Afterimage is what you get if you take a golden Metroidvania formula and apply it to a stylized world of wonder. Brutal bosses can be found in many places, hidden areas uncover vast secrets, and abilities show the protagonist Renee’s true potential — there is a lot to experience. As someone who has played both Hollow Knight and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (each with its own incredibly soulful but modern atmosphere), Afterimage had a lot to live up to.
The World and Art – Gleams of Beauty From the Darkest Depths
The world of Engardin in Afterimage is one of the most beautiful game worlds I have ever experienced. Every location on the map that you venture into will feel packed with life from the moment you first step foot in it. You will be able to feel the artist’s heart and soul poured into the smallest of details. The chosen art style for Afterimage is a reflection of its prowess at capturing our attention for the entirety of the game.
The locations are varied enough that the player flow loops (artistically speaking) never feel drawn out. For example, you will find lush jungle greens in places like Emerald Falls but apparent higher echelon societies in the Holy Grounds. There is a beauty to be discovered wherever you decide to adventure, and that is encouraged heavily by the game’s choice of systems and loot collecting.
Equally, in the same way that the overall world design is gorgeously created, the creature/monster design exudes the same brushstrokes of perfection. Every creature has a place in Engardin and the included bestiary ensures players can learn more about them if they so wish. Usually, you might tend to revisit their designs again because of their stunning appearance.
Gameplay and Afterimages – A Stellar Display of Mechanics
Afterimage excels in providing fast-paced gameplay with each battle and movement. Character builds can be crafted with precision by use of the Talents section which allows you to learn new skills for specific weapons and upgrade general character stats. Of course (for those who explore) you can find some scrolls with even more talents to learn.
The weapons and spells themselves have a lot of diversity with whips, scythes, swords, and more all doing their part to keep the player engaged. Knowing what weapon to use when approaching one of the many top-notch creature battle patterns is always a delight. Furthermore, most of the bosses that are scattered throughout Engardin all feel enjoyable to battle while learning the patterns.
Related: Best Talents to Unlock First in Afterimage
Healing in the game can be done either through healing runes/stones (the glyphs on the top left) which you can collect more of through your journey or you can use health potions. Your healing spells will always be refreshed every time you rest at a confluence. This method of healing keeps the balance of difficulty steady but still challenging in areas where it needs to be.
Another subset of tools Renee has at her disposal is Afterimages which can act as either movement abilities like a wall-jump (unlocking new areas) or even combat helpers like the “Venomous Spore” that will damage nearby enemies when you are hit. The abilities themselves can be found by defeating bosses or searching for them within the world.
Narrative and Story – Souls, Souls…and More Souls?
The premise of Afterimage’s story is based on Renee (or Ree), the main protagonist of Afterimage. Renee is searching for the soul of Aros (she is known as Madame) to bring Aros back after seeing her soul being absorbed by another woman in a cloak when Renee’s village was destroyed.
Renee is a highly likable person and the same can be said with the majority of characters within the game. Ree’s personality truly held the story together because of the way she interacted with the world around her — she’s virtuous, always looking to help and assist others. However, the story almost boils down to “travel to the Misty Waters” with little further storytelling interaction after you make your way to the Resting Well at the start of the game.
After you pass the Misty Waters you will have to backtrack to places you’ve already been and then traverse to the final area. Each sector is built out with stunning design but there should be more narrative connection beyond what’s found in your journal or from hunting for (nicely written) lore scattered around the word.
The game has multiple endings and this is of a major benefit. What will likely be the most common ending for people takes you to a small cutscene and then boots you back to the main menu without even a credits screen. It feels strange that there isn’t admiration on display for those who worked extensively on making the game what it is — a beauty even with some small flaws.
Companions and Sidequests
Ifree is the floating companion who travels alongside Renee although sometimes has excruciating dialogue choices. For example, in the story, you will meet an adorable penguin named Brenda — the companion of another character called Karsa. What does Ifree do? He berates the penguin. This attempt at humor feels out of place, especially when Renee and Karsa’s first meeting was full of comradery.
Over time Brenda and Ifree do start to communicate a lot more when you meet them again, so there is indeed still a charm to the character development. The sidequests of Afterimage are where the shining light of this Metroidvania shows itself even more. Every character I encountered in them made me want to learn much more about the world because of the whimsical dialogue found within the quests.
Technicality and Level Design – Mazes and Impressive Feats
The overall level design in Afterimage is where the game starts to reveal its pitfalls. Designing effective player pathways is a vital part of the development process and when Afterimage does it well, it flourishes. But in the moments when the world feels like a maze, it only takes joy away from the experience.
Many areas in the map have walls breakable from the other side that block the player off; although the intent is to ensure the player goes another way first, it feels like a cheap and dull way to do so — especially when the main path is not clear. Some of the level design can make it feel as though player exploration is punished instead of rewarded because of those gated areas.
Related: Afterimage Trophies and Achievements Listed
Where the player does discover hidden places concealed by elements, like leaves on the screen, demonstrates undeniable merit to the design. If the general pathway flow had been slightly tweaked in areas to stop players from wondering where to go, the game would likely have seen even further success.
An area of technicality that was impressively implemented was the Marking system for the map. There are various different symbols to use that you can place on the map, i.e. a treasure chest that you can place somewhere, then go back to later. This blends together the aspect of discovery and map navigation in a fruitful but gratifying way.
Music and Sound Design — Effective Symphonies for Afterimage
It can be tough to express just how alluring the Afterimage soundtrack is without hearing it for yourself. The team has done a wonderful job at maintaining Engardin’s artistic image with a soundtrack that matches the world’s aesthetic. One particular standout track was found in the final area of the game known as the Sunken Sanctum which felt like being placed in a church with a heavenly choir.
The music has the effect of essentially placing people into a building in their mind with stained glass on each side while echoes of melodically pristine music are being forced into your soul. The design and production of the soundtrack highlight the care and attention given to the underlying music of the world.
Within the first few hours, Afterimage looks set to take a perfect five out of five score but the sometimes clunky (rat in a maze) level pathways and sub-par explained story hold it back from true greatness. Nonetheless, with a more than 26-hour runtime, Afterimage kept me hooked to my seat as I ventured through the beautiful world with elegantly designed creatures and battles everywhere I turned. For the price of entry — Afterimage is one of the best Metroidvanias I have personally ever played.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.
- This article was updated on May 3rd, 2023