AER: Memories of Old is like the beautiful lovechild of Journey and The Legend of Zelda. It has the unmistakable indie whimsy of the former and takes clear inspiration from the latter. It's a simple but wonderful little experience, focusing on exploration, light puzzle elements, and relaxation.
AER guides you through a broken yet peaceful world where islands float in the sky. You traverse this reasonably large and open map as Auk, a young woman on what is essentially a spiritual pilgrimage. Tasked with visiting three distant and ancient temples, you learn of the world's history alongside Auk as you glide from place to place.
And you really do glide. Auk has the ability to shapeshift into a bird and take to the sky with the push of a button. In the same way that ABZU makes the act of swimming feel joyous, AER captures the freedom of flying brilliantly. The controls are silky smooth to the point where just aimlessly soaring across the map feels brilliant.
Once you make it to one of the aforementioned temples, the gameplay changes gears. Each location is linear in structure, and you'll need to solve a bunch of basic but enjoyable puzzles to proceed. The temples themselves are neatly and intuitively designed, as puzzles can open up shortcuts or give you a subtle push towards what you should be doing next. It's all very clever without ever being complex.
We do wonder whether AER tries to dig a little too deep for its own good, however. In very Zelda fashion, a lot of exposition is delivered through tidy text boxes, whether you're talking to one of the game's few characters or you're reading a big stone tablet left over from when the world was whole. AER attempts subtle storytelling, but it all comes off a bit convoluted, particularly since the rest of the experience is so carefree.
The title clearly has a tale that it wants to tell, but it's handled clumsily. Chat to one of the game's inhabitants and they'll spew a ton of dialogue, rambling about old gods and rituals and throwing out various names that you'll likely struggle to remember or associate with anything. Again, the amount of exposition that gets tossed your way just doesn't quite gel with the feel of such a pleasant, breezy game.
Still, the storytelling stumbles certainly aren't enough to spoil what is otherwise a delight for your eyes and ears. The game's visual style is minimalist, opting for bright, vibrant colours on top of simplistic polygonal assets, and the result is a clean, lovely looking title.
It's the soundtrack that really steals the show, though. The audio mostly consists of ambient synth mood music, but percussion and other instruments kick in dynamically when you decide to spread your wings. It's incredibly relaxing, and really helps sell the sense of freedom that's so key to the release.
Up there with the likes of Journey and ABZU, AER: Memories of Old is simple, elegant, and impactful. It's a heartfelt game that's a joy to play, and although its storytelling does feel like it gets in the way at times, your worries will evaporate when you're soaring effortlessly from one floating island to the next.