My time with Afterimage left me tilting my head. It wasn't from anything in the core gameplay, nor was it from any questionable aesthetic choices. No, my confusion mostly came from the in-game text and storytelling elements that were introduced. It lead to a not unpleasant experience, but I had more questions than answers.
As the demo for Afterimage started, the opening cutscene depicts a world falling apart. Some sort of cataclysm has disrupted fundamental forces of life and death due to the passing of a god. It is where developer Aurogon Shanghai deftly showcased the painterly artwork for the game.
But it was also where the game lost me within these crucial minutes. My aforementioned synopsis was only after a lot of guesswork and reverse engineering of plot points peppered throughout the preview build. The exposition is packed with capitalized proper names and terms that are just a little off from their intended use. This is consistent across the entire demo. I honestly couldn't tell if this was the game aiming for intentionally vague worldbuilding or if this was a case of subpar English localization.
This obfuscation eventually faded as I got into Afterimage's action-platformer gameplay. The art direction continued to shine as I went from location to location, fighting enemies and navigating terrain. I moved seamlessly through a jungle to an open field to an abandoned castle to a series of tunnels, and everything had this warm and appealing mix of color and lighting. Impressively, the general aesthetic moves effortlessly from darker, more savage designs in the first half to a more rounded and ethereal look in the second. In the opening moments, I was fighting a ferocious wolf monster and bats, by the end I was fighting cute rock golems and bipedal grape lizards. If a combination of Genshin Impact and Symphony of the Night sounds great to you, you will enjoy Afterimage's look.
As for the gameplay itself, it was familiar but decent. Platforming took a bit of getting used to since there was no mantling or wall-jump mechanic. This is notable since a fair amount of the early platform had some pixel-perfect gaps. I did gain an air dash after an early boss battle, which did help a bit. As for the combat, it was a bit underwhelming. You start the game with a standard sword and a single attack. Eventually, enemies will drop other weapons, giving you more options. While the game does reference other weapon types, only swords and greatswords dropped for me. Basically, my combat options remained mostly the same throughout my two hours with Afterimage, and it got stale.
The RPG elements didn't do much to alleviate this. You can unlock certain benefits by putting points into several branching skill trees. The problem is the rewards are mostly incremental increases in health and attack power. There are unlockable special attacks, but by the time I unlocked one the demo had ended.
With these complaints in mind, I still enjoyed the combat in Afterimage. While the combat wasn't as robust as I would have liked, the creature designs and attack animations were all distinct and expressive. This helped give the boss battles an almost Soulslike quality, starting with easy and understandable patterns before turning into multiple attack strings. The final boss of the demo was especially challenging since it chained together attacks with portals.
Looking back at my time with Afterimage, I was left with a number of questions. The game's questionable localization lead to me having trouble understanding fundamentals. Who was it I fought near the end and why? What is the function of protagonist Ifree's floating companion? From a gameplay perspective, it felt like certain elements were introduced and then never mentioned. There's a mana bar, but no magic spells dropped. There's a completely separate progression menu, called Afterimage, that wasn't used at all. These are mysteries that will most likely be answered in the full game, but in the context of a preview, they stick out as outliers.
Overall, Afterimage has the foundation of an enjoyable metroidvania. The art direction is very appealing. The combat, while limited, works. The enemy and location variety is great. I just hope that the story and the world make a bit more sense come the full release.
TechRaptor previewed Afterimage on PC using a preview code provided by the publisher.