AER: Memories of Old's calm atmosphere and laid-back gameplay make it decent chill pill, but its intriguing narrative and lore winds up being wasted.
Peaceful, mysterious, and barren would all be apt descriptions or AER: Memories of Old. Set in a scenic world of fractured, floating islands, players control a chosen warrior with the ability to transform into a bird. Soaring through the skies to unravel an ancient mystery won’t deliver a million thrills a minute, and aspects of the world definitely underwhelm, but AER can be a chill way to burn a couple of hours.
As Auk, players must prevent an oncoming catastrophe by collecting pieces of a fractured artifact across three temples. A mystical lantern acts as Auk’s primary tool, used to activate magic devices and illuminate ghostly images of the world’s previous occupants. Gameplay lacks combat, instead focusing purely on traversal either by foot or by wing. Taking flight in bird form feels fun and liberating, and the performance holds up in handheld mode.
Temples act as the most entertaining and substantial gameplay segments. Short, simple, and sweet, exploring them mostly involves activating nodes to open doors though they do incorporate some platforming and light puzzle-solving. One of the most involved temples requires scaling a multi-floor tower to turn on enough switches to open an underground entrance. “Streamlined” would best describe these dungeons; anyone hoping for the second coming of Zelda will be greatly disappointed. Still, they match AER’s overall mission statement of giving players a nice time without making them do too much.
Overworld exploration feels similarly light but more unfulfilling. AER’s larger-than-expected world is intentionally empty for lore reasons. Ancient tablets and scrolls to do the heavy-lifting in the world-building department, along with a handful of NPCs. The problem comes in finding the motivation to seek out this additional info as much of it lies outside of the brief main quest. Learning about old animal gods and how the once-unified land became shattered can be intriguing if not head-scratching. The ideas have promise, but the desire to learn this stuff ultimately comes down to not having any other extracurricular alternatives.
With so many landmasses, AER feels ripe for more engaging discoveries. Occasionally you’ll find a cave containing more notes or have a fruitless chat with a divine animal but that’s about it. The game doesn’t need to be Skyrim or have anything close to that level of side content. But it’s disappointing to realize you’re gliding over most places because there’s little reason to visit them. For the less engaged, you’re better off just beelining it through the three temples as AER doesn’t offer much else beyond ruined architecture and pretty landscaping.
Another issue is that all of AER: Memories of Old's lore feels undercut by the flat main narrative, specifically its abrupt conclusion. The game just ends out of nowhere without resolving story threads. What happens to the world and the friends you meet? What becomes of the great darkness? Who knows. Cryptic finales are one thing, but this is so jarring that at first it seems like AER skipped a cutscene or some other glitch occurred. It also makes the time spent flying around and turning over every stone for information feel largely meaningless since it doesn’t pay off in the end. That’s a shame because the story, while not amazing, is at least serviceable up to that point.
At best, AER can be a relaxing and contemplative experience. At worst, it can be confusing bore. The pleasing presentation makes it easy on the eyes, and its relaxed gameplay makes it a solid game to veg out with. Just don’t get too invested in what’s actually going on as the mildly interesting ideas wind up going largely unrealized.
AER: Memories of Old is available now for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided a digital Switch code for the purposes of this review.