We’re fairly confident in saying that Afterimage is one of the most beautiful metroidvanias we’ve played.
Its world is rich and colourful, with each new area you come across just as vivid and masterfully crafted as the one before it. It’s a moving work of art: linger on any scene in the game and you’ll be amazed with how much detail pours out of the environment. It’s in fact sometimes too detailed, with enemies often not being visible against the dense backgrounds. That’s just one of Afterimage‘s issues, but like the rest of them you’ll learn to overcome it. Because, despite its flaws, there’s just something about this side-scrolling adventure that keeps us coming back.
There is a story to Afterimage, but we can’t say we cared too much about it. All we know is that mankind is no more, and the remaining human settlements have been attacked by dark forces. Our protagonist, a young girl named Renee, is a survivor of one of these attacks. Her journey is initially one to simply find her missing mentor, but along the way she’s going to encounter more than she bargained for.
It’s a somewhat convoluted tale of good and evil, but it feels rather superfluous. It’s a shame, too, because all dialogue is voiced – which is an unusual (but welcome) choice for this type of game. Your interest in the narrative might differ, of course, but we found ourselves simply wanting to get back to the action.
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Smooth, swift and with plenty of upgrades to find and unlock, controlling Renee through Afterimage is a joy. She moves at a quick pace, with her jumps and attacks always feeling responsive. But since this is a traditional metroidvania, her skillset is somewhat limited at the beginning. She can jump, and perform a couple of basic attacks. That’s it. It’s not long until you’ll start finding all the pathways blocked off to her: platforms requiring a double-jump; small gaps in the wall that you’ll need to crouch through; unstable parts of the ground that need to be broken from above. And plenty more: over the course of Afterimage, you’ll find 12 different abilities for Renee.
Our main gripe, at least in the first 10 hours or so of playing Afterimage, is that unlocking new abilities feels slow – and somewhat random. On more than one occasion we’ve defeated a boss, feeling like it was a momentous occasion, only to be rewarded with some random material that’s of no real use to us. Instead, we’ve found new abilities squirreled away in hard-to-reach areas of the map. This is a game that requires a lot of patience and a lot of exploring. Many times we’ve found ourselves in high level areas because we’ve seemingly exhausted all possible pathways in the previous areas. But most of the time, a return visit has uncovered something we previously missed.
That goes to say that Afterimage doesn’t hold your hand. Other than a vague instruction early on to “keep moving east”, you’ll never be given objective markers. You’ll need to find your own way through the game’s rich, interwoven world. And that undoubtedly means coming upon many dead ends before finding the right way forward. And often, the right way forward means going backwards, as is usually the case in a metroidvania game. Each time you unlock a new skill, you’ll need to jog your memory as to previous locations where that skill might come in handy. Where did you see a hole in the wall that you could only crouch through? Go there, and it might hold the answers you need to move forward. Or it might simply be a hidden bit of treasure.
That brings us to another gripe we have with Afterimage: you can fast travel, but only when you have a certain potion in your inventory. These potions are rather hard to come across, and so your ability to quickly move from one area to another is hampered. When fast travel points are rather sparse to begin with, it feels like a mean-spirited and somewhat pointless restriction, forcing you to travel long distances on foot (and completely locking off some areas that you can’t return to without the ability to fast travel).
Afterimage likes to make things difficult for you in general, actually: this isn’t an easy game by any means. Out of nowhere, you’ll wander into the path of an enemy that will decimate two thirds of your health bar in one hit. And you’ll find yourself confronted with a boss without any warning at all (there are, after all, 30 of them throughout the game). Even regular enemies can put up a good fight if you’re not prepared. You’ll need to become adept at dodging out of the way and learning how to time a parry, countering your enemy’s attack just at the right time. Health potions are scarce, too, making careful, measured combat even more important.
There’s a great sense of progression in Afterimage via Renee’s upgrades. Even if you feel like you’ve reached a dead end while exploring, every enemy you take down will make you that bit stronger. Earning experience will increase your level, with each new level giving you a skill point that can be spent in a sprawling skill tree: improve your attack, your health, or unlock new abilities for your weapons of choice. New weapons and equipment can be found too, giving Renee more power – and items found while exploring can be used to upgrade weapons to make them even more powerful. The titular Afterimage system allows you to equip various abilities, too: the first we found spewed a toxic cloud every time we took damage, draining health from our attackers.
You can expect to spend around 40 hours with Afterimage, seeing Renee’s journey through to its end. For some of that time you might feel like you’re not making much progress, or you don’t know where to go next. If you persevere, however, it’ll be worth your time. Seek out a pathway you might have missed before; scour your map for a corridor you’ve not yet travelled down. It feels like hard work at times, but each obstacle you overcome – be it a boss you take down or a new area you discover – is seriously rewarding.
Sure, Afterimage has plenty of flaws. It’s a little too difficult at times. Its choice to lock fast travel behind a rare potion is frustrating. And it’s all too easy to feel like you’re at a dead end. But despite its issues, it has kept us coming back for more. This is a beautiful metroidvania with a huge, impeccably-designed world that begs to be explored. Whether you’re a long-time metroidvania fan or enjoy action RPGs, Afterimage is well worth pouring some time into.