Date: April 25, 2023
A few months ago, I was able to try out a preview build of Afterimage. As a huge Metroidvania fan I was excited to play it, and while I did ultimately have fun with it, I saw nothing particularly special about the game — aside from the beautiful art. Having now played the full version of the game, I’m happy to say that after getting to have the full experience, I enjoyed it much more. As you get deeper into the game, combat becomes flashier, and allows for some experimentation with weapon combinations. There is also a huge world to explore without a strict direction, giving you the freedom to move forward the way you want. I found myself wanting to play the game more and more to explore new areas, and to get my character progressively stronger.
Afterimage takes place in a world called Engardin, which had a cataclysmic event years before the events of the game called ‘The Razing’ that caused humanity to nearly be destroyed. You play as Renee, who starts the game out on a mission with her companion, Ifree. While away, she learns that her village being attacked — when she returns, she finds her mentor Aros dead, with a mysterious person taking her soul. Renee then goes on a quest to follow this person and save her mentor.
After this, the game really opens up, and you don’t get told much of what’s going on from this point until nearly the end of the game. Every once in a while you will run into a character that hints at some stuff about the world and Renee herself, but a lot of the lore will be found by exploring. Scattered across Engardin are glowing blue lights called Echos, which are memory fragments. These serve to give information about the world’s lore, and some will talk about Renee or Ifree. While you are encouraged to read these (you are granted free experience for reading them the first time), these are optional, meaning you can miss much of the story entirely.
While I know this style of storytelling is used in many games, especially the Soulslike genre, I ended up being pretty confused about the overall story, since I didn’t explore everything to see all of the Echos or optional scenes. When I reached the end, I wasn’t even entirely sure what was happening or why .
The gameplay in Afterimage is very fun, though it does take time for it to pick up. At the start of the game, all you can really do is a simple slash with your sword. But as you progress and explore the world, you will find new weapons and learn new attacks, allowing for much more fast-paced gameplay that has room for experimentation.
You control Renee throughout the game, and while she starts off with a sword, there are a total of six different weapon types you can find. You can assign one as your main weapon, and another to be your secondary weapon. Each of the two weapons is assigned to a different button, allowing you to freely use both weapons in combat. On top of that, as you start learning moves with these weapons, you can even chain some together to create small combos, which feel pretty satisfying when you figure them out and pull them off.
The game does a good job of making each weapon feel distinct from each other — each one has their own range, attack speed, and animations. On top of this, you can learn techniques with each one to make them feel even more unique. Since there’s never any requirements to use a specific weapon, you have a lot of freedom to try out different weapon combinations and make a playstyle that works well for you.
On top of the weapons, you will also be able to equip a magic spell. These are powerful attacks that will cost you Mana, and will deal damage of a different element depending on the spell. While the spells are very helpful in killing groups of enemies or bosses quicker, they don’t have the same kind of combat flow the weapons do, as you just have to stand still and wait for the cast to go off. I think it would have gone a long way if they let you cast spells while moving, or even in midair.
Overall, I really enjoyed the combat. Once I started finding the various weapon types, I had fun trying out different combinations and moves, until I settled on a set I wanted to stick with towards the end of the game. My biggest complaint about the combat, however, is Ifree’s use in combat, or rather his lack of. Throughout the game, he is teased as a powerful magic user — he even uses a spell at the start of your first boss to attack it. However, after that, he does absolutely nothing to help you in combat, which just felt really baffling to me. It would’ve felt great if he did some kind of extra attack to help out with combos, or if they even made it so he was the one casting the spells you equip instead of Renee.
Afterimage brings in some RPG elements with its character progression. All enemies will grant you experience when you kill them, and gaining enough will level you up. There is also a Talent Tree, and you will gain Talent Points from either leveling or exploring the world and finding extra points. Most of the nodes will give an increase in one of your stats, but it’s here where you can also learn new techniques for your weapons.
Many of the nodes will allow you to put points in them 1-3 more times to further increase the stat bonuses, with the extra uses being blocked behind reaching a certain level. I don’t mind this idea of using the nodes multiple times, however, the game gives you no indication of when you’re at a high enough level to take advantage of these nodes again, or even how many points you have put in past the first. This means you will have to look through every node yourself to find out where you can put points in, which can start feeling tedious. Because of the way they executed it, I wish that they had just expanded the tree with more nodes that you can only put points in once.
Finally, we have the aptly named Afterimages. There are two types of Afterimages — the first give Renee new abilities (such as a dash or double jump) that will help you reach new places, and these will automatically be equipped when you learn them. The second kind are optional, and will give you some extra utility in either exploring or combat — a couple of examples are increasing your walking speed, or leaving a poison cloud any time you get hit. You cannot use all of these optional Afterimages, however. There’s only a set amount you can equip at a time, though you can increase the number through exploration. While I didn’t find too many of these during my time with the game, they add an extra layer of customization to your character and playstyle.
Progression and Navigation
Progression and navigation is typical for a Metroidvania game, featuring one big map that has several connected sections in it. You are given a very general direction on where to go, but once you reach a certain point early on, the world opens up to you. There are several paths you can take that lead to different areas, and you are free to tackle them in any order you’d like (if you have the Afterimage needed, of course). The world is pretty large overall, and I enjoyed being able to make my own way through it with its open nature.
Exploration is heavily encouraged in Afterimage. Through all of Engardin, there are numerous hidden areas and optional paths you can take — going through these allows you to find many helpful items such as currency, equipment, extra Talent Points, and more. If you find yourself stuck on a boss or area, it’s very easy to just head to a new area you haven’t explored yet, find anything you can there and level up a bit, then come back to the previous area stronger than before. I really liked how rewarding the exploring was — between that and how open the game is, I never felt truly stuck at any point in the game, even when I was having issues defeating a boss.
My only major gripe with the navigation was how the map functioned. While the game wants you to fill out the map as much as possible, it won’t actually update any new areas you’ve explored until you rest at a checkpoint or die. This made it kind of annoying when exploring for a long time, because if you didn’t remember if you just explored an area or not, you can’t see by looking at the map, causing you to potentially explore the same area more than once. On top of this, if you haven’t learned the name of an area yet (you do this by talking to NPCs or reading the right Echos), it won’t show at all if you zoom out the map completely, even if you’ve explored a large chunk of it.
Afterimage has plenty of platforming while you explore, but it’s pretty straightforward. There will be spikes and other obstacles you need to deal with, and many sections will require you to utilize one or more Afterimages you’ve gained along the way. Nothing is overly difficult, but there are times when enemies can make it annoying. Far too often, there will be flying enemies in these platforming sections, and they will chase you down and attack you while you try to make it to the next area. It’s fine if this happens every once in a while, but it felt like it was happening all the time, and it can get frustrating when one of them gets you at a bad time and knocks you into a spike or off of a high area, forcing you to start over.
Longevity and Replayability
The game has a decent length for a Metroidvania. It took me around 14 hours to complete, and this was with having three entire areas unexplored, and getting a bad ending — I can definitely see fully exploring the world adding a few more hours into the game. On top of this, the game features multiple endings depending on how much you have explored and the quests you’ve completed, so trying to get them all will add even more time. For the completionists playing this, there is even an area you can find that will track all of the equipment you’ve found, and how many pieces you’re still missing.
It doesn’t seem like there is any reason to play this game more than once, however. Once you complete the game and see an ending, you can reload the save and be taken back to before the final boss, allowing you to go back and do what you need to get another ending. Additionally, while the weapons do feel distinct from each other, the combat and talent systems aren’t deep enough that you would get a completely different experience starting over and using a different build.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Afterimage, and would even like to continue playing it to see everything that I missed initially. While there are a few setbacks and I still feel there isn’t anything wholly unique to stand out from other Metroidvanias, the pieces all come together to make a fun game with an exciting combat system and beautiful art. This could serve as a nice introduction to people interested in the genre as well, as players can explore the open world and make themselves stronger if they’re ever feeling stuck.