There are plenty of games that tug at your heartstrings or make you feel a true connection with the main character. With that being said, very rarely is there a game that immediately gives you the sense that not only are you connected with the character entirely but that you understand their struggle beyond what the developers expected. Aka is a game that gives you that feeling. You may be asking "Well how do you connect with a Red Panda running rampant through the different islands?" The game is much more than that, and let me explain why.
Aka is a cute farming simulator that follows the life of Aka, the red panda who fought in the Great War. Throughout this time fighting and battling for what they believed was right, they realized that they made several mistakes. For the sake of their well-being, they needed to find peace within themselves on an island far away from the warzones, and that is exactly what Aka does.
The Depth of Aka's Storyline
When the game begins, you are plopped into the tutorial area, where you are trying to escape the warzone and reach Pine Island. Simply put, the tutorial does help show you the ropes and explains things quite well in order for you to begin your journey on the right foot. That being said, the game is not perfect by any means. During the tutorial, I noticed that it can take a few tries to interact with things, or that your sword doesn't swing in the right place at times; that is completely okay and easily managed by just repositioning yourself and swinging again. Even with this minor issue, the tutorial is easy to navigate and ends rather quickly.
Right after the tutorial, you are sent right to Pine Island, which is the first of four islands in the game that you will explore. The terrain is simple, yet adorable; it seems as though everything is painted with watercolor paint strokes and it just gives an overall serene feeling as you traverse the landscape. This watercolor style of art does a great job of setting the tone for a peaceful and calming environment, and it was something about the game I thoroughly enjoyed. Most farming sims are either pixel art or hyper-realistic, and this art style brought on a whole different set of feelings and makes it refreshing.
As Aka, it is your job to not only find peace but to confront your past and the demons that are attached to it. This, my friend, is where I say I connected with this game in a way I don't think I have ever connected to a game before. During that Great War, Aka did some questionable things, such as ignoring those in need, and that ended up causing their death. You will stumble upon these ghosts as you progress through the main storyline, and they tell you their story and how they saw you in the distance, and yet you never stopped to help them in their time of need. Some of these ghosts, you didn't even realize you had abandoned them when they needed you most and others, well, you abandoned to save your own skin. Aka is forced to see the mistakes that they made in the past and allow the ghosts to gain closure.
The ghost that hit home with me most was the Shy Ghost. She explains that her entire life, she kept her nose inside of books and never thought to get street smart. When the war came, sadly, she had no idea how to defend herself, hunt for food, or find water. That is when she saw Aka, drinking out of a bottle, and since she never had a true voice of her own since she was so shy she couldn't call out to Aka for help. The Shy Ghost went thirsty and perished, all because she just didn't have the courage to ask for help. In her head, she was begging and pleading for Aka to give her some of that drink, but she did not have the ability to actually vocalize these thoughts, and that is how she met her fate.
Now, Aka could have simply paid more attention and would have seen her sitting alone in the corner and offered a hand which could have saved her life, but they didn't. The Shy Ghost reminds Aka that sometimes, you need to pay attention to everyone, not just those with the loudest voices. All of the ghosts have similar stories, as they remind Aka that due to their almost selfish nature, they allowed many to die without even realizing it. One of which is the ghost of Aka's best friend, Misao.
Misao and Aka fought side by side on the battlefield and ended up surrounded by the enemy. They began to run for their lives, and Misao tripped and fell. Rather than turn around and help their friend up, they left Misao behind to be captured by the enemy. Aka hears this story and seems to remember it differently, stating that they turned around to go back for Misao but they were gone in an instant.
Aka had abandoned their best friend to save their own life rather than attempting to save them both. These encounters with these ghosts really remind you that sometimes, we tend to remember things in our own way to justify our actions at the time these incidents occurred. If making you take a good look in the mirror at your past actions and choices was the aim of this game, it does a great job at portraying that.
The Learning Curve of Aka's Mechanics
Now, there is a lot to love about this game, don't get me wrong but there are a few bugs and minor issues that could be fixed or patched. The number of times I had to hack and slash at a patch of grass to get grass to craft with, for instance. Sometimes, you have to hit the nodes and grass patches at just the right angle for the game to register that you're within the hitbox. While it wasn't a major downfall, it does get a little annoying to have to slash and mine a node repeatedly to finally get the reagent needed. One of the other features that gave me a bit of trouble was the inventory. Adding items to your inventory sounds simple, but it just wasn't sometimes.
Things would stop stacking all of a sudden as if the stack was at its maximum even when it wasn't. You would have to take the stack of whatever item out of your chest, add it to the stack in your inventory, then re-add that entire combined stack to the chest. Again, not a huge issue, but for sure something that could be fixed in the future, as it becomes quite tedious to simply add things from your backpack to your chest.
The sounds and graphic design of the game were executed quite well, in my opinion. The sound of feet tapping on the ground, the sound of water splashing when you jump, and the cute noises Aka makes when you jump on solid ground were great touches and made the game feel more alive. With that said, the jump function didn't always work properly, so you would miss a rock or pathway you were trying to get to and have to reset your positioning.
Testing Your Reflexes With Aka's Musical Quest
There is a point in the game where you can no longer avoid playing music, and that is when you meet Kachina, a snake-like ghost on Bamboo Island. Now, I am all for DDR, but by my word I was not prepared for this feature. It isn't difficult by any means whatsoever, but it is a stark reminder that your fingers may not be as quick nor as centered on the keyboard as you once thought. The musical notes come at you like speeding bullets, or at least it feels like it sometimes. Some of the notes are high, some are in the middle, and some are low, meaning you will need to not only push the correct number such as 1 or 2, but you have to hold down the proper arrow key in order to hit the note properly.
I like to believe I am coordinated, and this was a harsh reminder I am absolutely not. This music challenge was by far one of the most challenging things about this game, and it was a nice addition to the peaceful and simplistic content. Lucky for me, it doesn't matter if you miss every single note; you still complete the quest. There are several places to play music in the game, so if this is something you enjoy within games, there is plenty of that in Aka.
Aka Review | Final Thoughts
Although there were a few clunky mechanics and musical quests that made my blood boil, overall the game is just plain fun. Aka is simple, yes, there are not a lot of moving parts, heavy mechanics, boss encounters, or anything too difficult but honestly that is what I love about it. It takes your average farming sim and turns it into a story-driven and heartfelt tale of a red panda who just wants to find inner peace. It is a refreshing take on a simulation game, with the perfect amount of emotion, a great deal of depth, and a sprinkle of tedious yet fun content.
It isn't a game that will take eons to understand, as the mechanics and controls are quite simple, but all of that simplicity blends seamlessly with the mildly challenging content to make for an adventure of a lifetime. Though I do wish there were a few more complicated quests, I actually find myself happy that the game isn't filled with puzzles that make my brain melt into goop. The emotions are there, the depth is there, and the farming is quite nice and executed well. I am thrilled to see if any updates are made, and will gladly play through new content if it becomes available.
Techraptor reviewed Aka on PC via Steam with a key provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch.
- Phenomenal Story
- Immense Depth
- Peaceful gameplay that makes you feel at ease
- The tone is set from the moment you arrive
- Beautiful watercolor style graphic design
- Somewhat clunky at times
- Could have a bit more challenging content
- Some of the islands feel somewhat empty