make the best use of the shattered world they’ve created, but for a few hours, it’s a gorgeous game and an intriguing story to explore.
Version tested: PC