"Despite its low budget feel, however, Aurion has a certain energy to it. There's something inherently likeable and fun about it."
Kiro'o Games is Central Africa's first video game studio. They've been preparing to make and release their first game, Aurion, for over ten years. The first incarnation was a turn-based RPG made using amateur RPG Maker software, and now it's a fully playable action RPG. I've never played an African video game before, and Aurion could be the key to seeing more such games released in the US. Africa and its heritage are often ignored in the West, if not misunderstood, exploited, or exoticized. It's good to see an African fantasy envisioned and made in Africa.
Kiro'o Games has ambition. They hope Aurion is successful enough to launch a franchise, which could help disperse African traditions across the world. Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan is a part of the Kiro'o Tales, a sort of broad category or type of stories that bring together African myths, real African stories, and African traditions. The developers compare them to American comics and Japanese manga, and the game looks and feels like a cartoon, a mix of super heroes, Saturday morning cartoons, and anime. The graphics are bright, colorful, and exaggerated, and the combat involves a sort of Dragonball-esque sense of powering up and pummeling the opponent with impossible and outlandish attacks.
The demo was brief and didn't explore all of the game's features, but I got a feel for the story as well as the battle system. The game follows Enzo Kori-Odan, a prince who doesn't quite make it to the throne of Zama thanks to his brother-in-law's coup d'etat. The would-be king and queen are exiled and must search the world for support in order to safeguard the destiny of Zama.
The translation is incomplete at this point, and while it was difficult to judge the quality of the dialogue, the story seems refreshing despite its familiar premise. I don't think this will be a matter of just another action RPG with an African template; the spirit of the game is indeed African. The setting isn't exactly Africa either; it's the planet Auriona. There are six continents with six major ethnicities. This sounds like ripe territory for exploring difficult ethical issues and the problems the African peoples face every day.
Combat plays out almost like a fighting game, or perhaps it's closer to a 2D Tales game. The system seems simple at first, but then you're introduced to various combos both on land and in the air as well as special abilities and other moves. I fought a few different enemy types, each requiring different strategies. I couldn't use a basic attack on spear-wielders, for example, because of the length of their weapons. The boss battle played much more like a 1v1 match in a fighting game. It was a lengthy encounter with multiple stages and a neat narrative interlude. Overall, there's an emphasis on stringing together combos and unleashing as much damage as possible in a fireworks display of special attacks. There's also a second playable character I used for healing in the boss fight. Her role in the final game is unknown to me, but the potential to make battles even more chaotic and fun is there.
Most of the demo consisted of battles, which implies that combat will take up a similar proportion of the final game. I did explore a small village and talk to a few NPCs. The menu wasn't available and neither was the ability-crafting system promised in the full version. There are experience levels, however, and various stats as well as items, so it seems that most of the conventional RPG features are in place.
Aside from the translation, Aurion has some other rough edges as well. The animation is choppy, and some of the graphics are of a lower resolution than the rest. The collision detection is also some of the worst I've experienced. Despite its low budget feel, however, Aurion has a certain energy to it. There's something inherently likeable and fun about it. And it's something we haven't seen before, and that might be more important now than ever. The developers seem as enthusiastic as can be, and I hope they can polish this to near perfection.