Afterimage is another game in a growing trend of Metroidvania titles. One that pushes elements of the genre, all while delivering satisfying high-paced action combat and worthwhile challenges. It all comes together for an experience that can stand shoulder to shoulder with more recent titles like Hollow Knight and Blasphemous. But it is also an experience that can feel unfocused when it comes to narrative and characters.
In Afterimage, you play as Renee, a girl with amnesia living in the aftermath of the ruined kingdom of Engardin. It is a world that was ravaged by a cataclysm due to an ancient war long ago. After an attack happens in her local village by mysterious monsters, Renee travels across the kingdom seeking answers, leading to a massive adventure with overlapping revelations about the world and her past.
Much like the protagonist herself, you are thrown into the world Afterimage with barely an idea of where you are going and why. This is due in part to the open-ended explorative nature of a Metroidvania title as well as the game's narrative structure. Afterimage doesn't really have one strong singular story, but several overlapping stories for you to experience at your own leisure. It's a novel approach to storytelling for a Metroidvania title since it means doing things out of order won't "break" the central narrative. It also helps when it comes to environmental storytelling and worldbuilding. When meeting various side characters on your journey, the game introduces additional story threads, ones that dive deep into background detail. It helps illustrate a fascinating world with its own history and intriguing cosmology of gods and monsters. The world is a big place, and you're just a small part of it.
Beauty in Ruins
The biggest standout for Afterimage has to be its level and map design. The world of Engardin is vast with multiple areas and environments, complete with interesting enemies and traversal challenges. In addition, each section has just the right level of unlockable shortcuts as well as locked-off areas, encouraging you to explore. The game even lets you mark your map with custom icons from the very beginning, which makes backtracking easier.
It also helps that Afterimage has some impressive art direction. The entire game is illustrated with a colorful and vibrant hand-drawn art style, giving the whole experience a distinct visual identity. This ranges from the memorable enemies you face in each area to the very locations themselves. There are roughly a dozen unique areas in this game, from dark caves overrun by fungus to a haunted village plagued by spirits to a wondrous celestial sky temple and I can remember each of them vividly thanks to solid aesthetic design and a crisp color palette.
Finally, Afterimage does have a solid combat and progression system. There's a healthy mix of weapons and armor that Renee can equip, giving you access to different combat styles as you play. These range from far-reaching whips, to rapid dual swords, to heavy-hitting greatswords. This is bolstered further by subweapons, which allow you to cast spells.
Overall, there's a great amount of variety, which can lead to different builds. For example, by the end of my playthrough, I focused more on combo attacks with a scythe, leaning into powerful aerial combos and ground slams, and strong elemental effects. It's a definite stand out compared to the RPG leveling system, which grants helpful but unremarkable increases to health, damage, and defense as you go.
Cracks In The Mask
I do have a few critiques of some parts of Afterimage. While there is an impressive number of optional power-ups, a few of them feel either highly situational or useless. One of them is just to help you remove an obnoxious screen filter effect in certain zones. Another one slightly increases your walking speed. While the environmental design is great, there are sections where parts of the foreground can hide enemy placements. It only happens in small spots, but it does it can feel cheap and annoying. Pair this with a few enemy attacks and hazards having some questionable hit detection and there are parts where the zenlike flow state does crash to a halt.
As for the narrative and characters, there's a certain lack of closure or development. Part of this is due to the aforementioned nonlinear story structure mentioned above, but none of them ever fully come together to something definitive. Case in point, Afterimage has nine different endings. Most of them are satisfying from a gameplay perspective, punctuated by a challenging boss battle and an ending cutscene, but are thematically left ambiguous. Even the game's most complex ending, one that had all of the exciting gameplay and bombast of the conclusion of a Final Fantasy game, made me wonder what exactly was accomplished once the dust settled.
Afterimage Review | Final Thoughts
Complaints aside, the talented developers of Aurogon Shanghai and Netera Entertainment should be proud of what they have accomplished with Afterimage. It nails the inherent excitement of exploration and discovery that fuels a Metroidvania and it does so with its own distinct visual identity. If you are a fan of the new wave of Metroidvanias, this is a title to watch out for. Do not miss it.
Afterimage was reviewed on PlayStation 5 with a copy provided by the developer over the course of 45 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Large Complex Metroidvania Map Design
- Rewarding Action Platformer Gameplay
- Beautiful Hand-Drawn Art Direction
- Minor Balance and Visual Feedback Issues
- Lacking Strong Narrative Closure