This debut title from Kiro’o Games, centered in Yaounde, Cameroon, receives high marks from me. Read on to find out why.
I wound up saying this repeatedly in my rough drafts, so I will try to condense the sentiment here. I do not like to get political in my gaming reviews. I have an outlet for that elsewhere on the site. I should share this however. In all my gaming experience, Africa is not a country that comes up often if ever. I see languages in English, Spanish, French, and Japanese frequently. I see sales figures from those countries. In production, content (story elements inside a game) and consumption, Africa rarely to never comes up. This echoes and resonates with me rarely to never seeing characters in American media that I can simply accept.
I have no strong connections to Africa. I cannot trace my lineage back to that continent. What I am is a lifelong gamer and nerd, and for a brief instance in my life I am able to indulge in a story that I can see myself in. A young, dreadlocked me gleefully preordered this game, because there was finally a protagonist who looked like I wished to when I grew up. He was spiritual, educated, open to learning, and last but not least, working in tandem with his Queen.
This is Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan. This is a game I have yearned for all my life.
Action RPG, Side Scroller, Platformer
Battles like Tales of Phantasia, fields akin to Final Fantasy
Bias Points: New Company, Original IP, Notable Story Elements, Setting, Music
Even when taking my biases into consideration, Aurion earned the high score from me. Depending upon your range of play styles in games you may not find the controls to be inventive or unique, but not every game NEEDS to be. Aurion delivers a game that fits cleanly together and, for me, ran with no problems. Out of the ~100 or so games that I own on PC, Aurion was in the 20 or so titles that I played both on my old laptop and my new PC. For context, my laptop could only run PlayStation 2 era games and earlier. The experience has been pleasing both times through.
Enzo Kori-Odan is the prince of the kingdom Zama. We meet him on the day of his joint wedding and ascent to becoming king. Before the celebrations can begin in earnest, he sets off to chase off a group of bandits who are ransacking the city. However, before he can return to the palace a new threat emerges and lays siege to the city.
After a number of battles Enzo and Erine, his wife and queen, push themselves beyond their limits and overcome their assailants.
Even so, they are ousted from their thrones. Realizining they are not strong enough to simply retake the city they set out to find allies to help reclaim their home. Enzo is left to wonder if he is worthy to bear the mantle of king, to be a leader to his people, and to honor the legacy of his ancestors.
Enzo Kori-Odan is the protagonist. His fall from power is the inciting incident of our story as told above. He quickly learns that, while the King of Zama, he knows little about the rest of the world. Learning of the world reveals to him much of himself, and in turn leads to his personal empowerment. One thing I like the most about both Enzo and Erine are that they are empowered protagonists.
Erine Kori-Odan (formerly Erine Evou) proceeds in lockstep with Enzo. While in combat she responds to the players’ commands, she is a force to be reckoned with in the story. She is both humble and definate as the Queen of Zama. She is attuned spiritually in balance with Enzo’s physical prowess.
Nama Yode served as Enzo’s Ju’u, or teacher. She is responsible for teaching the one day king the martial art of Caaro Agrodan, “The Vengeful Spider”. She herself is one of the worlds’ most renowned warriors.
Dramane Akhey-Ron is the Bojaa Prince, and a friendly rival to Enzo acting as his “Aurionic Link”. Throughout the story, Dramane’s counter to Enzo reveals and builds up both characters.
All of the characters in this game are lovingly animated. While the graphics are simply flipped when they turn from left to right, the animations for the battle cutscenes are impressive none-the-less. They are vital and responsive, and the art style was fun to watch.
This is the sort of game I like because it is difficult for me to discuss theming without mechanics and vice versa.
The biggest theme central to the player is that of personal growth. From the Aurions to the story itself, Enzo comes to understand more and more about his world. These realizations empower him, literally, and allow him to overcome challenges as they arise.
The Aurions highlight this most plainly. At the beginning of the game, Enzo has access to “Honor”, the Aurionic Legacy of his family. Throughout the game, in times of doubt, he returns to this core tenant of his being. How will he be an honorable king? Husband? Friend? It would not be much of a story without conflict, but by knowing himself Enzo gains the means to adapt to the world and harmonize with his own purpose.
As I will mention, this is reinforced mechanically. The Most Powerful Woman in the World is one who has had a full Awakening, having access to all four primary Pillars. The difference in power between Enzo with three Pillars and four Pillars is astronomical. It is a very successful way to show-not-tell the importance of more fully walking ones’ individual journey.
Atop this, no one ideology had a monopoly on a given power. e.g. Sith being the sole wielders of Force Lightning (with exception) in the Star Wars universe. Just as Enzo walks his path focusing on Honor, one of the first bosses you face expresses his power via Treachery. His life led him to believe that being ruthless was the only way to live, and that empowers him. The bosses you face in this world have Awakened in their own fashion too. I felt for all my opponents because it was Enzo’s ideology of Honor fighting against the realizations of others who walked the worlds’ trails.
And the elements are not hard locked either. Nama Yode, Enzo’s Ju’u (teacher), defaults to the element of Air in her Aurionic state. For her it represents Realism. When Enzo acquires his Air Pillar, it is Relativity.
The one that struck me most was Dramane. When you first meet him, Lightning is his go-to element, but it is marked by Glibness.
Dramane’s whole character is that of a cocky, haughty, narcissistic, and nearly self-obsessed pampered prince. Between his introduction and initial clash, he sits down in the middle of an emergency to polish his sword Guedal for no other reason than because he doesn’t want enemy fluids running down his arm.
His power extends from him being a little detached. Not taking things too seriously. Like Lightning, jumping from place to place simply because points A and B are conductive. Dramane is hard pressed to be serious like Enzo because the Bojaa Prince doesn’t look at the world the same. Enzo can come into the element of Lightning as well. For him, it represents Enzo’s Dynamism, and must be revealed through meditation. This shows that each journey is individual. We may all come to learn Fire, but what it represents to each of us may differ. In truth, how we use that power may be more important than how we define it.
Erine has major character development all the way through the story as well. Enzo and Erine are often challenged by people who are by some measure their equals. Throughout your journey you come across other royalty, warriors, and mystic philosophers. Your protagonists views are challenged, and via Aurionic Dialogue (boss battles) one mindset is left to go on and be spread. While Erine is not focused on finding her Pillars, she is active in the story with other characters, sometimes acting when Enzo refuses to.
Everything in this game felt filled with meaning. It is densely packed, and no instance is wasted to reveal information about characters or facets of the world. In it’s most generalized sense, I consider it an RPG from Africa. The cultural references were everywhere. My lack of familiarity gave it a new feeling, but it was educational all the same.
One of my expectations was to have an experience full of tangential learning. Having played JRPGs I passively picked up a good deal of Japanese culture and mythology. And when they threw in other mythologies I picked up on them. Shiva, Ifrit, and Odin are Final Fantasy staples. It is not uncommon to see a powerful Lightning spell named Mjollnir in, say, Breath of Fire III. I remember playing Final Fantasy XI and freaking out when I saw a “Sidhe”, because that is normally reserved for powerful Fairies in real world mythology, not something you find in the starter areas of a game.
I did not have as much of this as I wanted, but it was present. I was hoping there would be rampant voice acting so that I could pick up, mimic, and integrate words into my lexicon. Again, first game from a new company. I didn’t let this diminish my experience.
The spells did not let me down. Much like my above example from Breath of Fire III, the elemental techniques used in the game evoked deities from the African continent. Some I knew. Others were, well… new.
Shango and Ogun were both familiar to me. As deities in the Yoruban pantheon both were considered for my role as a Nubian Prince. I wound up going with Ogun, in part because he is revered as being a maker of paths. Shango, to my knowledge, is a storm deity and granted deference due to his rage. In Aurion, Shango’s spell is a large fireball that is sourced from Erine and Enzo’s combined anger. Ogun, on the other hand, unleashes two pillar of flames.
The others required me to look them up.
Aja is a forest deity with provence over potion making (do not get me started on my love of alchemy and potion making in games) and herbs for healing. The only healing spell you get or need is linked with her name.
Mawu, a Moon Goddess often linked with Creation, is connected to Erine’s spell channeling Darkness.
The other connections are a bit more strained, but they are present and gave me some fun research to conduct.
Another opportunity that was not wasted were in healing items. They were all some type of consumable, be it a potion or salve, prepared foodstuff, or edible root, plant, or leaf. Again, it was fun to research the little aspects that were revealed.
The whole game works. Having played it from start to finish my only complaint is that the area in which to activate conversations, puzzle elements, and Caloos (treasure chests) is VERY exact. Once I figured it out it was less of an issue, especially since later in the game the NEED to engage in these tasks is all but gone. I never wound up being stuck, glitching into someplace impassible, or feeling uncertain of where to go on the field. The battles are wildly enjoyable for the sheer amount of variation allowed in them.
One bit of mechanics I enjoyed were, oddly, the Achievements. There are 159 to gain in total, though most of them come up in the course of completing the story. The “Respect” series of acievements are the ones that I liked the most. They speak to the character of Enzo, the world, and to some degree the enemies you face.
Dramane, at one point, speaks of “Donga”, or an “Aurionic Dialouge”, which is a way of fighting to earn recognition from your enemies. To accomplish this, you push your oppenent into the use of their Aurions before you use yours. Usually bosses will resort to this between 25~50% of their health. I have noticed that, if you adhere to this protocol, you tend to get better and more unique rewards from bosses. This makes it worthwhile in and of itself.
From a character standpoint, this frames Enzo as a competent fighter who is able to handle challenges without resorting to Aurion use.
Much like the Devil May Cry series, namely 3 and 4, anything you see in cutscenes you can do yourself. I always hated, when games were more limited, that cutscenes were awesome to watch but your avatar controlled like a popsicle stick puppet.
(Controls spoken of from use with a Steam Controller)
Most of the time you can avoid combat. On the world map, an icon will indicate that you can enter a battle by pressing a face button. Inside each area coming into contact with enemy graphics will set you in an arena. The battles take place entirely on a two-dimensional plane. You cannot move into a background like you can in the majority of the game.
I found the controls for combat to be simple and intuitive.
Ascent is limited to jumps, dodges (from the ground only), rising techniques, and any platforms that are accessible. In boss battles there are ordinarily no such footholds. In fact, if the battles do not take place on a level field, the terrain will ordinarily benefit the boss in some fashion.
Enzo possess attacks which can be used at anytime. These base attacks chain infinitely. When the attack button is held Enzo can perform a power attack. This can break through enemy defenses and, in some cases, knock an enemy back into another causing damage. When used in the air Enzo can be kept aloft for a time.
Enzo is able to block. At the beginning of the game this saps him of any mobility. As he grows in power he will be able to walk, jump, and run while maintaining a defensive posture. Successful blocks eat your Stamina.
Additionally, Enzo is able to engage in dodging maneuvers. Much like blocking, this also takes stamina. This will allow him to evade attacks that can not be jumped over or blasted through. Attacks chained from dodging can not only break enemy defenses, but paralyze them for a time as well allowing for a continued assault.
Holding down on the control stick will have Enzo enter a state of Aurionic Charge which has a variety of effects that will be explained as needed.
The stats used in combat can become “exhausted”. For instance, if you make constant use of blocking and dodging, not only will it use up your stamina, but it will reduce the maximum amount of stamina you can recover via Aurionic Charging (once your skills allow for it).
The directional buttons serve as hotkeys. By default, they are set with items. The primary use is to restore in battle stats, namely the parts that have been exhausted. Continuing from above, if you have nearly depleted your functional Stamina to zero, using items for stamina will increase your functional stamina back toward maximum levels. Additionally, using LB will switch the hotkeys over to your favored Aurions.
These are your empowered states in the game. For Enzo, each one after the first is aligned with at least one element. Each will boost your parameters in some way. Stats, elemental affinities (which affect offense and defense), or both will be altered in some way.
Activating, remaining within, and using techniques of each Aurionic State requires the use of AP. You will have items can restore AP, as well as use the Aurionic Charge to do so. While in an Aurionic State you can “overcharge” yourself, giving you more battle prowess and a larger AP pool. However, if done carelessly you’ll begin to damage your HP. You can’t completely take out your HP, but leaving yourself with only 1 HP at the wrong time is as good as a knockout.
At one point in the game you are led to learn how to Fuse Pillars. Starting from the first two Pillars of Fire and Water, you awaken Darkness and Light. A few times you will find a new element, such as Ice or Lightning. The majority will actually combine multiple elements.
Each Aurionic state comes with its own unique moveset. These are on a separate control scheme from Enzo’s regular moves, so they can be chained together. Including basic attacks, this leaves you with six attack options ready to use at any time.
Each Aurionic state has an ultimate technique that is charged up through successive attacks. It is a good idea to use them all once and see how they act. There is little worse of using one and having it miss completely. Worth note, these ultimate attacks will stay charged even if you switch to another. This would allow for 21 Ultimate Attacks to be available all at once if one were diligent.
There is a MAJOR boost in power and versatility when you gain your fourth and final Pillar. “The most powerful people in the world” are those that have been fully awakened and have four base Pillars. This is expressed in the gameplay. Once Enzo has his final Awakening, you can complete all the fusions filling out your list. This includes simultaneous Light+Dark, Triple Elements, and the ultimate Quadruple Elemental states.
Erine proves to be more spiritually inclined, and as such serves as a proficient magic user. She can be summoned with a set of commands that is similar to Enzo’s “stock” techniques. At first she only has healing magic, but tends to grow in step with Enzo regarding elemental affinity and versatilitiy.
At the beginning of the game Erine will be limited to using one spell, then phasing away. As the game continues and your compatability level increases she will gain the means to use up to four. I admit, I never integrated Erine properly into my combat even on the toughest difficulty. As such, I did not /need/ the greater spell usage. It was more efficient for me to have her use her spell and vanish.
Returning to this game for writing this review, I am finding myself enjoying replaying it though there is no particular advantage in doing so. Like many an RPG in the world, you start each game anew. The only advantage is your foreknowledge of enemy patterns. This can let you have some fun.
One element I discovered are Boss interactions. In order to power up your Aurions, it is good to hotkey the state you wish to use for regular battles. But in the boss encounters, entering different states may garner different reactions. Not having to worry about achievements and certain victories allowed me to play around and cycle through these a bit more. Often times the achievements themselves will guide you to these.
As there are no achievements for completing the game on any particular difficulty, a replay can be at a higher setting. The enemies do not change their attack patterns, but the damage ratio is more favorable to the player. Conversely, if you turn down the difficulty you can play around with less than favorable battle selections just to try something new. You can stick with your favorite Aurionic combinations for longer rather than needing to play to any particular weakness.
Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan is a wonderful game. I was amazed at how well put together it all was, especially as a debut offering. Having it run on my old laptop was amazing enough. Playing through it once more, the experience was even better. It ran smoothly and was engaging the whole way through. It succeeded at being fun, had a healthy challenge, but also leaves me thinking. I am richer for my time with Aurion. It is titles like this that inspire my own aims in writing. I am happy to leave this title firmly on my hard drive even feeling I have taken in this work completely.