When it comes to a Metroidvania game, featuring satisfying elements and doling out upgrades at a steady pace can make a title like Afterimage a success. It’s ideal to offer ample opportunities to grow, chances to reach new areas, and rewards and reasons to backtrack. Aurogon Shanghai’s game is rather good about that, especially as you’ll gain afterimage abilities, new equipment, and beneficial talents as you play. However, what really can help it also feel enjoyable to experience is how pretty it is.
Afterimage is, regrettably, a very vague game when it comes to the motivations and storytelling. A young, amnesiac woman named Renee with the “Gift of the Gods” and her floating companion Ifree who, truthfully doesn’t seem to offer much actual assistance, are on a journey after everyone in their home was killed and the town destroyed. Even though she might “die,” she’ll revive at Confluence of Streams rather than return to the Sea of Souls. After seeing a mysterious, cloaked girl with her mentor Aros’ soul, she follows and faces many enemies and occasional other travelers along the way.
While bits and pieces of lore come up to offer insight about Renee, the Razing that resulted in the remaining, post-apocalyptic world, and people left behind, the focus in Afterimage is on its Metroidvania gameplay. Which works in its favor, as it’s quite a responsive title. Standard enemies can sometimes surprise you with an attack pattern that, while predictable, could occur when Renee is backed into a corner or needs to consider other hazards. You begin with a quick backdash, to allow you to dodge weapons, and eventually require typical upgrades that allow you to dash forward across the ground or gaps, slide through gaps, or reach higher platforms. Weapons can be equipped to the Y and X buttons, with magic assigned to A. As you invest in the talent tree, you gain additional moves you can pull off with, say, your scythe, whip, sword, or greatsword, to deal greater damage. You’re forced to play “smart,” due to being limited by how many potions Renee can carry at a time and “extras” acquired from chests sent to storage until you use it and reach a Confluence to “restock.” If you fall in battle, you revive at that save point and, if you reach that previous point, will find the experience you dropped waiting for you.
Bosses end up being even more fun. These are often punishing encounters, with every opponent adding to their repertoire once you get their health down to half. They don’t constantly default to certain patterns. One mysterious woman who challenges Renee just past a fortress alters her behaviors swiftly based on spacing. If you’re close when she sends out hazardous rings that gradually increase and decrease in size, then she’ll cut at you with her sword. If you’re far away when that happens to evade them at the right time, she’ll follow that up with ranged strikes. Not to mention because of her swiftness, the health potion is the best way to restore yourself after, as her teleportation and strikes mean using the one-time L to briefly heal could be interrupted.
The result is that Afterimage is a game best described as a Metroidvania, but that might also occasionally feel roguelike or even Soulslike. You’ll see areas in environments where you’ll definitely need to head back eventually, perhaps via using a potion to warp to a past Confluence. Sometimes it feels like taking a risk to scout out a space, even if you know you’re too weak or lack the abilities to properly complete it, is worth the loss of experience to perhaps find some equipment. Challenging a boss without using potions a few times can be beneficial learning experiences, to see how they will react so when you do face them for real, you’ll be better prepared.
However, it never feels unfair. A big part of that is due to how you can invest in Renee to make her stronger. She gains experience as you defeat enemies, strengthening her and restoring her health and mana when she does level up. Talent points can be earned and found, then applied to increase her attack, defense, critical rates, abilities with weapons, and aptitudes for certain sorts of magic. You might find extra weapons, magic spells, or equipment as you fight enemies or happen upon chests, making her more versatile. So even if a boss is getting the best of you, spending fifteen minutes or so “grinding” nearby could result in you being strong enough to beat them anyway. However, if your response time is good and you’re careful, you might be able to get away with powering through.
Which ends up being a delight, as Afterimage is an aesthetically appealing game and one of the prettier Metroidvania titles I’ve played recently. While Renee herself and many enemies can be rather small, especially on the Switch’s screen, they’re still quite detailed. Enemies can be fearsome or personable, with one of my favorites being a creature that looks like a bunch of grapes and… attacks by tossing said grapes at you. Environments are even more attractive, with many designed with elements that play in the foreground and background while you move about the world. Sometimes, Aurogon Shanghai played with color schemes or light and shadow to accentuate the time of day or the the use of empty space, and it’s really enchanting. Especially since it doesn’t distract or detract from gameplay.
However, attempting to actually read some of the text in the Switch version of Afterimage is quite a trial, as it’s a game with incredibly tiny fonts. To the developer’s credit, it always appears as white text on a stark or black background, so it is “easy” to reach. It’s just shockingly small, especially when going through certain bits of lore or dialogue. But then, people don’t talk too much generally, so it doesn’t come up too often.
Afterimage‘s loading times are the far more egregious offender in this Metroidvania than any tiny text. This may change with a patch, but it would take over a minute to reach the title screen. I thought it was broken initially, to be honest. I recommend starting the game, going to get yourself something to drink, and perhaps it will be ready to go when you get back. The in-game loading isn’t as bad, but you’ll stare at a black screen for a time when you go into some buildings at certain villages or occasional other places.
Afterimage is available for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.