AeternoBlade II really throws you into the story. With a foretold disaster seeming to come true when a dark hole suddenly appears in the sky, it quickly throws returning protagonist Freyja and the two newcomers Bernard and Felix into a dark fantasy, dimension hopping journey to destroy the Dark Abyss.
Most of the game involves running around 2.5D areas as one of the three playable characters, each of which has different weapons, attacks, and time manipulation mechanics. Having these three characters also opens the door to a passing attempts at some Metroidvania style exploration. Each can traverse the world in different ways, so you’ll be returning to areas to reach new heights or break down doors.
The combat involves the use of light attacks, heavy attacks, and an instant dodge called “Blink”. Attacks can be strung together in combos, with more that can be unlocked, and the dodge will obviously let you avoid attacks. Wait until the very last possible moment to dodge and you’ll fill up a gauge that lets each character manipulate time in a different ways that aid them in combat, from slowing time to reversing it.
Or, at the very least, that’s the combat in theory. I honestly don’t think I’ve played a game before that feels this awful to control. AeternoBlade II feels like there’s a delay on everything your character does, meaning that your last minute dodges don’t avoid attacks and that your attempts to stun enemies often don’t land in time resulting in unnecessary damage taken.
This becomes worse when the action switches to 3D and you have to contend with the most powerful enemy of all: the camera. I’m not sure what the developers intended with the camera in these segments, but it swings wildly all over the place making combat unnecessarily difficult. To add insult to injury, if you lock on to an enemy, the camera misbehaves even more.
It’s not all bad though, as these switches to 3D really make you appreciate how much better designed the combat is in a 2D perspective. I’m obviously aware that this isn’t necessarily a positive for the game overall, but when the moment-to-moment 3D gameplay is this unenjoyable, you’ve kind of got to find the silver lining.
Speaking of which, and credit where it is due, the time mechanics are incredibly well implemented here. Using Freyja’s power to reverse time for everything around her lends itself to some clever platforming challenges, and Felix has an ability to create recordings of himself that he can act alongside, which is useful both in combat and in exploration. They’re just two examples of some inventive game mechanics.
Once you have an AeternoBlade for your current character, you can enter the Enigmata at save points, which are little puzzle rooms that use that particular character’s time manipulation powers. These can be really cleverly designed and have a gently increasing difficulty curve as you progress. Furthermore, they’re a satisfying palette cleanser from the main game.
It’s a shame really, as the game has fallen foul of a checklist of game design faux pas and poor implementation. It’s all here: quick time events, unclear insta-death encounters, camera issues in the 3D encounters, odd checkpointing, and painfully long loading times sometimes resulting in the need to completely reset the game.
The whole experience is an assault on the eyes as well. There’s dated character models that have long been surpassed aesthetically, chunky and unappealing menus, and some really odd animations. The game does look better when the camera zooms out, but that’s not really saying much.
The sound design of the game is far better. The music is catchy, especially in battle, which makes up for the grating battle sound effects. One great boon is that AeternoBlade II has fully voice acted cutscenes, with some enthusiastic line delivery attempts, even if the laughable story doesn’t exactly lend itself to Oscar-winning performances.