If there's a checklist for revenge you'd imagine it would go something like this: Step One – dig two graves; Step Two – serve cold. In AeternoBlade – a new action platform title on the PlayStation Vita – the game's heroine, Freyja, could certainly use just such a list. Not only has her hometown just been levelled by Dark Lord Beladim's demon army, but she's managed to end up the sole survivor of the onslaught to boot. As a result it's down to her to dispense vengeance at the appropriately chilly temperature.
As luck would have it, Freyja manages to come into the possession of the fabled AeternoBlade, a weapon that allows its owner to manipulate time. Using its unique abilities to cheat death at the hands of the Dark Lord himself, Freyja sets off on her quest to take down the immortal Beladim for good. What follows is a straight up revenge tale, that initially has the potential to break out of its formula, but misses the opportunity to capitalise on its interesting time travelling elements.
Kicking off with a comically basic pre-rendered cutscene – which looks like its arrived a couple of decades late – it comes as no surprise, that the in-engine graphics also turn out to be sub-par. Marred by basic backgrounds, bland textures, and a thoroughly uninspired aesthetic, the title's 2.5D art style is immediately at a disadvantage when put alongside other more stylish competitors. It's also quite apparent that the move onto the more powerful Vita hardware – having previously debuted on the Nintendo 3DS – hasn't brought with it any major improvements.
Structurally, the foray falls squarely into Metroidvania territory, with each of the title's seven stages chock full of nooks and crannies to explore. Some of these areas require the solving of puzzles – though the use of your time bending abilities – to reach, so if you want to fully explore, you'll need to backtrack after you've unlocked more of your blade's spells. While solving these puzzles is quite fun, the decision to divide the world into smaller stages makes each area feel linear with very little to find off the beaten path.
On top of the exploration, there's also plenty of combat, with each level littered with all manner of beasts for you to slay. By hitting the circle button you'll unleash an attack with your blade, and pushing in any direction on the d-pad – or analogue stick – modifies your thrusts into some more damaging combos. While additional attack strings can be unlocked as part of the game's character upgrade system, fighting the basic enemies never gets particularly complex or exciting, largely boiling down to you mashing circle over and over again, stun locking your target and giving them no chance to hit you back.
This makes most of the combat exceptionally easy, and it's only when you come up against some of the stronger enemies that you'll feel any challenge at all. The problem is that during the many 'boss' fights, the difficulty swings too far the other way, frequently creeping over into frustration. These encounters are also packed full of unavoidable attacks, making them battles of attrition, rather than an opportunity for you to demonstrate your mastery of the mechanics. That said, you do need to employ your time bending skills if you're to have any hope of taking these monsters down.
In a fight, the most useful of your talents is the AeternoBlade's aforementioned ability to rewind time. Not only can you cheat death by going back to just before you died to try something different, but you can also hit the R button at any point to set time in reverse. By activating this, everything around you – with the exception of certain parts of the environment – will move in reverse, and you can toggle it on and off to trap enemies in the same animation cycle. This allows you to unleash a flurry of attacks from a position of relative safety, though you'll need to use this sparingly as your mana pool can deplete quite quickly.
As already alluded, you can unlock new attacks – or upgrade the potency of those already at your disposal – by spending yellow orbs accumulated by killing enemies. These orbs can also be spent upgrading Freyja's attributes, letting you increase not only her health, mana pool, and attack power, but also some of her more powerful moves, such as her 'ultimate', which unleashes a storm of attacks against all of the enemies on the screen at once. This offers you the opportunity to tailor your upgrades to your preferred playstyle, and there's a decent sense of progression, as visually your attack combos get much more elaborate.
On top of this more traditional upgrade system, you're also able to equip relics into one of three slots in order to provide additional buffs. Relics are littered throughout the game's levels, and have a variety of different effects, such as decreasing the damage you take while time travelling, or giving you a massive health increase, with the unfortunate downside that your energy will gradually deplete over time.
These relics are pretty much the only reward for exploration, and even mainlining your way through each of the levels will leave you with more than you know what to do with. It's also quite common to get duplicates of those that you've already collected, enabling you to stack several with the same effect for an even bigger boost.
A single play-through of Freyja's quest will take around six or seven hours, though if you plan on seeing the story right through to its conclusion, you'll need to take on Beladim a second time. This is essentially a New Game Plus, where you retain your previously acquired upgrades while fighting through a remix of stronger enemies. This is great if you fancy completing all of the upgrades available, or plan to explore 100 per cent of each stage; however, it's more than likely that you'll have had your fill way before that point.
Despite low expectations, AeternoBlade manages to show some promise in its time manipulating mechanics – especially when they're used to solve puzzles and explore. Ultimately, though, this single strength is compromised by the rest of the package. From the bland presentation to the boring combat, what could have been a nice addition to the Vita's library instead turns into a thoroughly run of the mill action platformer, which will make you wish that you could turn back time so that you could choose something different to play.