A good way to describe Aka is a game about seeing where the wind takes you. There are quests you can do. There is land you can farm. However, you can also lay on a beach and gaze into the sky. You might also go to nap on top of a large capybara. You have options, and there’s nothing telling you what to do or when, even though time does gradually pass. It’s a chance to kick back, but it also means that it can be aimless and more than a little frustrating.
Aka only knew battle. The red panda, like many, fought in the War. Once it ended, there’s the question of what’s next. After time spent fighting and bloodshed, it is time to be useful for another reason. So, Aka heads to an island “paradise” another fellow soldier, Thom, mentioned. There comes an opportunity to relax and live a kinder existence.
As a freeform sort of game, you can do what you want in Aka. You carry a sword, but only use it to do things like cut grass or craft. There is a farming element, but you don’t sell goods for money. You use them for occasional recipes to fulfill requests. You can place furniture and decorations in certain spaces, if you like. People are there to talk to, though you might not get incredibly close to all of them. There are also four small islands to explore, with points of interest on each.
But while no boundaries or obligations makes for a peaceful life simulator, it sometimes doesn’t make for a good game. A good example is the farming mechanic. Thom says to check in for tips when you start planting. However, there’s a whole ecosystem approach in which certain plants placed next to each other is necessary for optimal growth and survival. But all Thom talks about is how carrots and onions should be next to each other to keep pests from killing them. Beeatrix gives you flower seeds to plant, but I couldn’t just till a spot of land and place a tulip seed. There’s a card game you can play with the Inventor, but there’s no tutorial explaining what you are trying to do or how it works. Too much is left unsaid.
There are also literally no boundaries sometimes. Aka is a game with an isometric perspective. However, it isn’t always clear where the barriers are or platforms begin or end. There will be invisible walls occasionally keeping you from falling off of some spaces, but not others. This is especially a problem at the edges of islands, as more than a few times I’d fall off of the side of a spot, then “land” in another screen as it turned out that was the end of the map and entrance to another location. But then, maybe Aka’s sense of direction is just bad? Sometimes, I’d find when I was trying to water or plow one spot of land, I would hit another instead?
More inventory room, both in your Aka’s room and on-hand storage, would also be appreciated. You can hold items. You will find a lot more than that. Some items are even ones that, after you grab them, can’t be placed in a space in the world. For example, I found a totem early on. I took it. Once I got out of its cave and outside Aka’s home, I couldn’t just… set it down as a decoration outside. Into a valuable inventory space it went. Did you collect a lot of tin can trash? Or maybe items that you just don’t want anymore? You need to spend time heading to town to visit the one dedicated recycling center and garbage can.
The nature of Aka also means it is a game in which you don’t get to really know everyone. While Aka is friends with Thom and we’ll see insights into the past, we don’t really get to know the island neighbors. There’s the illusion of community, but you don’t connect in the same way you do in titles like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley. Yes, the koala I play music with on the beach is cool, but I just know we jam together. There are wasted opportunities here.
Aka is also an incredibly buggy game. When I first started playing on the Switch, it crashed a few times while exploring. When I was fulfilling a quest to repair a boat, the necessary requirements remained on-screen even after the NPC disappeared. Aka would sometimes get locked in a position performing an action. While I’d be able to move still, it would be impossible to take any additional actions unless I quit and reloaded the game.
— Jenni Lada (@JMariye) December 16, 2022
The idea of Aka is fine, but the execution isn’t there. It is a pretty and relaxing enough game when it works. However, it often isn’t behaving as it should, which really gets in the way of taking it easy.