Afterimage Reminds Me Of Child Of Light In All The Best Ways

Afterimage Reminds Me Of Child Of Light In All The Best Ways

The name 'Metroidvania' has always seemed a little weird to me. It's not unheard of for games to become so ubiquitous they give birth to the genre ('roguelike' literally means 'like the game Rogue'), but come on guys. This is just two game names slapped together like they're a celebrity couple who name their children after fruits or states or ingredients in a consommé. We've convinced ourselves that it sounds catchy, but that's only because we say it so much. It's too long and the '-oidvan-' hits the ear wrong. Plus, 'vania' sounds too much like 'mania', making you think a Metroidvania is a cabal of screaming Metroid fans. All this to say I don't really like it, but I have found myself going all in on the latest Metroidvania: Afterimage.

The rant about Metroidvania naming conventions was going somewhere, I promise. Another reason I dislike the name is because Metroid and Castlevania are no longer the driving forces, but they're still iconic enough that the name is indelibly linked to them. Many are unaware of Rogue, so it doesn't feel intrusive with 'roguelike'. However, everyone knows what Metroid and Castlevania are, even if these days we consider the likes of Hollow Knight, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Dead Cells to be the apex. It feels as though having the genre be defined by the two games that did it best 30 years ago can hold it back. That's why I'm grateful for Afterimage.

My favourite Metroidvania is a game some don't consider to be much of a Metroidvania at all – Child of Light. Ubisoft's underrated 2014 cult classic has all the elements you'd expect of a Metroidvania, but is discounted because it plays like neither of the games which make up the genre's name. It added JRPG mechanics, turn-based battles, and a more directly affecting story into the mix, but rather than viewing it as an evolution of Metroidvania, the narrow confines of the genre refused to move, and so Child of Light is not often considered amongst 'true' Metroidvanias. However, you can feel its influence throughout Afterimage.

In my hands-on demo, I was only able to explore around 90 minutes of what developer Aurogon Shanghai promises is a 40 hour experience, so I have only had a small taste of where things may go. The battles aren't turn-based, but that aside, I feel a lot Child of Light here. First, there's the painterly art style; modern Metroidvanias have abandoned the typical harshness, but none have quite embraced beauty like Child of Light until now.

Then there's the story. Afterimage could dissolve into disappointing video game tropes of overpromising with the call to adventure and failing to deliver with any substance, but from what I've seen, I respect the attempt to create meaningful characters and set up a world with deeper lore and overlapping stories in the background. Metroidvanias get too hung up on having a straight plot which explains the reason to escape/survive/overcome, but Child of Light brought in conventions of other video games to elevate itself.

The customisation also feels more thorough and closer to what Child of Light was aiming for. Upgrades are a core part of Metroidvanias, but they're often used as ways to keep doors or pathways closed off until you have the right tool. There's a little bit of that in Afterimage (I unlocked a double jump ability to reach paths which were once too high), but you can also customise protagonist Renee's boots, coat, and weapons to change both the aesthetic appeal and to offer different upgrades. Some are clear choices (a sword with Attack +3 is better than one with Attack +2), but in other cases you'll choose between more health for worse attack, better range for slower speed, and other sorts of compromises that the 'constant growth' upgrades of the Metroidvania formula don't often consider.

I'm not sure if Afterimage will live up to this promise in the full version. With 90 minutes, I've only played 3.75 percent of the 40 hour experience, so there's a lot of room for things to grow stale, fall flat, or fail to deliver on its promise. But there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful. The Metroidvania genre feels too resistant to change, but Afterimage is reminiscent of the one game that pushed it harder than most.

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