Aeterna Noctis is what happens when a creative takes their muse too far and the end result becomes impenetrable. Hollow Knight was a watershed metroidvania when it came out in 2017. It stunned gamers everywhere with its meticulous art and crushing combat, set in an imaginative world.
As if the “metroidvania” sub genre wasn’t played out and over saturated enough; Hollow Knight’s success would at least lead to a higher standard of quality. Aeternum Game Studios S.L was seemingly founded on the principle of; “how can Hollow Knight be topped?”. Could it be done? Is being bigger and more challenging than Hollow Knight enough? What does Aeterna Noctis offer to be unique from other metroidvanias? To find out, read on in our Aeterna Noctis review!
Developer: Aeternum Game Studios S.L
Publisher: Aeternum Game Studios S.L
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: December 15, 2021
Price: $34.99 USD
Aeterna Noctis is about two avatars of elements who are in an eternal power struggle against each other. The Queen of Light versus the King of Darkness battle for all time and when one falls, the other rules until the loser rises back up. Then they do battle again and the cycle repeats till the end of time.
Losing a battle means being stripped of divinity and having to embark on a journey to require the power of ages in order to face their opponent. It just so happens that the latest battle between light and dark had the avatar of darkness fall, where he gets cast out from the heavens.
As the fallen King of Darkness, the player has to go through the motions of regaining his lost abilities. This is the heart of Aeterna Noctis’ gameplay and like almost every indie action game today; it’s gotta be a metroidvania.
It is a sly set-up that is seemingly fourth-wall breaking. The King of Darkness himself is a very appropriate avatar for the player since he has done this kind of labor many times from his prior losses. He knows the drill as well as the player does and his impatient demeanor is relatable to anyone who consumes metroidvanias.
There is more than just a cheeky framework to the narrative. Several twists and mysteries that make up the core message of the story make the scenario more memorable – predictable, though they may be. Like always in these kinds of games, the crushing difficulty overshadows anything to do with the plot.
Nobody will remember or care about the story of Aeterna Noctis. The two features that will always be brought over over anything else in this release will either be its similarities to Hollow Knight or the unyielding difficulty that the poor King of Darkness must endure during his quest for power.
Most metroidvanias out there start challenging but get easier over time thanks to increased HP limits, better weapons or due to some powerful abilities. In Aeterna Noctis, it seems like the challenge never lets up and somehow only gets more intense with progress.
Early on, the environment is very flexible and open with much harder optional areas that are beatable but are outrageously demanding of the player’s reflexes and accuracy. It can be easy to get distracted by these areas and pour hours into a single gauntlet to try to earn the upgrade at the end.
Aeterna Noctis not only sets players loose in a very large environment, but also permits them the freedom to test their mettle at advanced challenges very early on. The rewards for braving these tasks are always worth it, but come at the cost of the brutal learning curve and countess deaths.
Developing our Aeterna Noctis review proved to be an brutal undertaking. This led to endless retries from mistakes, due to the gameplay being extremely precise and unforgiving. Combat feels a lot like Hollow Knight’s pin-point accurate sword strikes which belt out at blistering speeds but leave a slight opening.
The King of Darkness is able to rebound off threats or some deadly obstacles using his attacks in a way that isn’t dissimilar to Scrooge McDuck would bound off of danger with his pogo-cane. Mastering this becomes paramount for the later stages of Aeterna Noctis and having the dexterity to execute varying chains of abilities with precision is crucial for survival.
The King of Darkness has very tight controls and there is often very little room for error, especially during many platforming sequences with instant death pits or deadly hazards. Aeterna Noctis is not a metroidvania where players can lazily roam and take it easy while exploring; expect to always be on your guard and react quickly to everything around the King.
In their quest to supersede Hollow Knight, Aeternum Game Studios S.L sought to outdo it in every aspect possible. Aeterna Noctis is indeed, one of the biggest metroidvania games ever produced. The King of Darkness has an unbelievably massive skill tree that is dense with useful moves that aid in combat and traversal.
The vast gallery of bosses, mid-bosses and enemies are truly impressive and all of them have complex patterns to learn. Bosses especially can feel like hitting a wall the first couple of times the King falls. They usually have multiple stages and trying to avoid their attacks using abilities can lead to moments where players get their hands tied up.
With so many abilities, it can become overwhelming to keep them all in mind, especially in the heat of a battle when the King has only one hit left. It is both exhilarating and anger-inducing, but worth it when the wave of relief washes over after a hard earned victory… only until the next challenges comes along to deliver a swift kick in the King’s proverbial groin.
With Aeterna Noctis having to always be constantly trying to be more epic and grand than everything else, it can be hard to take it seriously. While trying to one-up everyone, it is like the developers forgot to include something of substance to make their game stand out.
The King of Darkness often laments how tired he is from going through the motions of his labor to get a shot at the Queen of Light. He has been doing this cycle for an eternity and his agony is extremely relatable for anyone who has played any of the similar games like this in the ocean of indie titles.
Aeterna Noctis’ main weakness is that it does not feel inspired. It is derivative and takes cues from highly beloved metroidvanias, but it lacks any x-factor to make it unique other than it being bigger and longer than most other games in this sub-genre.
Being such a huge quest may have held it back in some ways. After a while, the endless challenges stop impressing and the game just keeps going on and on. It rarely lets up to give the player a breather and the curve just rises without any reprieve. The challenge just becomes tiring.
The one aspect of Aeterna Noctis that is notable is its visual style which is inspired by stain-glass art and traditional animation. The animation quality is very fluid and expressive. The King has a grounded weight to his movements, his cape flutters and flaps convincingly; undoubtedly inspired by Alucard’s cape in Symphony of the Night.
The style can look sterile at times; often looking more like digital art than anything natural or handmade. Most younger gamers won’t be sensitive to this and will more likely be wowed by the meticulous scenery and sweeping animated vistas.
Aeterna Noctis will likely please fans of Hollow Knight who are still waiting for Hollow Knight: Silksong. This is a very long and difficult open-ended 2D action game; easily hitting JRPG numbers in its absurd length of about over 60 hours.
The story is mostly background noise for the action, but there are a few clever twists that help Aeterna Noctis from becoming totally generic. The notion of a protagonist who is annoyed at having to go through the numbers of a long quest to fight a luminous tart is the most original Aeterna Noctis gets and it is a shame that the game plays it so safe.
Aeterna Noctis does deliver a satisfying metroidvania experience, but that is all it does. It won’t stay with you or leave a lasting impression other than fatigue. It might have been a better game if it were 25 hours instead of 60; that way it could condense its best aspects into a reasonable package.
Aeterna Noctis was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a code provided by Aeternum Game Studios S.L. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.